Elementary Classroom Management: A Student-Centered Approach to Leading and Learning


Kerry Curtiss Williams

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    For Ryan and Tyler


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    Welcome to Elementary Classroom Management: A Student-Centered Approach to Leading and Learning! This book provides an introduction to student-centered classroom management practices and the theories that support them. It was written with preservice teachers in classroom management and methods courses in mind, as well as for inservice teachers who are working to improve their classroom management practices. The ideas in this book, however, can be applied to a variety of settings. After all, the purpose of classroom management and therefore this book is to create classroom spaces that facilitate academic and social learning, as well as dispositions that foster lifelong learning.

    Classroom management, a great influence on students, is a main reason many new teachers get out of the classroom early in their careers. Indeed, our schools and students deserve teachers who know content but also pedagogy, classroom management, and how to work with children who present special needs. Preservice teachers are often taught “tricks” to use for certain management problems rather than to understand the issues of the classroom and school, the students as individuals, and the pedagogical choices that profoundly influence their academic and social success. Tricks often work for a few days or months, and then the teacher is left reacting to problems that could have been prevented. This book is designed to help teachers think about and reflect on why things happen in classrooms, understand the connections between classroom management and learning, begin to utilize pedagogical structures that facilitate success and thus management, and finally design classrooms that work for students who may need something extra.

    Many current textbooks on classroom management follow a model of telling readers what to do in specific instances, emphasizing what to do to students when they____________(fill in the blank), or a model of sharing many different theories on classroom management. This book provides readers the opportunity to understand classroom management theories through research, stories, and cases and then asks them to construct their own philosophy of classroom management and begin to apply it in the classroom. Just as we cannot teach students by merely pouring information into their heads, we cannot ask teachers to implement effective classroom management plans by merely reading about theories or trying to memorize what to do in specific instances. Teachers must have the opportunity to understand the theories that shape students' academic and social learning; to think, reflect, and try strategies, structures, and tools and make them their own; and to realize that constructing a classroom management plan that works requires continued learning even after they are finished reading the textbook. In other words, constructing classroom management plans is about constructing meaning through knowledge, experience, and reflection.

    Goals of the Book

    There are five main goals that create the framework of this book:

    • Thinking and reflecting about key issues of classroom management, such as autonomy, belonging, competency, democratic communities for learners, and motivation. To create effective classroom management plans, teachers must understand what they are doing and why they are doing it. In my experience, many teachers think classroom management is about controlling behaviors. Instead, this book focuses on why students behave the way they do and encourages readers to pay attention to and address these needs with a variety of structures, strategies, and tools.
    • Thinking, reflecting, and designing pedagogical structures and classroom procedures that, when used, address the key issues of classroom management in very practical and innovative ways. In some ways, the education field is asking new and veteran teachers to teach in ways that they have never experienced. Indeed, many of us grew up in classrooms where our names were put on the board with chances for three checks before we had to go to the principal's office. It is very difficult to break out of what we have experienced. This book was designed to help readers resee classroom management, students with individual needs, and what it means to learn in general by providing examples of flexible structures that can be transformed into their own creations yet still promote the key issues described in other chapters. Some of these include cooperative workshops, thinking routines, and classroom meetings.
    • Thinking and reflecting about individual children, including those with needs that require something special in the classroom, so they can be socially and academically successful. New and veteran teachers are often the most worried about students who may need them to try something different in the classroom. It is very easy to worry about disruptions, students who are seemly unable to learn, and being out of control. This book was written to help readers understand and learn about individual students in the classroom, as well as to give them unique strategies and structures, such as language and literature, that will assist them. Perhaps most important, it provides an entire chapter dedicated to working with colleagues, parents, and outside resources when the strategies they are trying don't work. I hope this book encourages teachers to know individual students' needs, to create exciting opportunities for all students to learn, and to ask for help when they need it.
    • Thinking and reflecting about how managing the physical classroom, as well as the spaces outside the classroom, influences learning. There are many influences on academic and social learning, including the physical classroom itself and the procedures used to manage all of the various spaces in which students learn throughout the day. Once again, it is not enough to tell teachers what to do. Instead, this book was designed to help readers ask questions and reflect on where they will put items in the classroom, how they will help students walk down the hall, and who will be in charge of materials.
    • Thinking and reflecting about creating a classroom management plan that reflects the teacher's beliefs and philosophies so the plan doesn't change with each new problem or issue. We often behave like windblown flowers in the world of education. We bloom every time the latest, greatest trick comes out yet blow away when any problem arises that the trick doesn't fix. I hope teachers who read this book will develop some roots that will help them continue to bloom even when the wind comes. Teachers must understand what they believe about classroom management and how students learn and then create a plan that reflects those beliefs. I put reflection tools in each chapter and then created an entire chapter that addresses readers' core beliefs, their boundaries, and opportunities to keep learning.
    Pedagogical Features of the Text

    Learning about classroom management requires understanding the key issues that influence classroom management; actively experiencing practical strategies, structures, and tools; and thinking and reflecting in the past, present, and future. The pedagogical features of this text were designed to assist readers do all three.

