Models of classroom management: a misleading objectifying of experience?

Professor Kerri-Lee Krause

‘To survive in the classroom, every teacher needs to have a clear, well-thought-out plan that provides an effective framework for maintaining discipline’ (Krause, 2006, p. 458)

Every year, my education students ask for classroom management skills to put in their toolboxes. ‘Please show us what works, what’s tried and tested and can help me survive the challenges of difficult students,’ they say. I remember feeling the same myself when I first started teaching in the early 70s, and the awful feeling of being in a classroom and feeling totally unprepared to deal with what was happening.

So, to help alleviate the students’ anxiety, I have in the past used Professor Krause’s three models of classroom management in my unit, and earlier this week, as part of my preparing for the new year, I drew up the following mindmap to share with the students.

Models of classroom management (Krause)

But how useful are models like these? Do they help student teachers begin the process of gaining the pedagogical skills and knowledge that will help them run their classrooms? Or is the claim that every teacher needs a well-thought out plan in order to survive misleading?

Professor Deborah Britzman

A second teacher education Professor, Deborah Britzman, seems to think it’s the latter.

… normative notions collapse the distinction between acquiring pedagogical skills and becoming a teacher by objectifying experience as a map. In this discourse, everything is already organised and complete; all that is left to do is to follow preordained paths. (Britzman, 2003, p. 30)

My own experience as a teacher tells me that following preordained paths does not work. It didn’t work if I decided that I’d ‘just be myself’ in the classroom (the ‘self’ I thought I knew suddenly felt unknown and unstable once I found myself in unfamiliar territory); it didn’t work if I tried to be someone else either. What worked with one group of students would fail utterly with a second; what worked one day in first period fell flat the next day in the last period of the day.

John Holt, author and teacher

I remember John Holt (an early educational hero of mine) writing in one of his books that teaching was like batting in baseball; you could count yourself a success if one in five attempts produced a ‘home run’.

Krause’s approach reduces an enormously complex field into something graspable. It’s an approach that has the potential to reduce anxiety by naming different ways of being in the classroom. It gives preservice teachers the opportunity to ask important questions as they prepare for their careers. Is there just one way to teach, the way I experienced as a student? What teaching styles best accord with my values? What are my aims as a teacher, and what models might best support those aims? Can I learn from many models so that I have the capacity to adapt in different contexts?

Britzman’s approach, though, is radically different. Where Krause seeks to to simplify (and therefore reduce anxiety),Britzman wants to complexify and problematize (26).

For those who … enter teacher education, their first culture shock may well occur with the realization of the overwhelming complexity of the teacher’s work and the myriad ways this complexity is masked and misunderstood (p. 27) … learning to teach is not a mere matter of applying decontextualized skills or of mirroring predetermined images; it is time when one’s past, present, and future are set in dynamic tension. Learning to teach – like teaching itself – is always the process of becoming: a time of formation and transformation, of scrutiny into what one is doing, and who one can become (p. 31).

I agree with Britzman. Krause’s models, it seems to me, take us into territory full of  unsupportable generalisations and over-simplifications.

So why do I continue to include them as part of my unit? It’s true that the discussions we have about them in tutorials, and the questions they raise, seem helpful. But could it be that the real reason is that I’m trying to reduce anxiety (my own and my students’) by teaching something concrete, whether or not it’s actually useful?

 

I’m hoping that some of my former students will read this blog post and comment on their experience of the Krause models.

***

Britzman, D. (2003). Practice Makes Practice: A critical study of learning to teach, revised edition. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Krause, K. (2006). Managing behaviour and classrooms Educational psychology: for learning and teaching (2nd ed.). Melbourne, Victoria: Thomson.

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11 thoughts on “Models of classroom management: a misleading objectifying of experience?

  1. Couldn’t have said it better myself!!

    I was bombarded with Krause in several of my education units. I always found the models to be too generic, idealized and overthought for my personality/style/p-word… I just went through the motions for the assignments and never used them! I will have to get ahold of Britzman’s text, I am intrigued…

  2. Well, I haven’t had a lot of time yet to try out these ideas, and I hadn’t really reflected on it until I read this post, but I can definitely see what you mean. Krause was simplifying a lot of things, which was why it was nice in Assignment 3 to go and read some of Glasser’s and Kohn’s work rather than just relying on what Krause said about them. And I thoroughly empathise with and appreciate what you said about trying to “just be yourself” – it’s such a pat answer that sounds like it should be so marvellous, but… well, you said it best yourself! Anyway, I’m just going to do my thinking-as-I-type thing, since I haven’t done it for a while, and since you usually seem to enjoy it! Hopefully something useful will crop up in there.

