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Instructional Strategies > Professional Development

Classroom Management and Environment: What’s the difference?


A professor of mine in college often discussed the difference between “classroom management” and “classroom environment”.  Despite her colleagues’ definitions, she defined classroom management as the way in which a teacher manages his or her classroom.  Organizing lessons, managing absent students, keeping materials in proper order…basically, defining how a teacher runs the physical classroom, not the students.  She urged us, when discussing how we would manage our students, to refer to it as the classroom environment.  She often asked us how we would maintain a structured environment, or a positive or collaborative environment, but never how we would manage our students.

I think about this a lot when I think about how different my classroom is now compared to my first year of teaching.  During that year I was a manager.  My goal was to keep the students under control in order to accomplish the lesson.  Discussions among the students were completely led by me because I couldn’t trust them to discuss the assignment.  When I collected papers, I put them in their classroom folders because I couldn’t trust them to put the papers in the right place.  Any classroom materials were passed out by me and I collected them because I couldn’t trust them to put the materials back the right way.  I spent a lot of time managing my students and certainly didn’t spend enough time managing my classroom.  After watching teachers, I’ve noticed this is a common rookie mistake.

My classroom now has a structured and positive environment.  It is one where conversations are encouraged, a little bit of a mess is okay, and my students work just as hard as I do to manage the classroom.  They have personal baskets for their materials (post-it notes, pencil, highlighter, and anything extra they need).  They have binders that are checked regularly for organization.  They can rearrange their desks to partner with their shoulder partner, or get in groups of four in under five seconds.  This environment did take time and a lot of practice, but it is SO much easier to have a classroom that is managed by the students themselves than to have on that is managed entirely by me.

Tying this to the Danielson Framework, or any other evaluation system out there, I think that’s what a lot of people were getting at when they labeled parts of the rubric as “Classroom Environment”.  It is not how well behaved the students are or how strict the teacher is, but how the students and the teacher work together to create the class.

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