    Stories, Cases, Research

    Throughout the text, stories from real classrooms are connected to the latest research on topics influencing classroom management. In addition, cases are included for readers to grapple with and think about what they might do. Key words are bolded and put into a Glossary.

    Practical Strategies, Structures, and Tools

    There are practical ideas throughout the text that readers can immediately take into classrooms and use. These practical ideas are connected with helpful questions that readers can answer as they begin to use these ideas.


    I encourage all teachers to keep collections of everything from lesson ideas to brain tools they might use. In addition, I have included some collections for readers to take and make their own, including Internet sources, children's literature, and thinking routines. Some charts are also included so readers may begin creating their own collections. For example, Chapter 11 includes a chart they can use to list their school district's policies.

    Activities to Try

    At the end of each chapter, a section of activities to try is included. Readers may want to try these activities on their own or in classes. Each activity to try includes a mini action research project so they can continue to look at classroom management issues systematically and deeply.


    Throughout the text, there are questions helping readers go beyond their own experiences and think further about key issues and stories. There are also reflection tools, such as an opportunity to write a classroom management biography in Chapter 1 and a relationship diagram in Chapter 10, that will help them reflect on where to place learning areas in a classroom.

    Letters from Master Teachers

    Twenty-four master teachers took time to write friendly, supportive advice letters for this book. They are real teachers who really do the things discussed in this book. I hope they provide a sense that these ideas truly can be realized.

    Organization of the Text
    Section I. A Vision for Classroom Management

    This section consists of three chapters on key ideas influencing academic and social learning that will allow readers to create a vision for classroom management. I put this section at the beginning because it is important for teachers to understand the influences on learning and classroom management before creating a plan that works for them. These chapters will become the readers' base for a philosophy that they will come back to throughout the book. Chapter 1 introduces readers to the “what” and “why” questions of classroom management, as well as the need for all children to have autonomy, belonging, and competency in the classrooms they attend. Chapter 2 introduces readers to democratic communities in the classroom and the notion that, rather than trying to change students, we need to change classrooms so learners are successful. Many people have misconceptions about democratic classrooms, and this chapter will help readers see what it is and is not. Chapter 3 is devoted completely to motivation, a topic often left out of classroom management texts yet one of the most important ideas to understand when it comes to creating a classroom where students are motivated to learn rather than create problems.

    Section II. Structures and Tools for Classroom Management

    This section includes three chapters on pedagogical structures that will help teachers give all students autonomy, belonging, competency, motivation, and an opportunity to belong to a democratic community. Why put pedagogical structures in a classroom management book? Classroom management must be about all ideas that help children learn and succeed socially. Pedagogical structures that provide opportunities for the key ideas listed above are invaluable in creating classrooms where learners are successful. The first structure, included in Chapter 4, is called a cooperative workshop and will allow teachers to design lessons and units within a flexible structure, providing “juicy” problems and meaningful group work. It can also be used to develop differentiated stations. Chapter 5 introduces a pedagogical structure Ritchhart (2002) calls a thinking routine. Sometimes we forget that classrooms should be places where students are thinking rather than just looking busy, quiet, and good. Thinking routines help create thinking classrooms. Chapter 6 is all about pedagogical structures that help teachers manage a whole classroom of students. Class meetings, data collection, and graphing are some examples of structures mentioned in this chapter.

    Section III. Creating Classrooms That Meet the Needs of Individual Children

    This section includes three chapters on working with students who need something special to succeed in the classroom. This might be a student who is just having a bad day, who doesn't speak English, or who is physically or mentally handicapped. The important idea from this section is that teachers should work to do something different that may help the learner succeed. Chapter 7 is about identifying what individual children need. Sometimes we get stuck on labels, and this chapter encourages teachers to really know their students and find creative solutions to help them. Chapter 8 is all about language and literature that teachers can use to help students who struggle in the classroom. Sometimes using a story or just a different way of phrasing something can help students. Chapter 9 is about all of the resources teachers have inside and outside of their buildings that can help them when a student has a special need that they just aren't able to provide. I hope this chapter encourages especially new teachers to ask for help when they need it.

