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Giving Students a Say


In a recent TLN article, educator Ariel Sacks suggests negotiating classroom management with students—and really listening to what they have to say. "My students and I battled burnout through honest dialogue, and [after we negotiated the routine together] they worked more productively than I had imagined possible," Sacks says.

Should students have a say in the classroom routine? If so, how much? Is this approach practical?


In the real World, the students are often "required" to contribute their thoughts and ideas on activities in which they are involved. Since the classroom is one of their main activity areas, they should be asked to contribute ideas and concerns and to discuss classroom activity and management with their teacher and peers. However, the teacher, who is responsible for helping the student to learn while managing the classroom in line with school policy, after listening to student comments and concertns, should decide on the best way to manage the classroom.

I hate it when people say "it depends" but in this case I have to say this. Without a doubt anytime a teacher/leader insures cooperation between the teacher and the rules that govern that environment, everyone feels connected and feels a sense of community that encourages willingness to follow the rules.And we all know that motivation and cooperation work together.

I operated my classroom like this as much as possible. But there are rules that come from other sources that teachers cannot and should not change. There is room for bending and shaping. How much may depend on the mood or tone of the school, the school/district discipline plan and the age group.

If the district is generating this idea as a goal for building the concepts of teamwork and collaboration, then this is easier to do than being the lone teacher in a school doing so.

If the school system is in terrible shape concerning discipline and respect for teachers maybe not.

Finally, while it is wonderful to be able to discuss rules and how to follow them, is this true in the real world? Will a boss ask them if they feel like following these rules? Are we doing a disservice to students by encouraging them to beleive there is a lot of choice when working in the business world.Many businesses seem to want their employees to be able to successfully work in teams and complete work, but what I hear and read from the business world, rules are not up for discussion. And in fact many of these bosses have dificulty finding employees who show up regularly and put in their time's worth for the job.
While I want students to grow up to be citizens who willingly follow the law, I also want them to realize that there are consequences if they don't and they should realize the inherent need for everyone to heed the law and respect it or chaos would ensue.

There are two (or more) ways of viewing the decision making process. Early industrial management practices focused on hierarchy, the use of middle management to separate decision-makers from line workers and downplaying the possibility of conflict or disagreement. Workers duties are separated from one another.

Post World War II management practices (from Deming to Japan and back again) have stressed a more cooperative approach, aimed at drawing out the knowledge, skills and abilities of front line workers and applying them to product improvement. Education--while decrying the "business model" has remained largely in the pre-World War II--assembly line thinking. Decision-makers make decisions and hand them off to middle management (teachers) to implement. Workers (students) are expected to obey and not question.

At the same time, there are likely pockets of permissiveness, chuck it all, do what you like teacher behaviors in the name of allowing students a say (or just simply lacking the skills to hold them in line). These give student involvement a bad name.

Student involvement in setting classroom routine (or school routine, or dress code, or prom theme or any other decision making) should focus on a responsible decision making process. Key questions--does a majority vote ensure compliance? Are there other methods of decision-making (eg consensus)? Are the students prepared to act on and support their decision? Is the decision in line with existing laws/rules/policies that are outside their control? Teachers need to set very clear parameters for decision-making. Students should be choosing from an array of ACCEPTABLE options.

While I have experienced many groups that operate without setting clear behavioral expectations, the most effective ones always do--whether it is around procedures, expectations of involvement or defining the job at hand, I have seen many groups founder because the group overlooked this key piece of organization.

Discussing classroom rules and routines is part of establishing relationships. This process is especially important at the beginning of the school year. Teachers have a choice. They either make a list of rules and expectations and present them to the class or give students the responsibility and right to participate in setting up an environment in which learning will happen. No matter which way we take, the basic idea of how the class should function should be the same. Once students together with their teachers find a workable solution, the most important phase starts, namely respecting the agreed upon rules and accepting the consequences in case the rules are broken.
I believe in discussion. My experience tells me that cooperation works best. Teachers should share with their students the ownership of the classroom management tools which should be simple and understood.

Classroom management is one of the most important skills a teacher needs to have. I have taught in Kuwait at an all boys Islamic School for the past 4 years. As most know young boys are full of energy and life which is one of the reasons why I love teaching these guys. However, they can be a handful to teach and manage. I have seen many teachers come and go in this environment in the past 4 years. One thing that I have learned from working in this environment is that the teacher is responsible for setting up classroom routine.

The teachers who had great classroom management skills at my school were successful in delivering instruction to these lively little fellows. Teachers who did not have classroom management skills were eaten alive by their students. So, what did all the teachers with great classroom management skills have in common? The answer is control.

Teachers with great classroom management skills were always in control because they set up the classroom routine and procedures. The teachers set up the rules and they also set up the consequences that would follow if those rules were broken. I believe procedures should be set in place by the teacher. I also believe the procedures should be organized and easy to follow.

I believe that the routine should be set up by the teacher. The teacher should discuss the classroom routine with the students, but the students should not have a say in how the classroom will be run. Students need to know how the teacher expects them to behave.
Harry Wong author of How to Be an Effective Teacher states that “It is the responsibility of the teacher to manage a class to see that a task-oriented and predictable environment has been established”.

In conclusion, I put in place procedures for the students to follow so they can work without getting confused. If students do not have set procedures then they can feel anxious about what is going to happen next. Having organized class routines set up by the teacher will allow students to work successfully.

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Recent Comments

  • Aaron / Teacher: Classroom management is one of the most important skills a read more
  • Demetra / Teacher: Discussing classroom rules and routines is part of establishing relationships. read more
  • Margo/Mom: There are two (or more) ways of viewing the decision read more
  • Christina J. Riggan/educator-25years: I hate it when people say "it depends" but read more
  • John Otrembiak: In the real World, the students are often "required" to read more




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