    To be honest, I thought it was daunting enough being presented with five different models to look at (not that you made us study all of them, nor pick one and swear allegiance to it while in PPLE!). Certainly on my first prac I met teachers who were quite convinced that there was only *one* correct way to manage a classroom, and some who didn’t seem to think about it much, having given up on “managing” anything and resigned themselves to the role of victim.

    That reminds me, actually: during that prac I was clashing a bit with my mentor, who wanted me to come down a lot harder on misbehaviour, and who was actually walking around the classroom explaining things to the students and telling them off while I was teaching. I can understand where she was coming from, because she’d worked hard to establish boundaries and expectations with her class and she didn’t want them all blown to pieces by handing control over to me for four weeks and letting me do something different. But I found it enormously frustrating, when I’d be trying to deal with a particular problem or answer a particular question in a particular way, and she’d interrupt and just deal with it her way. Then after the lesson, she would tell me that my way wouldn’t have worked, because the kids can’t do such-and-such, or they’re really fooling me by doing this-or-that. I was really upset at some points, particularly when one of the boys tried to open up to me, and asked me why I saw the good things that he did, whereas my mentor only saw him doing bad things – I didn’t really know how to answer that, considering that my mentor complained about him frequently and had already decided that he was a waste of space.

    I’m sorry, I got lost in thought there, and distracted from the story I was trying to tell! One day my mentor was away on an excursion or something, so I had a different teacher supervising me, and I actually tried things my way. And it flopped. The class was pretty much out of control (of course, that was probably due to many other factors, including my mentor’s absence), and I finished it feeling exhausted and defeated. But at the same time, I had this wonderful moment of realisation: “OK, now I know that doesn’t work.” I wasn’t going to let someone else tell me that my ideas wouldn’t work without trying them, but I got a chance to try them, I tried them, and I found that they didn’t work. So I felt, in a sense, that I’d learned a whole lot more from that lesson than from weeks of just being told what would and wouldn’t work.

    So, as for the issue of how to teach classroom management strategies… I wonder, if you’d stood up in the lecture and laid out one exact, precise way of managing classrooms, and told us that it was the most effective, whether I would have felt the same feeling of being looked down on, and told that my ideas were no good. Probably not so badly, since I respect you a great deal more than I respected my mentor. But still – I think the answer that I’m talking myself around to is that we have to try things and see what happens. I’m always telling my maths students exactly that: they’re used to being told exactly what steps to take to answer a question, and I’m always trying to convince them that there are other ways, and they’ll understand and enjoy it so much more if they can find their own solutions. In maths, of course, there’s a right answer, even though there are lots of different ways of getting to it, but with classroom management it seems more of a matter of each teacher finding a system that works “for them”, and accomplishes what they want and think best in their classroom. Obviously we don’t have to re-invent the wheel of classroom management, and discover everything for ourselves from scratch; there’s a lot of research available, and we should use it to develop new ideas and get a concept of what will work and what won’t.

    And I think that’s a good reason to include those models in the Grad Dip. There has to be a starting point. If you threw a pre-service teacher into the classroom with no instruction at all on classroom management, and they had to figure it all out for themselves from the ground up… well, I guess they’ve already got ideas based on their own education, and on what they see in the media, etc. But what I was going to say is that I imagine they’d eventually find some strategies that worked. It’d just take them a long time, because they’d first have to go through a lot of strategies that didn’t work! And I think exploring different models gives a good starting point, gets the ideas churning, and lets the pre-service teacher walk into the classroom, if not with a precise scheme in mind, at least with ideas on how they’d like things to run, and what they’re aiming to see from their class, and with some ideas to try out.

    Yes, those models are oversimplified, but (here comes my inner linguist!) that’s why they’re called models! That’s exactly what a model is – it’s a concrete, simplified representation of some aspect(s) of something complicated. Nervous pre-service teachers do need something concrete! You question whether they’re “useful”, but from my perspective, there’s no question that they’re useful – it’s a question of whether they’re instant solutions. And they’re not. They’re models. Classroom management is a tremendously chaotic and personalised juggling act, but surely (just as with any complicated skill) we can learn it by working through simpler forms and models, and gradually into the more complicated, “true” form of it? I think the models fall down if they’re treated as standards that we have to live up to, or codes that we have to live by. I think they’re extremely valuable if seen as a source of ideas and aspirations, by a teacher who’s willing to do their own experimentation and who can tolerate the pain of “failed” lessons in the process of discovering their own solutions. Would that I were such…

    And just for a gratuitous analogy that’s been bubbling in my brain for the last ten minutes: it’s a bit like going into an enormous forest to search for a particular flower. I might just set out on my own to scour the forest and hope for the best. Or, if I asked around, I might learn the locations of several villages throughout the forest. It doesn’t mean that I’ll find my flower in one of those villages. But it gives me something to start with. It gives me some way to keep from getting completely lost out in the forest. If I visit the villages, I might even find the flower there. Or maybe I can ask some of the villagers, and they might be able to give me more information or directions. The villages may turn out, in the end, to be completely useless. But I’d rather walk into the forest knowing about them than not.

