not only supports the importance of classroom management, but it also
sheds light on the dynamics of classroom management. Stage and Quiroz's
meta-analysis (1997) shows the importance of there being a balance
between teacher actions that provide clear consequences for unacceptable
behavior and teacher actions that recognize and reward acceptable
behavior. Other researchers (Emmer, Evertson, & Worsham, 2003;
Evertson, Emmer, & Worsham, 2003) have identified important
components of classroom management, including beginning the school year
with a positive emphasis on management; arranging the room in a way
conducive to effective management; and identifying and implementing
rules and operating procedures.
In a recent meta-analysis of more than 100 studies
(Marzano, 2003b), we found that the quality of teacher-student
relationships is the keystone for all other aspects of classroom
management. In fact, our meta-analysis indicates that on average,
teachers who had high-quality relationships with their students had 31
percent fewer discipline problems, rule violations, and related problems
over a year's time than did teachers who did not have high-quality
relationships with their students.
What are the characteristics of effective
teacher-student relationships? Let's first consider what they are not.
Effective teacher-student relationships have nothing to do with the
teacher's personality or even with whether the students view the teacher
as a friend. Rather, the most effective teacher-student relationships
are characterized by specific teacher behaviors: exhibiting appropriate
levels of dominance; exhibiting appropriate levels of cooperation; and
being aware of high-needs students.
Appropriate Levels of Dominance
Wubbels and his colleagues (Wubbels, Brekelmans,
van Tartwijk, & Admiral, 1999; Wubbels & Levy, 1993) identify
appropriate dominance as an important characteristic of effective
teacher-student relationships. In contrast to the more negative
connotation of the term dominance as forceful control or command
over others, they define dominance as the teacher's ability to provide
clear purpose and strong guidance regarding both academics and student
behavior. Studies indicate that when asked about their preferences for
teacher behavior, students typically express a desire for this type of
teacher-student interaction. For example, in a study that involved
interviews with more than 700 students in grades 4–7, students
articulated a clear preference for strong teacher guidance and control
rather than more permissive types of teacher behavior (Chiu &
Tulley, 1997). Teachers can exhibit appropriate dominance by
establishing clear behavior expectations and learning goals and by
exhibiting assertive behavior.
Establish Clear Expectations and Consequences
Teachers can establish clear expectations for
behavior in two ways: by establishing clear rules and procedures, and by
providing consequences for student behavior.
The seminal research of the 1980s (Emmer, 1984;
Emmer, Sanford, Evertson, Clements, & Martin, 1981; Evertson &
Emmer, 1982) points to the importance of establishing rules and
procedures for general classroom behavior, group work, seat work,
transitions and interruptions, use of materials and equipment, and
beginning and ending the period or the day. Ideally, the class should
establish these rules and procedures through discussion and mutual
consent by teacher and students (Glasser, 1969, 1990).
Along with well-designed and clearly communicated
rules and procedures, the teacher must acknowledge students' behavior,
reinforcing acceptable behavior and providing negative consequences for
unacceptable behavior. Stage and Quiroz's research (1997) is
instructive. They found that teachers build effective relationships
through such strategies as the following:
- Using a wide variety of verbal and physical reactions to
students' misbehavior, such as moving closer to offending students and
using a physical cue, such as a finger to the lips, to point out
- Cuing the class about expected behaviors through prearranged
signals, such as raising a hand to indicate that all students should
take their seats.
- Providing tangible recognition of appropriate behavior—with tokens or chits, for example.
- Employing group contingency policies that hold the entire group responsible for behavioral expectations.
- Employing home contingency techniques that involve rewards and sanctions at home.
Establish Clear Learning Goals
Teachers can also exhibit appropriate levels of
dominance by providing clarity about the content and expectations of an
upcoming instructional unit. Important teacher actions to achieve this
- Establishing and communicating learning goals at the beginning of a unit of instruction.
- Providing feedback on those goals.