    Section IV. Making a Classroom Management Plan Your Own inside and outside

    This section is about making a plan for classroom management inside and outside of the classroom. Instead of giving them “right” answers, this section really works to help readers answer “right” questions. Chapter 10 is about the physical nature of the classroom and setting it up so all of the ideas in previous chapters can be achieved. Several questions about room arrangement, materials, and aesthetics will help readers determine the design of the classroom. Chapter 11 is about managing all of the places children go outside of the classroom. Whether it is the Internet, the playground, or a field trip, readers will begin to create plans for each place. Chapter 12 is about making a classroom management plan that works for the individual reader. Although it is the last chapter of this book, it is really the beginning of the journey into creating a classroom management plan. Readers will come away with their core beliefs and boundaries, as well as ways to have their own autonomy, belonging, and competency in the classroom.

    Ancillary Materials

    In addition to the text, ancillary materials further support and enhance the learning goals of Elementary Classroom Management: A Student-Centered Approach to Leading and Learning.

    Instructors' Resources CD

    This CD offers the instructor a variety of resources that supplement the book material, including video clips (also included on the Web-based student study site) with discussion questions, PowerPoint lecture slides, and test questions. Additional resources include teaching tips, sample syllabi, and Web resources. To obtain a copy of this CD, please contact Customer Service at 800-818-7243.

    Web-Based Student Study Site


    The Web-based student study site provides a comprehensive selection of resources to enhance students' understanding of the book's content. The site includes study materials such as video clips, practice tests, flashcards, and suggested readings. Other resources include “Learning From SAGE Journal Articles,” and additional activities created by the author.


    In my opinion, one needs three things from others to write a book: inspiration, support, and love. I was fortunate to have all three throughout this process and sometimes more than one at a time. I want to thank everyone for bringing this book to life!


    Even though he is gone now, I must acknowledge Dr. Robert Egbert because he taught me all of this through his stories and questions. I can only hope to do the same for my readers. Thanks to George Veomett who believed I was a good writer and taught me about lifelong learning for real. Thanks to all of the Wayne State Learning Community teachers and facilitators for inspiring and learning with me throughout this process. Blair I, Blair II, Fremont II, and Fremont III, all I can say about this book is that it is my sandwich! Thanks to inspirational teachers Rae, Chad, Julie, Mary, Cheryl, Deanna, Jim, Pam, Tom, Brian, Jill, Deann, Mary Jo, Josh, April, Zonna, Jenny, Denise, Kevin, Dene, Lisa, Durkhany, Kelly, and Carla for writing master teacher letters! You are the ones who make classroom management look so easy! Thanks to John Weaver for teaching me about autonomy, belonging, and competency. Thanks to Jesse Kiefer for his wonderful art! The cartoons really help me tell this important story! Thanks to Lisa, Rubi, Laura, Donna, and Kelsey for providing such wonderful first experiences with school for my sons. I often thought of you as I wrote.


    So many people were interested and supportive of me during this process. First, thanks to Cheryl Larmore and Mary Trehearn, who were my best cheerleaders. They read every word—sometimes twice—and always gave me great feedback. Your compliments and enthusiasm kept me writing. Thanks to Dawn Hanneman, Stacie Wall, Gina Smith, and Shelly Taylor for inviting my boys to come and play when you knew I really needed some time to work! Thanks to Diane McDaniel and Leah Mori at SAGE Publications for a smooth and wonderful journey.


    You can't write a book without unconditional love from those who mean the most to you because they often have to sacrifice things they need in order for it to be finished. Thanks to my mom and dad, who provide me with inspiration, support, and love every day and who allowed me to experience democracy and many other things in this book through their parenting. Thanks for being so proud and for loving me no matter what. Thanks to Jen, Mike, Bob, Kay, and all of the Williams family for all you do for me and especially for caring about my various projects. Thanks to Ryan and Tyler, my sweet boys, who have love in their eyes each day, even when I am sitting at the computer again. And thanks to John. I can't imagine how I could do much without you, your patience, and your love.


    Finally, I would like to acknowledge the hard work and helpful comments of the following reviewers. Their suggestions and ideas were invaluable in writing this book.

