From Discipline to Culturally Responsive Engagement: 45 Classroom Management Strategies


Laura E. Pinto

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  • Part II: 45 Practical Strategies for Classroom Management

    Part III: Professional Learning Communities

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    Acknowledging and talking about diversity—especially race and class—can be uncomfortable. Sometimes, well-meaning teachers adopt a “color-blind” approach to their classrooms. The color-blind position is one in which a teacher claims to see no racial, class, or cultural differences in students, instead explaining that the teacher sees all students as the same. But the problem is that no teacher can erase differences, and we cannot ignore the ways that students experience difference as “others.” Teacher Vivian Paley tells the story of how a parent responded to a color-blind classroom. The parent said, “My children are Black. They don't look like your children. They know they're black. It's a positive difference, an interesting difference, and a comfortable natural difference … What you value, you talk about” (Paley, 1979, p. 12). This parent's response highlights how acknowledging difference validates individuals without necessarily making them feel uncomfortable—and this kind of acknowledgement of difference (not limited to race but including gender, culture, socio-economic status, and other differences) is central to creating an inclusive classroom that functions smoothly.

    One of the biggest challenges teachers face is managing the classroom on a day-to-day basis. Classroom management consistently ranks as the first or second most serious educational problem in the eyes of the general public, and beginning teachers consistently rank it as their most pressing concern during their early teaching years (Evertson & Weinstein, 2006).

    Classroom management usually has two purposes: (1) to establish an orderly environment so students can engage in meaningful learning and (2) to enhance students' social and moral growth (Wubbels, 2011). Strangely, despite this enduring concern on the part of educators and the public, there is an absence of research and academic literature investigating classroom management (Evertson & Weinstein 2006), especially in diverse classroom environments, yet its perceived importance lies in some very real implications. Among them:

    • poor classroom management is believed to lead to student resistance and subsequent misbehavior or even violence
    • effective classroom environments are consistently related to student achievement and student assumption of responsibility for learning
    • classroom management issues are a major cause for teacher burnout and job dissatisfaction (Wubbels, 2011), responsible for as much as 30% of teacher attrition (Little & Akin-Little, 2008).

    Part I of the book will walk you through foundations of classroom management and cultural responsiveness. You'll begin the journey by first reflecting on the parable of the two wolves in Chapter 1 and consider diverse classroom management orientations represented on a spectrum. In Chapter 2, you will explore leading research and theory on culturally responsive education and how this relates to classroom interaction. This foundation sets the framework for the remainder of the book. You'll apply this to understanding your own beliefs and practices about classroom management, placing yourself on the classroom management spectrum in Chapter 3. You'll explore three main points on the spectrum of classroom management—the discipline focus, the rewards-and-routines focus, and the student-engagement focus—and engage in critical reflection to identify your own orientation.

    Once you are comfortable with these important foundations, Part II of the book invites you to explore a compendium of 45 strategies that can be applied in your classroom to enhance classroom management and student engagement, along with reproducibles where possible to ensure that you can implement these strategies in your classroom. These strategies are the tools you can use efficiently and effectively for any subject and just about any grade level.

    The 45 strategies are grouped into chapters: physical environment and routines, expectations and rules, immediate responses to student actions, tracking behavior, rewards systems, parent–teacher collaboration and communication, student–teacher and class–student communication, and group communication and engagement. Each category is described, including relationships to cultural responsiveness, the Common Core State Standards, and 21st-century skills. Each chapter opening describes considerations necessary to adapt the strategies to the unique needs of your students. The strategies that follow are organized for your immediate use, following these headings:

    • Rationale
    • When to use
    • How it works
    • Critical reflection to guide use

    Many of them include reproducibles. Strategy by strategy, Chapters 4 through 11 walk you through evidence—research and best and promising practices—of what we know works when it comes to classroom management. Examples of strategy use in classroom environments help to flesh out how they might be adapted to your own school environment. Through critical reflective practice, you will have an opportunity to rethink what strategies you use.

