Positive Classroom Management

An Interview about Positive Classroom Management
with Larry Ferlazzo

I began a new feature called “Interview of The Month” where I interviewed various people in the education world about whom I wanted to learn more.

This month, my guest is Dr. Marvin Marshall. His ideas on positive classroom management have been a huge influence on my classroom practice. I strongly encourage people to subscribe to his free monthly newsletter, Promoting Responsibility & Learning.

Here’s our interview:

You’ve been advocating for a more positive approach towards classroom management for quite awhile. What got you thinking about it originally, and how would you summarize it in a few sentences?

We now know how the brain operates as it relates to emotions. First comes the cognition (input from our senses) and then is immediately connected to our emotions. For example, receive a compliment and you feel good. Be criticized and you feel bad. People do NOT do good when they feel bad. They do what you would like them to do when you communicate in positive terms. It is really quite simple: Let people know what you WOULD LIKE them to do, not want you do not want them to do.

What might be three key guidelines that a teacher could keep in mind, or on a small index card, to help remind him/her to stay more positive in the classroom?

  1. Ask yourself if the person hearing your communication will interpret what you say in positive terms.
  2. Ask yourself, “Will the person feel as if I am using coercion in any way?”
  3. Ask yourself, “What can I ask so that the person will feel that I am giving a choice and that I am prompting the person to reflect?”

What are a few ways you think your perspective on positive classroom management distinguishes itself from many of the other “systems” that are out there?

I have a number of them. However, if I were to limit them to two, here they are:

  1. I don’t rely on rules. Rules are used to control, not inspire. I use the term “Responsibilities” because I want to promote responsibility and this term raises expectations, something that relying on “rules” lacks.
  2. Imposing punishments, especially imposing the same consequence on all parties because it is unfair and counterproductive. ELICITING a procedure or a consequence from each participant is more fair, less stressful, and more productive for all.

You’ve done a fair amount of speaking to teachers in other countries. How would you describe the differences—if any—between how teachers in the U.S. tend to look at classroom management compared to those around the world?

Teachers in many other countries have more time to spend with each other in lesson planning. As a result, they focus on motivation and ways to have students WANT to put in effort in learning. Teachers in the U.S. are allowed little if any of their employment time to plan lessons. They focus on what they (or the government) want to be taught and focus on teaching that curriculum with hardly any time devoted to motivation. Teachers just expect that it is the students’ responsibility to learn what has been presented to them.

What are a few key mistakes do you think teachers tend to make around classroom management?

  1. They ASSUME students know what the teacher wants the students to do WITHOUT first modeling, practicing, and reinforcing the procedure to do what is being taught.
  2. They confuse classroom management (teaching procedures to make instruction efficient) and discipline (how students behave.)
  3. They assume that discipline is naturally negative. It’s not. The best discipline is the type that the person doesn’t even realize when being being disciplined.

What are some of the most useful things you’ve learned recently?

If I were to limit them to two, here they are:

  1. Coercion in any form is counterproductive.
  2. Anyone can learn the skill of asking reflective questions, the key to changing behavior.

Is there anything else you’d like to share that I haven’t asked you about?

Understand that no one can change another person. People change themselves. And that the least effective way to have a person want to change is by using commonly-used approaches such as relying on rules and using coercion.