    • Alda M. Blakeney-Wright, Kennesaw State University
    • Angela Humphrey Brown, Piedmont College
    • Kellie J. Cain, University of the Pacific
    • Richard H. Costner, Coastal Carolina University
    • Laura Latiolais Duhon, Texas State University-San Marcos
    • Mona C. Majdalani, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire
    • Sam A. Marandos, National University
    • Sarah S. Marshall, Georgetown College
    • Patricia E. Murphy, Arkansas State University
    • Lois B. Paretti, University of Nevada-Las Vegas
    • Beverly Schumer, University of Michigan-Flint
    • Linda Schwartz Green, Centenary College
    • Cindy Shepardson, Keuka College
    • Judy Carrington Shipley, Hardin-Simmons University
    • Jennifer L. Snow-Gerono, Boise State University
    • Anita S. VanBrackle, Kennesaw State University
    • Kim Wieczorek, Nazareth College
    • E. Cam Willett, Laurentian University
    • Carolyn H. Wilson, Virginia State University
  • Glossary

    Abilities: One of three qualities that represent intelligence (e.g., knowledge, memory, creativity, physical ability, artistic ability, and musical ability)

    Accommodations: Changes in classroom activities and assignments that allow children who otherwise might not be able to participate to do so

    Assessment: Helping a child understand what is right about a task he or she has completed, what is wrong about it, and how to fix it

    Assistive communication devices: Electronic or non-electronic devices that help children who have difficulty speaking or writing communicate more effectively

    Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): A physician-diagnosed condition that interferes with a child's ability to stay focused on meaningful tasks, control his or her impulses, and regulate his or her activity level and whose main symptoms include hyperactivity, inattention, and impulsivity

    Attribution: Who or what a child believes caused or was in control of a good or bad performance

    Authentic: Relevant, real, and valued by the students (e.g., authentic tasks)

    Autocratic environment: A classroom where the teacher has absolute power and voice in decision making

    Autonomy: A sense of independence that allows people to make decisions, be self-reliant, and be able to think for themselves

    Belonging: A sense that one is accepted or is not alone

    Bullying: Intentionally causing another person unhappiness by hurting him or her physically, mentally, or through coercion or harassment

    Child-centered: A classroom with a focus on the needs and abilities of students and on the topics that are relevant to the students' lives, needs, and interests and in which the teacher shares control of the classroom and students are allowed to explore, experiment, and discover

    Class meetings: Meetings where students either discuss issues and problems they are having in the classroom or other areas of the school, such as the playground, or celebrate what they have learned

    Classroom management: Promoting learning with the use of tools that help students develop cognitively and socially in a setting together

    Classroom management structures: Routines, plans, problems, questions, furniture, and materials that promote learning

    Collection: A system for keeping lesson plan ideas, computer Web sites, literature, and so on, that will be helpful in managing a child-centered classroom

    Competency: A sense that one understands or is knowledgeable about a specific subject or in general

    Computer-assisted instruction: Drill and practice, tutorial, or simulation activities on the computer that supplement regular teacher instruction

    Conceptual understanding: When a person has a functional grasp of ideas that is more than knowing isolated facts or procedures

    Conservation tasks: Problems created by Jean Piaget to determine if a child understands that changing the form of a substance or an object does not change its amount, overall volume, or mass

    Contagion: A harmful influence

    Continuity of learning: Dewey's idea that learning does not happen linearly or in a specific order but that connections are made continually to experiences from the past, present, and future

    Cooperative learning: A structure that puts students together to work on problems and projects that promote social and academic learning, interdependence, and individual accountability

    Cooperative workshops: A structure that provides opportunities for students to work together or independently on tasks that promote individualized learning and social goals

    Culturally competent: Understanding or working to understand the customs, traditions, values, and role of the school in cultures other than your own

    Data: Numbers or statements purposefully collected to make sense of something happening in or outside of the classroom

    Democratic classroom: A classroom where the teacher and the students share decision making

    Democratic environment: An environment in which the teacher and the students have equal power and voice in decision making

    Differentiate: To adjust the teaching process according to needs of the learners by adjusting the product, the task itself, or the amount of support

    Effortful strategy: A recommended way of completing a task or changing a behavior other than just telling a student to try harder

    Energizer: A short activity that helps students move to a state of awareness and energy (e.g., a short game, a song, a drink of water, or walking around the room)

    Evaluation: A judgment of another person's work

    5-minute writes: A short writing activity where students respond to a question that the teacher poses to better understand what is happening inside or outside the classroom or what students know about a topic of study

    Freedom: Students having voice and choice in what happens in the classroom but not necessarily getting to do whatever they want