- Continually and systematically revisiting the goals.
- Providing summative feedback regarding the goals.
The use of rubrics can help teachers establish
clear goals. To illustrate, assume that a teacher has identified the
learning goal “understanding and using fractions” as important for a
given unit. That teacher might present students with the following
4 points. You understand the characteristics
of fractions along with the different types. You can accurately describe
how fractions are related to decimals and percentages. You can convert
fractions to decimals and can explain how and why the process works. You
can use fractions to understand and solve different types of problems.
3 points. You understand the basic
characteristics of fractions. You know how fractions are related to
decimals and percentages. You can convert fractions to decimals.
2 points. You have a basic understanding of
the following, but have some small misunderstandings about one or more:
the characteristics of fractions; the relationships among fractions,
decimals, and percentages; how to convert fractions to decimals.
1 point. You have some major problems or
misunderstandings with one or more of the following: the characteristics
of fractions; the relationships among fractions, decimals, and
percentages; how to convert fractions to decimals.
0 points. You may have heard of the following
before, but you do not understand what they mean: the characteristics of
fractions; the relationships among fractions, decimals, and
percentages; how to convert fractions to decimals.
The clarity of purpose provided by this rubric
communicates to students that their teacher can provide proper guidance
and direction in academic content.
Exhibit Assertive Behavior
Teachers can also communicate appropriate levels
of dominance by exhibiting assertive behavior. According to Emmer and
colleagues, assertive behavior is
the ability to stand up for one's legitimate
rights in ways that make it less likely that others will ignore or
circumvent them. (2003, p. 146)
Assertive behavior differs significantly from both
passive behavior and aggressive behavior. These researchers explain
that teachers display assertive behavior in the classroom when they
- Use assertive body language by maintaining an erect posture,
facing the offending student but keeping enough distance so as not to
appear threatening and matching the facial expression with the content
of the message being presented to students.
- Use an appropriate tone of voice, speaking clearly and
deliberately in a pitch that is slightly but not greatly elevated from
normal classroom speech, avoiding any display of emotions in the voice.
- Persist until students respond with the appropriate behavior.
Do not ignore an inappropriate behavior; do not be diverted by a student
denying, arguing, or blaming, but listen to legitimate explanations.
Appropriate Levels of Cooperation
Cooperation is characterized by a concern for the
needs and opinions of others. Although not the antithesis of dominance,
cooperation certainly occupies a different realm. Whereas dominance
focuses on the teacher as the driving force in the classroom,
cooperation focuses on the students and teacher functioning as a team.
The interaction of these two dynamics—dominance and cooperation—is a
central force in effective teacher-student relationships. Several
strategies can foster appropriate levels of cooperation.
Provide Flexible Learning Goals
Just as teachers can communicate appropriate
levels of dominance by providing clear learning goals, they can also
convey appropriate levels of cooperation by providing flexible learning
goals. Giving students the opportunity to set their own objectives at
the beginning of a unit or asking students what they would like to learn
conveys a sense of cooperation. Assume, for example, that a teacher has
identified the topic of fractions as the focus of a unit of instruction
and has provided students with a rubric. The teacher could then ask
students to identify some aspect of fractions or a related topic that
they would particularly like to study. Giving students this kind of
choice, in addition to increasing their understanding of the topic,
conveys the message that the teacher cares about and tries to
accommodate students' interests.
Take a Personal Interest in Students
Probably the most obvious way to communicate
appropriate levels of cooperation is to take a personal interest in each
student in the class. As McCombs and Whisler (1997) note, all students
appreciate personal attention from the teacher. Although busy
teachers—particularly those at the secondary level—do not have the time
for extensive interaction with all students, some teacher actions can
communicate personal interest and concern without taking up much time.
- Talk informally with students before, during, and after class about their interests.
- Greet students outside of school—for instance, at extracurricular events or at the store.
- Single out a few students each day in the lunchroom and talk with them.