    • I found the Krause models very useful because they helped me to realise that there are a variety of ways to manage a classroom and that different strategies work in different situations; on different days, or with different students. I found it reassuring that there was no “right way” to manage the class and that I could pick and choose elements from each model, at given times. What I particularly enjoyed about studying these options, is that it gave me the opportunity to explore techniques that may never have occurred to me otherwise. That is something that I loved about the entire course, my eyes were opened to whole new worlds of possibility and I began to think about things that I may never have considered previously. I personally find it reassuring to have a plan but I also know that I must be flexible and willing to ditch my plan and adapt to the situation if needed. As Tim said though, it’s good to be aware of your options and explore different ideas.

  3. Thank you, Aaron, Tim and Kaitlin, for these responses.
    I’m thinking about the implications of what you say for the way I encourage the new cohort to think about their teaching. Tim put it this way:
    “I think the models fall down if they’re treated as standards that we have to live up to, or codes that we have to live by. I think they’re extremely valuable if seen as a source of ideas and aspirations, by a teacher who’s willing to do their own experimentation and who can tolerate the pain of “failed” lessons in the process of discovering their own solutions.”
    The pressures to show that you can control a class as a preservice teacher – reflected in the language of the Professional Experience reports – is something of a hurdle, I’m guessing. I’ve just read this sentence in the Britzman book I’m reading: ‘the structure of teacher education naturalizes the social organisation of schooling’. While I think we’re trying to do something more than ‘naturalising social organisations’ in our UC course, the language of the Prof Exp reports could be seen as a good example of what Britzman is talking about.

    • You’re quite right about the pressures of demonstrating competence on the Professional Experience reports. In fact, that just goes to show how quickly I’ve forgotten some of those aspects of pre-service teaching! Overall, I’m afraid that I’ve come to the conclusion that the whole issue of getting good PE reports is largely separate to the issue of being a good teacher. For most pracs that I heard about, passing prac seemed to involve doing what the mentor wanted, often coinciding with teaching how the mentor taught. There were definitely some good mentors around, and it might not even be the end of the world to be pressured into trying a different style (which might turn out very effective and/or enjoyable) for a few weeks, but PE on the whole was very much hit-and-miss, especially since we had only two of them. The complaints and divergences between “that theory stuff you learn at uni” and “the way you have to teach in the real world” seemed to me much stronger on prac than they did last term when I had the classes to myself.
      I’m inclined to agree about the language of the reports being an example of what Britzman says – I guess it just becomes a matter of checking boxes and assigning categories and rankings. And we know that’s artificial, and very hard for mentors to administer fairly, but I don’t have any brilliant ideas on hand about ways it could be done better. The level of “structure” and categorisation in the reports is actually something of a safeguard against completely subjective judgements, and probably well appreciated by plenty of new teachers who are looking for some clear goal. The ideal would be a much more involved process of selecting suitable mentors and pairing them with appropriate students, but that would never be perfect. Maybe you just need to run four units on how to be a good teacher, and an extra one on how to pass prac! Don’t mind me, I’ve definitely slipped into my “cynical” mode now… 🙂

      • Thanks again for your comment Tim. I’m glad to be able to let you know that the reports are being re-written for this year, and I’m confident we’ll have a much better one for this year’s cohort.

  4. ” Krause or not Krause”: PPLE was my favourite unit of the course and the Krause paper was very useful. I also noticed that all students referred to it in their PPLE presentation. Most of us learned a lot from it. I agree it is a simplification of a very complex field, but it does a great job as a foundation for further reflexion and discussion. Students need a strong trunk to start growing their branches. So my vote is for Krause!

    It made me think of an interview with a principal of a school who asked me what I did (during my pracs) to deal with problem of classroom management. I told her I tried everything I learned at Uni and everything my mentors recommended. Some things worked better than others but at the end of the day, the only thing which didn’t work was to do nothing! We do need tools to try out before we can develop our own strategies.

    • Thanks Claire. Yes indeed, some things work better than others (and then with a different class or on a different day, some of those successful things don’t work so well). And you’re right, doing nothing is no option at all; instead, it creates a vacuum that exacerbates insecurities all round… except, of course, when doing nothing is exactly the right thing for that particular moment! Ah, it’s a great job! 🙂

  5. Hi Steve,

    What an unexpected way to meet you!
    Very interesting Blog. Thank you for sharing such insightful perspectives on classroom management. Although I agree Krause provides a very useful framework to unravel classroom management, a safety net if you will in our attempt to rationalise the dynamics of the classroom before us; my professional path so far has been in-line with Britzman: one self discovery! Terrifying at times but rewarding nonetheless.

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