    General education classrooms: Classrooms where all students participate in learning, not where only special-needs students learn

    Inclinations: One of three qualities that represent intelligence (e.g., having the desire to continue to learn despite obstacles, addressing problems, and seeking out help when needed)

    Individual accountability: A role or structure that encourages a student to take responsibility for his or her own actions in support of a group project or goal

    Inquirer: Someone who wonders, ask questions, and looks for the next right answer

    Interdependence: A role or structure that encourages a student to rely on others in his or her group

    Learning disability: A disorder manifested by significant difficulties in the acquisition and use of listening, speaking, reading, writing, reasoning, or mathematical abilities but not low intelligence

    Mastery goals: Goals that encourage learners to develop new skills, try to understand their work, and improve their level of competence and that are based on where the individual learner begins

    Metacognitive knowledge: A student's ability to reflect on his or her own thinking and realize when something doesn't make sense

    Motivation: The desires, goals, and needs that determine our behaviors Paradox: A contradictory statement that may be true

    Para-professional: A person hired by a school district who assists a teacher with various activities in the classroom

    Pedagogical structures: Techniques, routines, games, questions, and so on, that help students learn and help the teacher teach a whole group of students effectively

    Pedagogy: The activities of educating or instructing; the “how” in teaching

    Performance goals: Competitive goals that encourage students to focus on their ability by outperforming others in achievements or grades

    Permissive environment: A classroom where students do whatever they want even if it hinders others' learning or their own

    Plan-do-review: A thinking routine where students make a plan, do it, and then spend time reviewing what happened

    Portfolio: A collection of materials that represent students' work and show examples of their growth in different subject areas

    Positive affect: Feeling that life is good and enjoyable overall

    Reflection: Thinking about, learning from, and making connections to happenings in the past, present, and future

    Relatedness: A sense that you are connected to others in some way

    Resiliency: The positive ability of a child to cope with stress and hardship, indicating his or her ability to resist future negative events

    Rewards: Something given to a person for worthy behavior or reaching a goal

    Scaffolding: A form of assistance provided by a teacher that includes knowing where a student is in his or her understanding of a topic and then using language tools, peers, and visuals, among other tools, to help him or her move forward in his or her understanding

    Self-efficacy: A person's judgment (which may be different from task to task and topic to topic) about how well he or she feels he or she will perform on a task

    Self-regulation: The ability to take responsibility for and direct one's own actions

    Sensitivities: One of three qualities that represent intelligence; the ability to notice that there is a problem or an issue

    Service learning: A project where students complete a task that helps others in some way and that provides opportunities for them to learn about different subjects, topics, or themselves

    Special-needs students: Students who require a unique tool, structure, or strategy or language assistance to be successful in the classroom

    Stimulus-response: A cause and effect link between an event and the action that follows Tally chart: A table or display that shows the frequency of a specific occurrence

    Teacher-centered: Classrooms where the teacher gives knowledge and expects the students to take and remember that knowledge

    Thinking routine: A teaching strategy consisting of a few memorable steps that are accessible to all learners, are easy to teach and learn, and get used repeatedly to help students think deeply about different topics and problems

    Vision: A picture or an image of what one would like to create

    Vulnerable: A child who is more likely than other children, for a variety of reasons, to be hurt emotionally or physically, to be behind in the classroom, or to need assistance

    Zone of proximal development (ZPD): A term used by Lev Vygotsky describing an area in which an individual student will best be able to learn and in which the material is not too hard and not too easy


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    About the Author

    Kerry Curtiss Williams taught elementary and middle school in the public school systems of Nebraska and Iowa. Her recent activities include mentoring and teaching undergraduate- and graduate-level students. She currently works with teachers pursuing their master's degrees in curriculum and instruction within a learning community format at Wayne State College in Nebraska. In addition, she teaches undergraduate courses in child development.

    Williams earned her bachelor's degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in the Extended Elementary Teacher Education Program (EETEP), a select experimental group. Named one of the college's “Ninety Notables,” Williams has presented at national conferences about math education and thinking routines in undergraduate teacher education courses. She earned a master's degree in leadership and adult development from Drake University and a PhD in administration, curriculum, and instruction from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Her published works include journal articles and a text titled Launching Learners in Science Pre-K-5. Williams conducts workshops for undergraduate and in service teachers on pedagogical structures, classroom management, and science education. She lives with her husband and two sons in Omaha, Nebraska.

    Dr. Williams can be reached at kewilli2@wsc.edu.

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