Commentary: A Response to NCTQ’s Classroom Management Report

The authors are members of AACTE’s topical action group on Teacher Education as a Moral Community. The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect the views of AACTE.

A recent National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) report evaluates teacher preparation programs for their attention to an important element of preparation: classroom management. Unfortunately, the report’s few helpful suggestions get lost in the slough of misguided assumptions and questionable claims by the report’s authors.

The good news first: The report emphasizes the necessity of an important facet of teacher preparation that should not be overlooked. Classroom management has been and continues to be a primary concern for beginning teachers.1 Research shows that minimizing students’ off-task and unproductive classroom behaviors increases academic learning time. Furthermore, the teacher is the lynchpin for setting the tone and establishing the classroom climate. As the NCTQ authors reiterate throughout the report, it is important that teachers know and develop capacities to implement research-based practices to manage a classroom effectively.

Now, the bad news—or maybe more appropriately stated, the assumptions made by the NCTQ authors that ignore the complexity and context of effectively managed classrooms:

  1. Relational irrelevance. The five “research-based classroom management strategies” that “serve as the yardstick” for the NCTQ report suffer a glaring omission: the fundamental role of classroom relationships. Important relationships that must be carefully cultivated include student-teacher relationships as well as peer relationships. Given the overwhelming body of research in this area,2 it is inadequate to dismiss it in a small text box (see p. 5 of the report) that claims the value of student-teacher relationships is only to facilitate teachers’ capacity to establish rules and routines. Researchers at the University of Virginia3—an institution identified as a “bright spot” in the NCTQ report—have systematically studied and defined how classroom relational dynamics contribute to a positive emotional climate, which they identify as a fundamental component in an effectively run classroom.
  2. Dismissing context. The NCTQ authors criticize the use of broad terms such as “positive learning environment” and focus only on the teaching of techniques within candidates’ preparation programs. This simplistic view of teaching and learning assumes that input X always results in outcome Y. In fact, 30 years ago, the Effective Schools research4 provided empirical evidence that outcome Y usually did not result from the same inputs, especially when the schools were situated in different contexts. Because one set of techniques will result in a positive learning environment in one classroom while very different techniques may be required in another classroom, a broad phrase such as “positive learning environment” is helpful to accurately capture the outcome teachers are trying to achieve. The importance of techniques should not be minimized, but techniques also should not overshadow the goals they are trying to achieve or minimize the centrality of how techniques operate within a particular context.
  3. Equating the written curriculum with the enacted curriculum. A document review without interviews or direct observations limits the types of claims that can be made about a program, but the NCTQ authors neglect to acknowledge this limitation in their methods. They also ignore a basic premise in curriculum theory: the written curriculum is not equivalent to the enacted curriculum. What happens in clinical practice with the professor, cooperating teacher, and student teacher is not necessarily captured by a syllabus.
  4. Focusing on the “what” versus the “how.” As former classroom teachers, we are quite familiar with the result of both effective and ineffective learning environments, and we know from experience that it is a good idea, for example, to have a list of rules. However, how the rules are developed and enacted is of critical importance. Developing collaborative relationships with students and including them in the establishment of rules and procedures leads to more ownership in and respect of such rules.5 We also saw more long-term changes in student behavior when we added the element of self-regulation with alternative actions rather than imposing irrelevant consequences. A plethora of research notes that praise, or rather “positive reinforcement,” is beneficial in that it helps build both self-regulation and intrinsic motivation. Positive reinforcement gives students more information on what they are doing right and the positive results of their appropriate behavior. By relying on a simplistic measurement, the NCTQ report neglects the complexities that comprise effective learning environments.

Although NCTQ’s report rightly emphasizes research-based practices in classroom management, the authors’ pervasive assumptions compromise the report’s credibility and the potential utility of its recommendations. In the future, groups such as NCTQ will be more effective in enhancing teacher education if they reach beyond their assumptions and adopt a more objective stance toward their research.

1Fuller, F. F. (1969). Concerns of teachers: A developmental conceptualization. American Educational Research Journal, 6(2), 207-226; Weinstein, C. S., Romano, M., & Rigano, Jr., A. (2010). Elementary classroom management: Lessons from research and practice (5th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw Hill.
2See Brackett, M. A., Reyes, M. R., Rivers, S. E., Elbertson, N. A., & Salovey, P. (2011). Classroom emotional climate, teacher affiliation, and student contact. Journal of Classroom Interaction, 46(1), 27-36; Hamre, B. K., & Pianta, R. C. (2001). Early teacher-child relationships and the trajectory of children’s school outcomes through eighth grade. Child Development, 72(2), 625-638; Hamre, B. K., Pianta, R. C., Downer, J. T., DeCoster, J., Mashburn, A. J., Jones, S. M., et al. (2013). Teaching through interactions: Testing a developmental framework of teacher effectiveness in over 4,000 classrooms. Elementary School Journal, 113(4), 461-487; Martin, A. J., & Dowson, M. (2009). Interpersonal relationships, motivation, engagement, and achievement: Yields for theory, current issues, and educational practice. Review of Educational Research, 79(1), 327-365; Weinstein et al., 2010; Wentzel, K. R., & McNamara, C. C. (1999). Interpersonal relationships, emotional distress, and prosocial behavior in middle school. Journal of Early Adolescence, 19(1), 114-125.
3See Hamre & Pianta, 2001; Hamre et al., 2013.
4See Hallinger, P., & Murphy, J. F. (1986). The social context of effective schools. American Journal of Education, 94(3), 328-355.
5Evertson, C. E., & Weinstein, C. S. (Eds.). (2006). Handbook of classroom management: Research, practice, and contemporary issues. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates; Walker, J. M. T. (2009). Teacher practices and teacher style: What we can learn from research on parenting. Theory Into Practice, 48(2), 122-129.

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Deborah Schussler

Associate Professor, Penn State University

Lisa Johnson

Associate Dean, Richard W. Riley College of Education, Winthrop University (SC)