Classroom Management, Discipline, Curriculum, and Instruction

An understanding of each distinctive concept is essential for effective teaching.

“The Brilliant Inventiveness of Student Misbehavior: Test Your Classroom Management Skills” was the title of an article in a well-respected educational journal. The article had some good suggestions. However, there was a glaring misnaming in that the article had nothing to do with classroom management. The article was entirely about discipline.


So are many educators—even college professors. When speaking at an international conference on character education, a college professor said to me, “I don’t like the word ‘discipline’; it’s too harsh, so I use the term ‘classroom management’ instead.” This teacher of teachers had not a clue as to the differences.

I was honored as the Distinguished Lecturer at a conference of the Association of Teacher Educators (ATE). The membership of this USA association is primarily composed of university professors who teach methods and other educational courses. At my behest, the name of the Special Interest Group (SIG) was changed from “Classroom Management” to “Classroom Management and Discipline.”

Although related, these are distinctly different topics and should not be lumped together as if they were synonymous.

CLASSROOM MANAGEMENT deals with how things are done. It has to do with procedures, routines, and structure—sometimes to the point of becoming rituals. Classroom management is the teacher’s responsibility and is enhanced when procedures are:
1. Modeled
2. Explained
3. Practiced
4. Reinforced by periodically practicing again.

When procedures are learned, routines are established. Routines give order and structure to instruction.

Perhaps the greatest error teachers make is assuming students know what to do without first implementing steps 1-4 above.

Good classroom management is essential for efficient teaching and learning. Chances are that when you walk into a room, you do not pay much attention to the floor. But if it were missing, you would. The analogy works for classroom management. You don’t notice it when it is good. But without it, the lack of it is readily apparent, and discipline problems significantly increase. 

Anytime students do something that irritates the teacher, the first thought should be, “What procedure can I teach so that this doesn’t happen again?”

Classroom management is the teacher’s responsibility.

DISCIPLINE, in contrast to classroom management, is the student’s responsibility and has to do behavior—not procedures. It is about acting responsibly, impulse management, and self-control.

Classroom management and discipline are two of the four distinctive concepts necessary for an understanding of effective teaching. The other two concepts are curriculum and instruction.

CURRICULUM refers to the subject matter and skills to be taught. The curriculum is determined by state departments of education, boards of education, the “federal agenda,” professional associations, the community—and, more recently, corporate performance accountability models for learning.

It is the teacher’s responsibility to make the curriculum relevant, interesting, meaningful, and/or enjoyable.

INSTRUCTION has two components: (1) teaching and (2) learning. The former refers to what the teacher does, the latter to what students do.

Good teaching of a lesson has three parts: (1) grabbing interest, (2) the actual presentation of the material (and if a skill, practice), and (3) student reflection for enhanced understanding, reinforcement, and retention. A major mistake teachers make is not spending a few minutes at the end of each lesson having students share with one other person what each has learned. By sharing with one other person, 100% participate—even shy students.)

A) What the teacher does

 A good starting point is for the teacher to ask,“Why am I teaching this?” and then share the reasons with students.

A fellow proudly announces that he has taught his dog to whistle. The dog cannot whistle but, nevertheless, the owner taught the dog. Point: Teaching and learning are to distinct activities; one pertains to the teacher and the other pertains to the learner.

B) What students do

Learning that is retained requires active involvement. We remember:

10% of what we read
20% of what we hear
30% of what we see
50% of what we see and hear
70% of what we say
90% of what we say and do

So, if you have an unsuccessful lesson and want to increase your effectiveness, ask yourself:

(1) Was it the curriculum? (I just didn’t make it appealing, interesting, relevant, enjoyable, meaningful or prompt curiosity.) or
(2) Was it instruction? (I had a wonderful lesson planned, but I did all the work; the students were not engaged enough in learning activities.) or
(3) Was it classroom management? (I had a wonderful lesson, but it took 10 minutes to get everything organized.) or
(4) Was it a discipline problem? (I prompted’ curiosity, taught a good lesson with meaningful student activities, had everything organized and implemented efficiently butt a few students still behaved inappropriately. 

Conclusion: Reflecting on these questions enhances a clear understanding of the differences between each and is a smart start because it pinpoints the challenges to be addressed.

  1. When was this article first posted?

  2. My articles, some similar to the one you refer to, have been published nationally and internationally for many years. Here is an example:

    Is there any particular reason that you ask?