Classroom Management


Instructional Management


Ensuring educational settings conducive to learning

Principal Metaphors

The idea that a group of learners is something to be managed was borrowed from business and politics, both of which took it up as a metaphor to describe their own activities in the late 1500s. (The first meaning of manage in English had to do with handling and directing horses.) Thus, while a wide range of sensibilities are currently associated with Classroom Management, the original cluster of associations were fitted with the following:
  • Knowledge is … awareness of appropriate comportment
  • Knowing is … behaving
  • Learner is … an entity to be trained
  • Learning is … being trained
  • Teaching is … training, controlling


1800s, with formal discourses emerging in the mid-1900s


Classroom Management was originally coined to refer to those tactics used by a teacher to maintain control and order. Through much of the 20th century, discussions of Classroom Management were overwhelmingly dominated by Behaviorisms (as elaborated below), with the weight of opinion shifting to more learner-focused, agency-based discourses over the past few decades. (The map at the bottom of this entry is intended to afford a sense of the range of influences across models.) A sampling of prominent discourses and models includes:  
School- and Teacher-Directed Management
  • Behavior Management (1960s) – Behavior Management is closely related to Behavior Modification, in that both discourses are focused behaviorism-based techniques to decrease undesired behavior. Behavior Modification is truer to principles of Behaviorisms, as it homes in on single behaviors of single individuals and makes use of prescriptive and precise programs. Behavior Management is a more classroom-focused discourse, and it offers advice for dealing with many individuals at once across multiple behaviors.
  • Classroom Behavior Modification (1960s) – a version of Behavior Modification that focuses on influencing inappropriate classroom behavior with a focus on responses available to teachers – which include both direct interventions as well as strategic use of seating plans, assignment deadlines, task requirements, and so on
  • Good Behavior Game (H.H. Barrish, 1960s) – a team-based strategy for Classroom Management in which students are informed of (and penalized for) misbehaviors. The winning team is awarded special privileges. The strategy is intended to be gradually withdrawn as the school year progresses.
  • Token Economy Classroom (1960s) – a Behavior Modification system based on points or tokens that are rewarded for desired behavior and taken back for misbehavior.
  • Assertive Discipline (Canter’s Theory of Assertive Discipline) (Lee Canter and Mary Canter, 1970s) – a model of classroom control that is explicitly rooted in Behaviorisms. It is oriented by the principle that no one should interfere with anyone else’s learning. It involves clear boundaries, targeted praise and rewards for abiding by the rules, and consistent and immediate consequences for any violation.
  • Kounins Theory of Classroom Management (Jacob Kounins, 1970s) – a model well-fitted to Directive Pedagogies that aims to encourage positive classroom behavior through preventative discipline – that is, through strategies that enhance the teacher’s awareness of student activity and learners’ responsibility for their own work.
  • Progressive Discipline (borrowed from labor relations, 1980s) – a disciplinary strategy based on pre-defined, graduated levels of response. Contrasted with a teacher-directed, punishment-focused model, which is seen to be reactive, proponents of Progressive Discipline argue that it is more participatory. That is, the model involves more interaction and greater feedback, providing opportunities for students to self-monitor and self-manage.
  • Reciprocal Punishment (1980s) – 1. the principle that a punishment should fit the crime. 2. a program of Classroom Management that is founded on that principle, with a prominent emphasis on forms of penance and atonement that afford insight the consequences of one’s actions. Associated discourses include:
    • Principle of Proportionality – concisely, the assertion that the punishment should fit the crime, typically traced back to the eye-for-eye sensibility expressed in Exodus 21:23–27
  • Natural Consequences (Logical Consequences) (various, 1990s) – A “natural consequence” is the predictable (by an expert) outcome of an action or event. In the context of Classroom Management, such outcomes are seen to be pedagogically useful, to support students’ understanding to of the impacts of their actions.
  • Positive Discipline (Jane Nelson, 1990s) – an authoritative management method grounded on clear communication of appropriate behaviors and their rewards, as well as inappropriate behaviors and their consequences. The method foregrounds encouragement and problem-solving, and it rejects yelling and severe punishment
  • Non-Adversarial Method (Fred Jones Theory) (Fred Jones, 2000s) – a model based in Behaviorisms that emphasizes positive rewards and the avoidance of conflict. Defining aspects include the exchange of desirable behavior for “preferred activity time,” efficient transitions between activities, and student regulation of each other’s behaviors (“co-regulation”).
  • Classroom Management Software (various, 2010s) – surveillance-focused digital tools to monitor and manage students’ usage of devices. Some Classroom Management Software enables teachers to interact directly with those devices.
  • Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (George Sugai, Robert Horner, 2000s) – an institution-wide model aimed at simultaneously supporting individual activities/engagements and collective culture (e.g., effective learning setting; caring environment). The original model was systems based (see Complex Systems Research), but some popularized versions lean more into Behaviorisms-rooted principles and practices as they target misbehaviors of at-risk students.
Collaborative Management
  • Unconditional Positive Regard (Carl Rogers, 1950s) – developed in the context of Psychotherapy and aligned with Humanisms, this discourse encourages affirming (and acting on the faith) that others are good and capable individuals. In the classroom context, strong emphases are placed on positive affirmations, addressing the roots of misbehaviors while demonstrating unconditional positive regard, and ensuring all students’ needs are met.
  • Congruent Communication Theory (Ginott’s Method) (Haim Ginott, 1970s) – oriented by the conviction that “there are no bad children, only bad behaviors,” this model focuses on respectful and inclusive conversations on behavior issues in which individual experiences and interpretations are accepted as valid
  • Pragmatic Method (Dreikur’s Classroom Management Theory) (Rudolf Dreikur, 1970s) – associated with Psychoanalytic Theories, a model of classroom management based on principles of mutual respect and a “desire to belong” – that is, the conviction that individuals want to feel accepted by, valued within, and contributing to a group. Misbehaviors are thus attributed to problematic efforts to establish a sense of belonging.
  • Teacher Effectiveness Training (Gordon Thomas, 1970s) – concerned with vitality of the teacher–student relationship, this model supports the development of effective communication and conflict resolution skills
  • Responsive Classroom (R. Chaney, 1990s) – a comprehensive model of classroom engagement that focuses on student choice, emotional awareness, self-development, and participation within a setting that places social curriculum on par with the academic curriculum
  • Restorative Practices (1990s) – a collection of strategies to mend relationships that have been damaged by antisocial, violent, or criminal behavior. Examples include restorative circles and group conferencing, where the wrongdoing is laid bare alongside actions to make things right.
Student-Directed Management
  • Democratic Classrooms (John Dewey, 1930s) – rooted in Pragmatism, and sharing many commitments and emphases of Activist Discourses, Democratic Classrooms are intended to support students’ understandings of the nature and necessity of fair and just rules by involving them in defining and enforcing them … with support, but not coercion, from the teacher.
  • Reality and Choice (William Glasser, 1990s) – based on Glasser’s Choice Learning and Reality Therapy (see Psychotherapy), this model emphasizes nurturing students’ awareness of their responsibility in making decisions on what they learn and how they behave.
  • Responsible Thinking Process® (Ed Ford, 1990s) – a trademarked model focused on Cognitive Processes rather than behaviors. In a non-manipulative and non-punitive setting, students are supported in thinking about how they might pursue their goals without compromising others’ learning experiences.
  • Student-Directed Learning Theory (Alfie Kohn, 2000s) – oriented by the conviction that systems based on Extrinsic Motivation Discourses are debasing and antithetical to authentic learning, Student-Directed Learning Theory focuses on Intrinsic Motivation Discourses as it casts the teacher’s role in terms of helping learners become aware of what and why they want to study. The guiding thesis is that imposed, teacher-centered control is less an issue in a classroom based on exchange of ideas, genuine choice, meaningful projects, productive collaboration, and genuine curiosity.
  • Tootling (Christopher Skinner, 2000s) – an approach to establishing a productive classroom climate by encouraging “tootling,” a complement of “tattling” that is focused on positive, appropriate social behaviors
Other practices and constructs associated with Classroom Management include:
  • Sponge Activity ­– a busywork task assigned to students to keep them occupied while the teacher attends to other pressing matters
  • Wait Time­­ – the span of time between posing a question and providing an answer. Considerable research has been conducted on the phenomenon. Results and recommendations tend to be fairly consistent, indicating that Wait Times of 5­–10 seconds contribute to greater attention, broader participation, and more thoughtful responses.


