Why Freedom Is A Powerful Classroom Management Strategy

students need freedomThere is a common misconception that to be most effective at classroom management you have to be controlling.

The thinking is that the more you’re on of top of your students, the more you’re directing their actions and decisions, the more effective you’ll be.

This is why perpetually moving teachers are everywhere, on every campus, busying themselves with the ever-present fear that if they let up, they’ll lose control of their class.

They gesture, advise, cajole, hover, judge, praise, remind, admonish, suggest, and so on, seemingly without end.

But the notion that the more you manage your classroom the better is a myth. In fact, over-management causes more misbehavior than it dissuades.

It suffocates students.

It throws a lasso around their natural desire to make choices, solve problems, and explore their world. It crushes motivation and removes joy and adventure from learning.

And students fiercely rebel against it.

Freedom Within Boundaries

Think of your classroom management plan as a large square. The four sides of the square mark one continuous boundary line. Outside that line represents all the behaviors that threaten to interfere with learning.

Inside the line, however, represents the freedom for your students to learn and enjoy school without interference.

Your job is to stand sentry, protecting that boundary line with an unwavering adherence to your rules and their consequences.

The problem arises when you step inside the square and micromanage, throwing a wet blanket over inspired learning.

The resulting discontent causes a pushback from students and a surge of misbehavior.

A Few Simple Guidelines

What follows are a few guidelines to help you stay out of the square and let your students thrive.

Leave them alone.

Once you’ve finished your lesson and given your instructions, let your students run with what you’ve taught them. As long as they’re giving you what you asked for, and they’re not breaking your classroom rules, then leave them alone. Allow them to wrestle with the academic conundrums you’ve placed before them without your interruptions and running feedback.

Fade into the background.

Whenever you like what you see from your students, fade into the background. Give them a chance to mature and develop and become more independent without sticking your nose in and offering your unsolicited opinions and suggestions. For every time you do, your students lose out on high-quality learning.

Join them.

As you get better at knowing when to back off and let learning take place, you can start joining your students. It’s a great way to get to know their strengths and weaknesses. For example, you may want to sit in with a science or math group or participate in a game. Students love this trait in teachers, this ability to participate without putting on your mighty teacher hat.

Never manage how they learn.

Many teachers misunderstand the ‘Listen and follow directions’ rule. It should never be used to dictate how students learn. Yes, you have to teach clear guidelines for both working independently and in groups. But you must allow for individual differences and learning styles.

Never straightjacket learning with your over-involvement.

You know you’re on the right track when your students are able to work in groups, for example, fully engaged and often loudly animated, and yet you’re able to ask for and receive their quiet attention whenever you need it.

Let Them Be Students

Your role is to create conditions under which your students can blossom and grow. It’s to provide spirited teaching and the freedom to learn they all crave deep in their hearts.

Teach great lessons. Give clear instructions. Protect your boundary line without surrender. And then get out of their way.

Let them learn.

Let them love school.

Let them be students.

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4 Responses to Why Freedom Is A Powerful Classroom Management Strategy

  1. Carolyn Brown September 17, 2011 at 10:14 am #

    Thank you for this one. Everything needs a bit of rethinking this year. I’m at a brand new school and I have 43 fourth graders until they do the “shuffle” in about a month and get our classes down to the size they are supposed to be. It’s challenging in every way, not the least of which involves furniture. I’m teaching them procedures without being robots. It’s tricky because the old procedures don’t always work with such a large group or in a room where it’s not easy to walk around.