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September 1, 2018
Vol. 76
No. 1

Confronting Inequity / Are the Kids Really Out of Control?

+3
Students need support, not punishment.

Classroom Management
As the regular author of this column, Richard has written about walking down a hallway in an urban elementary school in the Midwest when a teacher proclaimed, "We are not moving until I see a straight line." He was stunned to see the 3rd graders desperately trying to figure out how to construct the line straight enough so that they could move. For six minutes, the teacher stood there with a look of disgust on her face because the students apparently could not make the line straight enough for her. He wondered what kind of learning opportunities the students were missing—or perhaps experiencing—during her six minutes of "teaching" this lesson. Based on our experience as former teachers and university faculty, this story is not unique. All over the United States, we have found that some teachers focus so much on rules that they sometimes forget the bigger picture of student development.
In addition, in our work in schools across the United States and beyond, we have often heard educators proclaim,"These kids are out of control!" We have found that too many teachers see classroom management as a way to control students. They attempt to control how students think, when they speak, how (or whether) they move, and where they complete their work. But far from being a constructive part of education, attempts to control students can have a damaging effect over time, and they tend to be met with increasing resistance as students grow older—which can lead to intensified problems. In our work, we attempt to convey to teachers that traditional classroom management mindsets and practices can be seen as a form of injustice and must be reimagined as educators work to meet the increasingly diverse needs of students.
We believe there are several essential elements to supporting educators in efforts to reimagine classroom management for justice, as we discuss in our forthcoming book, These Kids Are Out of Control: Why We Must Reimagine Classroom Management for Equity (Corwin, 2018). For instance, we explain important links between classroom management and the cradle-to-prison pipeline (CTPP). We examine how educators can understand factors that contribute to the CTPP and build knowledge about how classroom management is part of a broader context and, as such, has broad consequences, reaching beyond the day-to-day occurrences of a classroom. As Pedro Noguera has noted:
… disciplinary practices in schools often bear a striking similarity to the strategies used to punish adults in society. Typically, schools rely on some form of exclusion or ostracism to control the behavior of students … the assumption is that safety and order can be achieved by removing "bad" individuals and keeping them away from others who are presumed to be "good" and law abiding. Not surprisingly, those most frequently targeted for punishment in school often look—in terms of race, gender, and socioeconomic status—a lot like smaller versions of the adults who are most likely to be targeted for incarceration in society.
We also explain how effective classroom management is about creating a caring environment. Education is a human endeavor rooted in relationships. Relationships between educators and students must embody a deep sense of care and belonging. Such relationships are developed through explicitly co-constructed high expectations combining rigor and support, which are nurtured through persistent practices and a commitment to partnerships between schools and families and communities.
We also stress that classroom management is about effective instruction. Effective instruction emphasizes critical reflective practices for both teachers and students, engaging course content, positive student learning experiences, and connections to relevant cultural contexts.
Lastly, we explain that classroom management is about restorative discipline and restorative justice. Schools should be places where students (and educators) are expected to make and grow past and from their errors—both in learning content and in learning how to be a positively engaged member of the school community. Instead of removing students from the classroom or school as a punishment, a restorative discipline approach supports students in coming to terms with how their actions may have affected others and encourages them to take responsibility for their actions without leaving their school community. Moreover, as Maisha Winn explains (2018), restorative justice allows educators to think about their role in conflicts and work to make shifts in their practices.

Honoring Students

Here are some additional points educators should consider in working to redefine classroom management through a justice lens:
    ▪ Classroom environments must be co-constructed with students, community, and family members to become places where students actually want to be.
    ▪ The classroom should be a space where students feel emotionally, psychologically, and intellectually safe and able to take risks.
    ▪ Educators and students should establish expectations and norms that build on students' assets and strengths.
    ▪ School leaders must support engaged, collaborative learning, rejecting the obedience and compliance mindset and building environments where students can express themselves and find their agency.
    ▪ Leaders must also support teachers in developing curriculum and lessons that are relevant, engaging, responsive, and innovative. We must acknowledge that low-rigor worksheet exercises and arbitrary orders without explanation (such as getting into straight lines) can result in disengagement and resistance among students.
    ▪ School leaders, teachers, and students must commit to exploring new paths and cease practicing classroom management in a business-as-usual kind of way.
At the core of many of the classroom management practices that result in student disengagement or, worse, exclusion, lie disconnected teacher-student relationships and misconceptions about what today's students "need." The time is now to reimagine classroom management for justice because our students deserve to experience an education process, system, and culture that honors, values, and humanizes them.
End Notes

1 Noguera, P. A. (2003). Schools, prisons, and social implications of punishment: Rethinking disciplinary practices. Theory into Practice, 42(4), 341–350.

2 Winn, M. T. (2018). Justice on both sides: Transforming education through restorative justice. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.

H. Richard Milner IV is a professor of education and Cornelius Vanderbilt Endowed Chair of Education at Vanderbilt University. He is the author of Racing to Class: Confronting Poverty and Race in Schools and Classrooms (Harvard Education Press, 2015) and coauthor of "These Kids Are Out of Control": Why We Must Reimagine "Classroom Management" for Equity (Corwin Press, 2018).

Learn More


 Lori Delale-O'Connor is an assistant professor of urban education at the University of Pittsburgh, Center for Urban Education. They are a coauthor of These Kids Are Out of Control: Why We Must Reimagine Classroom Management for Equity (Corwin Press, 2018).


 Erika Gold Kestenberg is the associate director of educator development and practice and visiting assistant professor of urban education at the University of Pittsburgh, Center for Urban Education. They are a coauthor of These Kids Are Out of Control: Why We Must Reimagine Classroom Management for Equity (Corwin Press, 2018).

ASCD is a community dedicated to educators' professional growth and well-being.

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