- Be aware of and comment on important events in students'
lives, such as participation in sports, drama, or other extracurricular
- Compliment students on important achievements in and outside of school.
- Meet students at the door as they come into class; greet each one by name.
Use Equitable and Positive Classroom Behaviors
Programs like Teacher Expectations and Student
Achievement emphasize the importance of the subtle ways in which
teachers can communicate their interest in students (Kerman, Kimball,
& Martin, 1980). This program recommends many practical strategies
that emphasize equitable and positive classroom interactions with all
students. Teachers should, for example,
- Make eye contact with each student. Teachers can make eye
contact by scanning the entire room as they speak and by freely moving
about all sections of the room.
- Deliberately move toward and stand close to each student
during the class period. Make sure that the seating arrangement allows
the teacher and students clear and easy ways to move around the room.
- Attribute the ownership of ideas to the students who initiated
them. For instance, in a discussion a teacher might say, “Cecilia just
added to Aida's idea by saying that . . . .”
- Allow and encourage all students to participate in class
discussions and interactions. Make sure to call on students who do not
commonly participate, not just those who respond most frequently.
- Provide appropriate wait time for all students to respond to
questions, regardless of their past performance or your perception of
Awareness of High-Needs Students
Classroom teachers meet daily with a broad
cross-section of students. In general, 12–22 percent of all students in
school suffer from mental, emotional, or behavioral disorders, and
relatively few receive mental health services (Adelman & Taylor,
2002). The Association of School Counselors notes that 18 percent of
students have special needs and require extraordinary interventions and
treatments that go beyond the typical resources available to the
classroom (Dunn & Baker, 2002).
Although the classroom teacher is certainly not in
a position to directly address such severe problems, teachers with
effective classroom management skills are aware of high-needs students
and have a repertoire of specific techniques for meeting some of their
needs (Marzano, 2003b). Figure 1 (p. 10) summarizes five categories of
high-needs students and suggests classroom strategies for each category
- Passive students fall into two subcategories: those who fear relationships and those who fear failure.
Teachers can build strong relationships with these students by
refraining from criticism, rewarding small successes, and creating a
classroom climate in which students feel safe from aggressive people.
- The category of aggressive students comprises three subcategories: hostile, oppositional, and covert.
Hostile students often have poor anger control, low capacity for
empathy, and an inability to see the consequences of their actions.
Oppositional students exhibit milder forms of behavior problems, but
they consistently resist following rules, argue with adults, use harsh
language, and tend to annoy others. Students in the covert subcategory
may be quite pleasant at times, but they are often nearby when trouble
starts and they never quite do what authority figures ask of them.
Strategies for helping aggressive students include creating behavior
contracts and providing immediate rewards and consequences. Most of all,
teachers must keep in mind that aggressive students, although they may
appear highly resistant to behavior change, are still children who are
experiencing a significant amount of fear and pain.
- Students with attention problems fall into two categories: hyperactive and inattentive.
These students may respond well when teachers contract with them to
manage behaviors; teach them basic concentration, study, and thinking
skills; help them divide tasks into manageable parts; reward their
successes; and assign them a peer tutor.
- Students in the perfectionist category are driven to
succeed at unattainable levels. They are self-critical, have low
self-esteem, and feel inferior. Teachers can often help these students
by encouraging them to develop more realistic standards, helping them to
accept mistakes, and giving them opportunities to tutor other students.
- Socially inept students have difficulty making and
keeping friends. They may stand too close and touch others in annoying
ways, talk too much, and misread others' comments. Teachers can help
these students by counseling them about social behaviors.
Figure 1. Categories of High-Needs Students
Definitions & Source
Behavior that avoids the domination of
others or the pain of negative experiences. The child attempts to
protect self from criticism, ridicule, or rejection, possibly reacting
to abuse and neglect. Can have a biochemical basis, such as
Fear of relationships: Avoids connection with others, is shy, doesn't initiate conversations, attempts to be invisible.