    Finally, Part III of the book acknowledges how culturally relevant classroom management can be enhanced through collaboration with colleagues and the community. Chapter 12 offers a detailed professional learning community guide that can be used for individual or group learning, with reflective activities to allow you and your colleagues to meaningfully interact with book content.

    Using This Book

    This book is designed to engage teachers in a critical reflection on their approaches to classroom management and offer a variety of strategies that can be used in classroom settings to establish classroom management.

    Practitioner Uses
    • Through guided practice, teachers can complete a variety of reflective exercises designed to help them gain insight into cultural responsiveness based on their own personal histories and their unique experiences with students and the school community.
    • When planning their instruction, teachers can flip through the compendium of strategies and select those they wish to use, applying reproducibles where appropriate.
    • When working collaboratively with colleagues, teachers can use the reflective techniques in the book to better understand their students, the school culture, and how classroom practice can be improved accordingly.
    College Faculty Uses
    • As a teaching tool and textbook to support preservice teachers' understandings of culturally responsive classroom management
    • As a resource for in-service courses and workshops
    District Uses
    • As a basis for professional development for teachers to guide more reflective and culturally responsive classroom management practice
    • As a basis to build professional learning communities aimed at improving instruction through culturally responsive learning environments at either the school or the district level
    Reflective Practice About Classroom Management: Applying Three Approaches within Culturally Responsive Learning Practice

    According to the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics, diversity in American schools continues to increase (Aud, Fox, & KewalRamani, 2010). For instance, between 1989 and 2009, the percentage of public school students who were white decreased from 68 to 55% (Aud et al., 2010). During roughly the same period, the rate of racial, ethnic, and gender disproportionality in school discipline increased (Wallace, Goodkind, Wallace, & Bachman, 2008).

    What makes this book different is that it challenges teachers to consider varying positions on the spectrum of classroom management, weighing evidence on varied strategies and walking teachers through making informed decisions about their work with students from culturally diverse backgrounds. To do so, the book relies on empirically grounded practices of culturally responsive learning, described in Chapter 2 and revisited throughout the book.

    Reflective practice is rooted in constructivist philosophies (van Manen, 1995) and is an important part of adult learning that requires reflection on experience for sense making (Merriam, 2001). Importantly, it bridges the transition from habitual practice to intelligent practice (van Manen, 1995). In a general sense, reflective practice has been shown to have positive effects on teacher efficacy (Ellison, 2008; Putney & Broughton, 2010). Reflective practice is especially important to gaining cultural proficiency, since this requires serious consideration of a teacher's own cultural history and investigation into the cultural norms of members of the broader school community.

    Given the efficacy of reflective practice, this book takes a novel approach, presenting various opposing perspectives on classroom management that exist along a spectrum, offering both arguments and evidence to support and refute each. In this way, this book presents a unique perspective through which teachers must reflect and come to their own conclusions about how they make sense of classroom management, where they are on the spectrum of classroom management, and where they would like to be. The 45 strategies are adaptable to various points on the spectrum and can and should be adapted to address cultural diversity. In this way, the book offers teachers specific, immediately implementable strategies they can apply to enhance their own instructional effectiveness.

    Common Core Connections

    More than 30 years of research tell us that classroom management is the cornerstone of effective teaching and learning. In a poorly managed classroom, both teachers and students struggle with distractions to learning, while a well-managed classroom creates an environment in which time is spent on learning. Good classroom management creates a caring and inclusive environment.

    Given that the introduction of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) nationwide requires teacher efficacy and the best possible classroom environments for learning, this book provides a foundation for teachers to improve upon their own classroom management approaches and create truly engaging environments for students. Once this important foundation is laid, teachers can get to the business of meaningful CCSS implementation. Moreover, the move toward standards-based instruction calls for some explicit classroom management modifications to ensure that classroom activity reflects the clarity of purpose that standards promote. Each strategy in this book offers a brief discussion about how that aspect of classroom management supports CCSS by enhancing instruction, accountability, and reporting.

