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Classroom and behaviour management for the 21st Century

12 March 2019

The educational sector’s approach to managing behaviour is continually evolving, as society better understands human needs and the most effective ways of meeting them. While there are many outside factors that inform behaviour management of students, the greatest influence is definitely behaviour psychology.

This has been the case for many years; you can trace it right back to the beginning of the 1900s. Here, we map out a brief timeline of the ways in which behaviour and classroom management have evolved over time, to show why they stand as they do today, and how educators can continue to provide value in their roles.

1900-1950s: Classical Conditioning – Operant Conditioning

The turn of the 20th Century saw classical conditioning booming. This was largely informed by Pavlov’s Dog, still regarded as one of the greatest scientific breakthroughs in history. His work drove classic conditioning forward, which suggests that you can associate something neutral (like the sound of a whistle being blown) with a particular stimulus (like feeling hungry) so that you could eventually make someone feel hungry every time they heard a whistle.

Although not directly mimicked within the classroom, educators have used it as a basis to assume that if students were given certain punishments in relation to misconduct, they should learn to stop doing that bad behaviour.

This line of thinking was refined further in 1953, thanks to B.F. Skinner’s model of operant conditioning. He developed the ‘ABC’ (Antecedent, Behaviours, Consequence) model. The idea with this is that an antecedent begins – for example, a teacher starts teaching their lesson. A behaviour then comes into play – in this case, we’ll say a student starts talking and distracting others. Finally, a consequence needs to occur, which, in this example, may be the teacher reprimanding the student and warning them to stop talking.

Potential problems with classical/operant conditioning

Both classical conditioning and operant conditioning rely on the belief that students will naturally learn that if their actions have a certain negative consequence, they’ll stop misbehaving pretty quickly.

However, we know that that doesn’t account for all individual students and their unique motivators behind why they might be misbehaving. Some students’ behaviour is driven by anxiety, while others may have outside factors influencing their actions such as having a history of neglect or abuse.

In fact, estimates show that students who may not follow these ‘rationalised’ codes of behaviour are likely to make up 15-30% of classrooms around Australia.

1950s-present: Humanist management models

After WWII, there was a movement into humanist models. Behavioural psychology began to focus less on ways in which behaviour could be manipulated and moulded, and more on the value of being seen as an individual.

In particular, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (in 1989) began to change the conversation on how educators should approach fulfilling the needs of their students (and, as a result, effectively manage behaviour).

Some highlights from these humanist models included Rupdolph Dreikurs’ ‘respectful classroom’, with the belief that there should be mutual respect between teachers and students. Carl Rogers explored the idea that there’s a person’s real self (their true qualities) and their ideal self (the qualities expected by significant others), and both should be unconditionally accepted.

Behaviour management in today’s classrooms

So how does all this theory and history translate into a modern classroom? Truthfully, there’s no perfect solution applied worldwide. However, the responsibility rests on educators to keep themselves informed – both in regard to where different management models have come from, and how it may affect their approach to teaching.

Understanding is key to being in control of your management techniques. That’s why advancing your skills through a Master of Education can be so beneficial. A course like this can help you to advance your knowledge and gain confidence in the way you manage behaviour within your classroom, empowering you to continue to provide quality education for your valued students.

Listen to our recent podcast with Dr Tony Yeigh, Academic Lecturer and Researcher at SCU's School of Education expand further on Classroom and Behaviour Management for the 21st century.

Find out more about studying a Master of Education with SCU Online, call our Student Enrollment team on 1300 589 882.