Classroom Management
Teachers Modules


Tom Kratochwill, PhD, University of Wisconsin

Classroom management, often called classroom discipline, has been a priority for teachers for nearly 40 years, or for as long as there have been opinion surveys of educational priorities. For example, the Gallup Poll designed to assess perceptions of public education (Rose & Gallup, 2006) has consistently cited classroom management/school discipline as a major issue. 

In a 2006 survey of Pre-K through 12th grade teachers conducted by the American Psychological Association (APA), teachers identified help with classroom management and instructional skills as their top need. Results from over 2300 responses showed that teachers wanted assistance with classroom management because of their concerns about student safety and their desire for strategies to deal effectively with students’ negative and/or disruptive behaviors.
Educators have consistently rated discipline as one of the most serious obstacles to promoting effective teaching.  In addition:

  • classroom management has been cited as one of the most prevalent reasons for job burnout and attrition of first-year teachers;

  • teachers’ concerns over their own safety directly relate to the use of effective classroom management programs.

Students in public schools have also reported that they feel unsafe due to lack of effective disciplinary procedures and potential for violence.

Although there is no agreed-upon definition of classroom management, the framework offered by Evertson and Weinstein (2006) represents a current and widely accepted view. According to Evertson and Weinstein, classroom management has two distinct purposes: “It not only seeks to establish and sustain an orderly environment so students can engage in meaningful academic learning, it also aims to enhance student social and moral growth” (p. 4). The authors identify five specific tasks that show classroom management is a multi-faceted activity. It extends beyond some of the more traditional behavior management techniques frequently recommended to deal with students with disruptive behavior.  Specifically, they note that teachers should do the following:

  • develop caring, supportive relationships with and among students;

  • organize and implement instruction in ways that optimize students’ access to learning;

  • use group management methods that encourage student engagement with academic tasks;

  • promote the development of student social skills and self-regulation; and

  • use appropriate interventions to assist students who have behavior problems.

Teachers concerned with classroom management typically need help with two issues: preventing discipline problems and dealing with current discipline problems. To address these concerns researchers have established several systems. One such system is called positive behavior support (PBS) (Crone & Horner, 2003; Crone, Horner, & Hawken, 2004) and the other is Social and Emotional Learning (SEL), which reflects the work of Weissberg and his colleagues affiliated with the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) (Weissberg, Kumpfer, & Seligman, 2003). PBS programs typically involve a school-wide structure of support for teachers that adopt evidence-based programs (see Freiberg & Lapointe, 2006), and small group and individualized programs for more serious student discipline concerns (see Robinson & Griesemer, 2006). PBS is typically set up as a multi-level model of intervention. It begins with (1) school-wide systems of support (called universal or primary prevention), (2) small group or more focused interventions (called selected or secondary intervention) for students who have similar problems such as aggression, and (3) individualized interventions (called indicated or tertiary intervention) for students who need very focused and more intense services for problematic and disruptive behavior. Tertiary interventions are typically used with students who have a more severe range of disruptive behaviors. These interventions begin with a functional assessment of the problematic behaviors.

As an example of a system of positive behavior support, a multitiered model might look something like the following: At the universal level, schools establish expectations for behavior; students, staff, and families state these expectations to ensure that they are understood; schools operationalize positive behaviors and teach them to students; teachers have pro-social contacts with students; teachers receive formal training in behavior management; the school establishes a school-wide leadership team; and the school implements a systematic system of recording student behavior to facilitate decision-making regarding students behavior.

At the secondary level of intervention, an evidence-based program such as First Steps to Success (Walker, Stiller, Bolly, Kavanagh, Steverson, & Feil, 1997) can be implemented with groups of students in need of this level of support.  At the tertiary level, schools can establish individualized programs for some students based on an analysis of what function the problematic behavior may be serving for the student. Because most classroom teachers have not been trained in functional assessment of behavior, it is important that they consult with their colleagues who have expertise in this area. Detailed information on establishing systems of positive behavioral support can be obtained from the chapter entitled, “Schooolwide Positive Behavior Support: Building Systems to Develop and Maintain Appropriate Social Behavior”  in the Handbook of Classroom Management  Lewis, Newcomer, Trussell, and Richter (2006). Another resource is a national assistance center (i.e., the Office of Special Education Programs Technical Assistance Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions & Supports). An example of PBS is presented in the Dos and Don’ts section of this module.

In contrast to PBS, which is based on a multitiered risk model of prevention, SEL focuses on building life skills and social competence. Further information on SEL can be found through several sources (e.g., Devaney, Utne O’Brien, Resnik, Keister, & Weissberg, 2006; Elias, Zins, Weissberg, Frey, Greenberg, Haynes, Kessler, Schwab-Stone, & Shriver, 1997; Zins, Weissberg, Wang, & Walberg, 2004). Web-based information on SEL and reviews of programs based on this model can be found at the Collaborate for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning website.

As an example of establishing social and emotional skills in the classroom, a teacher may hold class meetings or sharing circles where students are encouraged to share their thoughts and feelings about school and community events. These activities promote social interactions and build a sense of community in the classroom.