    But this book also acknowledges that there is no one “magic bullet” in classroom management for all students. Despite the fact that CCSS expectations are the same for all students, classroom management requires teachers to modify learning environments for their unique groups of learners. Because the notion of “appropriate” behavior is culturally influenced, conflicts are likely to occur when teachers and students come from different cultural backgrounds (Weinstein, Tomlinson-Clarke, & Curran, 2004). By acknowledging cultural relevance, classroom management can be adapted by teachers to promote CCSS success. You'll find features throughout Part II of this book that make “Common Core Connections” for you.

    21st-Century Skills Connections

    Many school districts encourage teachers to integrate 21st-century skills into their classrooms. While the Common Core helps you structure learning so that your students can be successful in life, college, and their careers, 21st-century skills further enhance their potential for success outside school. The 21st Century Skills Framework (see Figure 0.1 below) created by The Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21) is woven throughout this book.

    Figure 0.1 P21 Framework

    Twenty-first-century skills complement the Common Core. While the Common Core does not explicitly address every skill in the P21 Framework, a number of skills are reflected in the standards. These include critical thinking, problem solving, and communication—skills that are essential to both 21st-century skills and the Common Core. But beyond those overlapping skills, the P21 framework strongly emphasizes interpersonal communication and collaboration in multicultural contexts as critical to 21st-century learning (Kyllonen, 2012). It comes as no surprise, then, that the strategies described in this book reinforce students' ongoing development of 21st-century skills through cultural proficiency. You'll find “21st-Century Skills Connections” featured throughout this book's content so you can be confident that you're contributing to students' development in these areas.

    The Judicious Evidence-Based Approach in This Book

    What counts as evidence? The answer, which happens to be “many things,” is a bit complicated. Evidence can be as simple as one teacher's experiences, where trial-and-error in the classroom can identify what works in that classroom, with that teacher, and with those students. Evidence can be as sophisticated as large-scale, international comparisons of teaching/learning approaches and their systemwide outcomes. The bottom line is that experience and analysis, together, lead to evidence, which can inform practice. However, as these examples suggest, some evidence is stronger than others. The figure below provides a guide to understanding the strength of evidence (adapted from Hyde, Falls, Morris, and Schoenwald's 2003 hierarchy for medical evidence). It should be noted that educational research is increasingly qualitative. When the research design is sound, both qualitative and quantitative studies can provide strong evidence though very different types of useful information. This book draws on evidence at all levels of the hierarchy.

    Part of the teacher's role is to gather, assess, and apply evidence—in part based on its strength and in part based on the teacher's professional judgment within his or her own classroom, school, and community. One caution to bear in mind is that though some evidence may be very sophisticated, this does not mean that it is applicable to other contexts. What works in the United Kingdom, for example, may not be appropriate for the United States. What works in rural Michigan might not work in urban Michigan or in suburban Texas. It's up to educators to analyze and make sense of the factors that may or may not make sense.

    I have been mindful of using and applying evidence in the design of this book, turning to a wide variety of sources to inform the approaches and strategies. The sources cited are largely from peer-reviewed academic publications, but the methods used to support approaches deemed successful include large-scale quantitative data, qualitative inquiry in schools, and case studies rooted in ethnographic research.

    Figure 0.2 Hierarchy of Evidence-Based Information
    Book Features

    Because of its intended purpose and audience, this book is designed for teacher convenience. Some of the important features to be aware of include

    • Examples of many different teachers' experiences in creating culturally responsive learning environments and negotiating their way to better classroom management for diverse student populations are included throughout the book.
    • Process diagrams offer guidance on how to approach critiquing beliefs, practices, and strategies to apply.
    • Strategies are critiqued to explain how they measure up when assessed against discipline versus engagement criteria.
    • Text features highlight Common Core Connections and 21st-century skills connections throughout the book.
    • Very brief and very clear instructions are included so that you understand how each strategy works and how you can immediately apply it in the classroom.
    • Reproducibles for use with students are included for many of the strategies.
    • Reflective activities and reproducibles for use by teachers (individually and in professional learning communities) are included throughout the book, each designed to encourage deep reflection about classroom practice.
    • A professional learning community (PLC) guide located in Chapter 12 provides suggestions that can be adapted to meet teachers' needs if they work collaboratively to assess their classroom management approaches. The guide offers structures for PLC meetings as well as additional resources in the form of reproducibles that can be used as the basis for meetings.