While the last few decades have seen an embrace of a broad range of perspectives and ideologies in discussions of Classroom Management, even a hasty analysis of “how-to-teach” manuals or popular websites will reveal that discourses and models associated with Behaviorisms continue to dominate discussions of the topic. No doubt, that persistence is in part attributable to the notion of “management” itself – that is, as noted above, with its deep-rooted associations to matters of control, dominance, and manipulation. Alternative have been proposed by educators who are aware of the tensions that come with such vocabulary – see, for example, Learning Environment.

Authors and/or Prominent Influences


Status as a Theory of Learning

Discourses on Classroom Management are typically informed by theories of learning – but, in our analysis, none can be interpreted as focused on or elaborating insights on the complex dynamics of learning.

Status as a Theory of Teaching

Discourses on Classroom Management are focused on the act of teaching.

Status as a Scientific Theory

Discourses on Classroom Management are better described as “ideological” than “scientific.” That is, the extent to which one or another might be characterized as “valid” or “effective” or “evidence-based” depends entirely on the educational intentions of the teacher.


  • Assertive Discipline (Canter’s Theory of Assertive Discipline)
  • Behavior Management
  • Classroom Behavior Modification
  • Classroom Management Software
  • Congruent Communication Theory (Ginott’s Method)
  • Democratic Classrooms
  • Good Behavior Game
  • Kounins Theory of Classroom Management
  • Natural Consequences (Logical Consequences)
  • Non-Adversarial Method (Fred Jones Theory)
  • Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports
  • Positive Discipline
  • Pragmatic Method (Dreikur’s Classroom Management Theory)
  • Principle of Proportionality
  • Progressive Discipline
  • Reality and Choice
  • Reciprocal Punishment
  • Responsible Thinking Process
  • Responsive Classroom
  • Restorative Practices
  • Sponge Activity ­
  • Student-Directed Learning Theory
  • Teacher Effectiveness Training
  • Token Economy Classroom
  • Tootling
  • Unconditional Positive Regard
  • Wait Time­

Map Location

Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2024). “Classroom Management” in Discourses on Learning in Education.

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