Classroom Management Theories 101

Many educators struggle to adopt new behavior management techniques. One reason is that not every tactic works on every student. Another reason is simple human error. 

Even a teacher or specialist with the best intentions is bound to make classroom management mistakes from time to time. A good way to circumvent these issues is to familiarize yourself with a wide variety of classroom management theories.

Classroom Management Theories

The following K-12 classroom management theories cater to a range of teaching styles and preferences. We recommend reading through all of them to gain a better understanding of how classroom management works.

Classroom Management Theory #1: Behaviorist

This classroom management theory continues to be one of the most widely used throughout K-12 schools. It focuses on fixing the student’s undesired behaviors with rewards and punishments. However, be careful not to fall into the trap of calling too much attention to undesired behaviors. 

Instead, focus on positive reinforcement by awarding good behavior. You can do this by setting up individual and class-wide goals and acknowledging improvements, even minor ones.

Classroom Management Theory #2: Humanist

The humanist approach focuses on the child as a whole, which includes their emotional well-being. Instead of enacting a punishment, the teacher must explore the root of the problem to determine which negative influences are impacting the child’s behavior. These negative influences are often basic needs, like hunger, fatigue, and emotional insecurity. 

Once the cause is identified, the teacher then works to remove the negative influences from the classroom. This might involve changing an aspect of the classroom environment, such as temperature, air quality, or class size. It could even include providing a small snack or a power nap. 

Setting aside valuable time to let students rest their eyes might seem impractical. However, if five minutes of meditation at the start of class prevents fifteen minutes of disruption later, it is time well spent. 

Behavior Management Theory #3: Democratic

This K-12 classroom management theory is based on the concept of mutual respect. It involves empowering students by letting them decide on classroom rules and repercussions. As a result, students feel their opinions are valued, and their voices are heard.

It also helps them understand the reasons behind the rules and why they are effective. If a specific rule fails to maintain order, the students see the breakdown firsthand. Then they get to play an active role in finding a more effective solution. 

Avoid falling into the habit of coercing or manipulating students into creating certain rules. For this method to work, students must have a real say in the matter. Ease up on the reigns and work with your students to develop solutions that serve everyone. 

This type of classroom management theory can be challenging to navigate, particularly when working with children with special needs. However, the autonomy and confidence that democratic classrooms provide are valuable for students as they progress through their education.

Classroom Management Theory #4: Psychoanalytic

Unconscious thoughts and perceptions have a significant impact on a child’s behavior. Teachers who use a psychoanalytic method work to identify the motivation behind a child’s actions. The four main motivators to undesired behavior are: 

Attention: Students act out to receive attention from their teacher or peers. This often occurs with students who feel underappreciated either at home or school. 

Power: These are lone wolf students who don’t feel a sense of acceptance or belonging. They seek power to level the playing field. 

Revenge: A child might be acting out because they feel they have been mistreated. This motivator often occurs in response to unfounded disciplinary action or peer bullying

Inadequacy: This motivator is common in students who feel like they have failed or are incapable of success.   

Once you have identified the underlying motivator, you are better able to address the behavior. Start by creating a safe space for expression and discussion. When the individual voices their concerns in this way, it helps them feel empowered and validated. 

When it is not possible to address the behavior the moment it occurs, you can temporarily ignore or redirect the student. Just make sure you take time to follow up with them later.

Classroom Management Theory #5: Cognitive

Cognitive theories focus on the student’s mental state. They encourage students to look critically at their actions and the reasons behind them. This instills the student with a sense of mutual respect and allows them to take an active role in their learning. 

Classroom management tips for this theory include: 

  • Asking open-ended questions
  • Avoid over-explaining the issue 
  • Encourage students to set behavior goals
  • Give students time to consider the effects of their actions

The best way to view cognitive theory is as a partnership. Parents, teachers, and students must all work together to develop standards the student is willing and able to follow. 

Classroom Operations

Finding the best classroom management theories for your classes will depend heavily on your teaching style and preferences.

Teachers who need to feel in complete control can struggle with more laid-back approaches, like the democratic theory. Unfortunately, this style might work the best with their students. 

Remember to keep an open mind as you try different classroom management theories and techniques. A difficult adjustment for you is worth it if it leads to peace and productivity in the classroom. 

What if you’ve implemented various theories in your class but are still struggling to find a method that works? Consider advancing your skills with behavior management training. With over 60 hours of educator workshops, Insights to Behavior University can help you discover fresh perspectives and effective strategies.

Become a Better Classroom Manager

Understanding different classroom management theories will help your classes run smoother and mitigate disruptive behavior. Be willing to try new tactics, and recognize effectiveness varies depending on the group of students. Also, remember classroom management doesn’t end with the teacher. 

If you’re a school counselor, SPED director, psychologist, or principal, you also play an important role in the student’s education. Get helpful resources to manage student behavior in your school, and learn how to develop legally-defensible behavior intervention plans in under an hour with Insights to Behavior.

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