    Long before I imagined that my inquiry into classroom management and cultural responsiveness would evolve into a book, many mentors and colleagues over the course of my education career generously offered advice and stories to help me formulate my own position on classroom management. In that sense, this project has been a long-standing but informal collaboration. I'm grateful to the dozens and dozens of teachers who shared their perspectives with me, especially those who welcomed me into their classrooms as an observer. This project could not have evolved to this point without the tremendous learning experiences they provided. These very inspirational teachers (possibly without knowing it) shaped my thinking and guided various aspects of my research. Many thanks all who offered feedback on drafts of this work, especially Dr. Liz Coulson, Dr. Lennox Borel, Dr. Trevor Norris, Dr. John Portelli, Dr. Megan Boler, Dr. Roberta Mock, Hubert Brard, Chris Arthur, Rachel Cooke, Carl Cooke, Madeline Dennis, Jerry Powidajko, Elliot Scolnik, Mohni Athia, Teresa Placha, and Kara Hiltz.

    I am thankful to the amazing Corwin team for once again making the process of bringing a book to fruition a pleasant (and enriching) one, especially Jessica Allen, Veronica Stapleton, Heidi Arndt, and Kim Husband. I am also grateful for the very helpful feedback from the reviewers who were generous with their time and ideas.

    Heartfelt thanks are also due to a few special individuals who have supported all aspects of my work. I thank Adam for consistently good advice about everything, and being the best friend, Plintock, and partner anyone could hope for. I am indebted to Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker for his good sense and good cheer, especially in matters of work/life balance. My besties and immediate family have never failed to support my work, endure my persistent unavailability, offer invaluable advice, and cut me lots of slack when I'm pressed for time. Thank you Bronė, Bob, Rob, Justine, Anne-Marie, and Wendy. Didelis ačiū jums, mielieji!

    Publisher'S Acknowledgments

    Corwin wishes to acknowledge the following peer reviewers for their editorial insight and guidance.

    • Melissa Albright, Fifth-Grade English Language Arts Teacher
    • Springfield Public Schools-Wilson's Creek
    • Battlefield, MO
    • Deborah Childs-Bowen, Chief Learning Officer
    • Alliance for Leadership in Education
    • Atlanta, GA
    • Ken Klopack, Student Teacher Supervisor: Chicago Program
    • Art and Gifted Educational Consultant
    • Chicago Public Schools
    • Chicago, IL
    • Linda Sarver, Substitute Teacher
    • Retired from Excelsior Springs School District
    • Excelsior Springs, MO
    • Gary L. Willhite, Teacher Educator/Associate Professor
    • University of Wisconsin La Crosse
    • La Crosse, WI

    About the Author

    Award-winning researcher and educator Dr. Laura Elizabeth Pinto is currently an assistant professor at Niagara University and an associate member of the graduate faculty, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto. She has been teaching in faculties of education for the past decade and working with new and seasoned members of the teaching profession with an eye to applying evidence and promising practices to their work.

    Dr. Pinto began her career as a schoolteacher, which led her to write curriculum policy for the government of Ontario. Before long, she became a policy analyst and policy manager prior to commencing her doctoral studies. She is also a past president of the Ontario Business Educators' Association. She received the prestigious Canadian Governor General's Gold Medal in 2009 for her research, as well as the Odyssey Award, among other honors. She has received and been involved in large-scale research supported by sought-after Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council grants for a decade. Dr. Pinto coauthored three Canadian textbooks and related teachers' guides and is the coauthor of 95 Strategies for Remodeling Instruction (Corwin) and author of Curriculum Reform in Ontario: “Common Sense” Policy Processes and Democratic Possibilities (University of Toronto Press). She has written dozens of articles in academic and professional journals and cowritten provincial curriculum policy, continuing to provide advice to various governments on matters of education policy.

    Dr. Pinto is deeply committed to democracy in education and education for democracy and is particularly interested in the roles of politics, policy production, and critical thinking to democracy. She believes that democracy ought to start in the classroom.

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