Fear of failure: Gives up easily, is convinced he or she can't succeed, is easily frustrated, uses negative self-talk.
Provide safe adult and peer interactions
and protection from aggressive people. Provide assertiveness and
positive self-talk training. Reward small successes quickly. Withhold
Behavior that overpowers, dominates,
harms, or controls others without regard for their well-being. The child
has often taken aggressive people as role models. Has had minimal or
ineffective limits set on behavior. Is possibly reacting to abuse and
neglect. Condition may have a biochemical basis, such as
Hostile: Rages, threatens, or intimidates others. Can be verbally or physically abusive to people, animals, or objects.
Oppositional: Does opposite of what is asked. Demands that others agree or give in. Resists verbally or nonverbally.
Covert: Appears to agree but then does the opposite of what is asked. Often acts innocent while setting up problems for others.
Describe the student's behavior clearly.
Contract with the student to reward corrected behavior and set up
consequences for uncorrected behavior. Be consistent and provide
immediate rewards and consequences. Encourage and acknowledge
extracurricular activities in and out of school. Give student
responsibilities to help teacher or other students to foster successful
Behavior that demonstrates either motor or
attentional difficulties resulting from a neurological disorder. The
child's symptoms may be exacerbated by family or social stressors or
biochemical conditions, such as anxiety, depression, or bipolar
Hyperactive: Has difficulty with
motor control, both physically and verbally. Fidgets, leaves seat
frequently, interrupts, talks excessively.
Inattentive: Has difficulty staying
focused and following through on projects. Has difficulty with
listening, remembering, and organizing.
Contract with the student to manage
behaviors. Teach basic concentration, study, and thinking skills.
Separate student in a quiet work area. Help the student list each step
of a task. Reward successes; assign a peer tutor.
Behavior that is geared toward avoiding
the embarrassment and assumed shame of making mistakes. The child fears
what will happen if errors are discovered. Has unrealistically high
expectations of self. Has possibly received criticism or lack of
acceptance while making mistakes during the process of learning.
Tends to focus too much on the small
details of projects. Will avoid projects if unsure of outcome. Focuses
on results and not relationships. Is self-critical.
Ask the student to make mistakes on purpose, then show acceptance. Have the student tutor other students.
Behavior that is based on the
misinterpretation of nonverbal signals of others. The child
misunderstands facial expressions and body language. Hasn't received
adequate training in these areas and has poor role modeling.
Attempts to make friends but is inept and
unsuccessful. Is forced to be alone. Is often teased for unusual
behavior, appearance, or lack of social skills.
Teach the student to keep the appropriate
physical distance from others. Teach the meaning of facial expressions,
such as anger and hurt. Make suggestions regarding hygiene, dress,
mannerisms, and posture.
Source: Marzano, R.J. (2003). What works in schools: Translating research into action (pp. 104–105). Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
School may be the only place where many students
who face extreme challenges can get their needs addressed. The reality
of today's schools often demands that classroom teachers address these
severe issues, even though this task is not always considered a part of
their regular job.
In a study of classroom strategies (see Brophy,
1996; Brophy & McCaslin, 1992), researchers examined how effective
classroom teachers interacted with specific types of students. The study
found that the most effective classroom managers did not treat all
students the same; they tended to employ different strategies with
different types of students. In contrast, ineffective classroom managers
did not appear sensitive to the diverse needs of students. Although
Brophy did not couch his findings in terms of teacher-student
relationships, the link is clear. An awareness of the five general
categories of high-needs students and appropriate actions for each can
help teachers build strong relationships with diverse students.
Don't Leave Relationships to Chance
Teacher-student relationships provide an essential
foundation for effective classroom management—and classroom management
is a key to high student achievement. Teacher-student relationships
should not be left to chance or dictated by the personalities of those
involved. Instead, by using strategies supported by research, teachers
can influence the dynamics of their classrooms and build strong
teacher-student relationships that will support student learning.
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