What does the term classroom management mean to you? Is it the process of ensuring that lessons run smoothly? Is it the techniques you put in place to negate the behaviour of disruptive students? Is it the method you use to create relationships between learners, or indeed, between yourself and the learners? In my mind, it is probably a combination of all of the above. Of course, each class and each day is different, but maintaining harmony in class and ensuring class runs smoothly whether there are students who are acting disruptive or not is an issue every teacher faces at some point in their career, if not, in their daily lives.
There is no doubt that classroom management is crucial in all our classrooms. Whether you teach kindergarten children or business English in a large corporation, without some form of successful control in the form of classroom management, it would be virtually impossible to successfully execute the curriculum and put your best teaching practices into action. Classroom management is possibly best explained as the actions and directions of teachers to create an enjoyable and successful learning environment. One that will allow the teachers to impact on students’ learning requirements, Also, from the learners’ perspective, involve clear communication of behavioural and academic expectations in addition to the development of a cooperative learning environment.
I have to admit that I am fortunate enough that in my particular context I have relatively few disruptive students. However, this does not mean that successful classroom management is something that is unimportant or unnecessary. I teach many non-English majors who simply have to take my course for the purpose of gaining credits. This means that successful classroom management is crucial in maintaining motivation and a successful learning environment. In addition to this, many of my learners face language learning anxiety. This is predominately caused because learners are having to operate in class with a very limited language code. This means that even the most simple of activities or conversations can feel extremely risky. Indeed, making a mistake can without a doubt be a face-threatening situation to the young adults in my context.
This all leads to the question of what can we do as teachers, regardless of our context, to ensure that the we manage the classroom successfully and ensure that there is a comfortable learning and teaching environment for both the learner and for us as teachers? Although this seems like the proverbial million dollar question, I believe that answer is relatively straightforward. In my mind, first and foremost, we need to ensure that there is a pleasant and supportive atmosphere between the group of learners and between ourselves and the learners.
So, what can we do to create this atmosphere which feels comfortable and supportive? Well, here I have found the work of Zoltán Dörnyei incredibly useful. For those of you who are not familiar with his work, Dörnyei is a Professor of Psycholinguistics and is renowned for his work on second-language learning motivation. In his 2001 book entitled Motivational Strategies in the Language Classroom, Dörnyei suggests strategies to help to create a pleasant and supportive atmosphere in the language learning classroom.
Dörnyei says that teachers should endeavour to establish a norm of tolerance and encourage risk taking. In order to ensure that learners feel safe and supported, Dörnyei suggests making clear to the class that mistakes are a natural part of learning and it is the role of the teacher to establish these norms. The aim is to ensure learners feel comfortable and that they will not be criticised or made to feel embarrassed if they do make a mistake. He also encourages the use of humour in the classroom. Here he does mean that the teacher should simply tell jokes, but the teacher should aim to develop a relaxed attitude where the teacher and learners don’t feel like they have to take themselves too seriously. Finally, Dörnyei suggests allowing learners to personalise the classroom. In other words, allowing learners some control over the classroom environment. In my case, I usually allow learners to suggest background music they would like to listen to during class.
If you are interested, please check out Dörnyei’s Motivational Strategies in the Language Classroom. I have found it an incredibly useful book for many aspects of classroom management. I’d also like to hear what you think about these strategies. Would they work in your context? Do you have any other suggestions. Please feel free to comment below.