"Many of us took a course in classroom management during our pre-service education.  If we really want to move education in the direction of student centeredness and encourage differentiation, then teacher education courses in classroom management should expire.  We need to replace them with 'classroom leadership' courses.  Strike the term 'classroom management' from education because the concept self-perpetuates the problem.  The more you manage others, the more they need to be managed.  You cannot manage people into being responsible, intrinsically motivated, cooperative people who strive to reach their own personal potential.  For that we need classroom leaders."
[Differentiating the High School Classroom, Nunley, p. 84]
In my first year or two of teaching, I struggled with control.  I didn't struggle in the stereotypical way of classroom management, but instead the exact opposite.  Perhaps my biggest downfall was thinking that I could control students for part of the class period and then they would magically figure the rest out on their own.  I had this picture in my mind that my think-alouds and rigorous math problems would someday yield critical thinkers and students who would naturally mature into being independent learners.  I was wrong. 

Kathie Nunley suggests that a teacher's desire for control in his/her classroom is one of eighteen obstacles to differentiating learning experiences within the classroom walls.  The more I think about it, the more I agree.  A few quick bullet points sum up my thinking:
  • My natural tendency is to AVOID FAILURE and create successful opportunities for my students. 
    Truth: Without failure, nothing changes.  Failure has the potential to encourage innovation and discovery.
  • My natural tendency is to create the SAME learning environment for ALL students.  It's a control issue.
    Truth: Providing students with several legitimate choices to learn/demonstrate the same learning target empowers students and increases motivation.
  • My natural tendency is to believe that a CONTROLLED class is WELL-RUN class.
    Truth: Learning, not control, is the currency of education.
Nunley sums up this obstacle well on p. 81.
"One of the main reasons many teachers resist differentiated approaches to teaching is they think it will cause them to lose control in their classrooms.  Teachers like control...Whether or not learning is occurring is beside the point when what matters most is the control they have over their students."
In an era of administrators conducting classroom walk-throughs, it is hard not to get caught up in the view from the window rather than carefully observing students conversations and productions.  When my students are discussing their quizzes in groups for five minutes and it seems like chaos, that's okay.  When my students are spending two minutes in a think-pair-share, that's okay.  When students are sitting around the room in groups, discussing their practice problems while sending individuals to the board to check their answers, only to find out they got them all wrong at first, that's okay.  If our focus is truly on learning, does it matter if our classrooms look messy and out-of-control to the uninformed eye?

I don't really know what it means to be a "classroom leader" but I do know that managing my students for several years wasn't working out so well.  Letting go and in turn encouraging more student discussion and reflection has yielded incredible results.  I'm slowly figuring out that success has less to do with managing students and more about pointing them in the right direction: learning.

Will you join me in placing the KABOSH on the term "classroom management" for the sake of our students?