17 Classroom Management Styles

17 Classroom Management StylesReviewed by Dave Cornell (PhD)

Dr. Cornell has worked in education for more than 20 years. His work has involved designing teacher certification for Trinity College in London and in-service training for state governments in the United States. He has trained kindergarten teachers in 8 countries and helped businessmen and women open baby centers and kindergartens in 3 countries.

classroom management definition and theories, explained below

Common classroom management styles include the assertive discipline method, Ginott’s Method, and the pragmatic method.

Teachers tend to develop their classroom management style based upon their teaching philosophy. A behaviorist teacher might use assertive discipline, while a progressive teacher might use choice theory.

Other teachers might have a situational approach, where their style depends on the class and students they’re working with.

To first determine your teaching philosophy, read here.

The below styles overlap, but reflect a range of styles of classroom management.

Classroom Management Styles

1. Authoritarian

The authoritarian style is based on Baumrind’s five parenting styles1, but is equally used in education to describe behavior management in the classroom.

Baumrind describes authoritarian parents as parents who has firm expectations that children follow all rules unquestioningly1,2. Similarly, authoritarian teachers would be those who do not take even a sliver of misbehavior.

Shaw and Starr (2019, p. 3509)2 provide this definition:

“[Authoritarian parenting/teaching involves] high levels of hostility, coercion, and psychological control, and low levels of warmth and acceptance”

The following terms might resonate with authoritarian teachers:

  • “tough love”
  • “do as I say”
  • “children should be seen and not heard”

Research shows that children of authoritarian parents tend to comply with authority and obey the rules very well. However, because they have not learned to express their feelings or think that their opinions are valued and respected, they can become socially and emotionally withdrawn and even lash out and have other behavioral issues at school3,4. Furthermore, research has found it does not lead to the best academic results compared to an authoritative approach5, outlined next.

Overall, a teacher needs to be careful when using this style that they don’t crush children’s self-esteem or ability to express themselves openly. For more on the effects of this approach, see my article: authoritarian parenting effects.

Authoritarian Teacher CharacteristicsTypical Student Profile
Rules consistently enforcedObedient and compliant
Sometimes harsh punitive disciplineSocial and emotionally withdrawn
Discussion and opinion not allowedLow self-esteem and self-worth
Little explanation of punishmentStruggle with emotional regulation

2. Authoritative

The authoritative style is defined by teachers who set high expectations but also explain those expectations, ensure they are fair, allow for student autonomy and independence, and allow for fair discussion about the rules.

As Baumrind notes of the authoritative leader:

“She encourages verbal give and take, and shares with the child the reasoning behind her policy” (p.22).

A substantial body of research shows that an authoritative approach tends to lead to positive behavioral and academic results3,6. For example, Tanvir et al. (2016, p. 37)6 found that “there is a significant positive relationship between authoritative parenting style of parents and academic achievement of children.” Similarly, Kuppens and Ceulemans (2019)3 found that “…children of two positive authoritative parents demonstrated the lowest levels of conduct problems” (p. 177)

Authoritative Teaching CharacteristicsTypical Student Profile
High but reasonable expectationsAchievement oriented
Fair and consistent disciplineHappy and cooperative disposition
Encourages discussion and sharing opinionsHigh self-esteem and self-worth
Clear explanations of punishmentGood at emotional regulation

3. Permissive

The permissive classroom management style is kind and caring, but also lacks sufficient adult authority and control. Rules are rarely enforced.

This teacher might choose to give students bribes to behave and avoid confrontation at all costs.

As you may expect, this approach tends to raise students with low sense of social responsibility, poor achievement-orientation, and lower grades. For example, Tanvir et al. (2016, p. 37)6 found that “…permissive parenting style of both mother and father effects negatively on the CGPA” (p. 37).

Permissive Teaching CharacteristicsTypical Student Profile
Almost no expectationsLow in achievement orientation
Inconsistent disciplineTrouble with authority figures
Allow emotional and behavioral freedomLack self-discipline and emotional regulation
Nurturing and lovingHappy when getting their way

4. Indulgent/Neglectful

This classroom management style is characterized by detached and disinterested teachers who are there for the paycheck. They tend to be uninvolved, detached, and frequently turning a blind eye to students’ behaviors.

This teaching style tends to occur when teachers have lost interest in the profession or given up on behavior management after failing at attempting various other methods.

Research shows that the indulgent parenting and teaching style tends to lead to children with lower academic self-esteem (Martinez & Garcia, 2008)7, lower expectations of their future (Moscatelli and Rubini, 2011)8, and lower maturity levels (Steinberg et al., 2006)9 than children in consistently authoritative environments.

Neglectful Parenting CharacteristicsChild’s Profile
Very few demandsLacks focus and ambition
Low emotional responsivenessDifficulty forming healthy relationships
Limited interactions with childLow self-esteem and self-worth
Cold and distantProne to delinquency and misbehavior

5. Democratic Style

The democratic classroom management style is based on the progressive education philosophy of scholars such as John Dewey10 and Paulo Freire11.

This model highlights that we should raise active participatory citizens12. This begins in the classroom – with educators working with students to create the rules13.

It might, for example, involve co-creating classroom rules, with the intent of having the students take co-ownership of the rules, giving them buy-in. This, in turn, may incentivize them into complying to the rules.

However, as I’ve argued in my own academic research13, it’s rarely the case that teachers will genuinely rescind power to the majority, and this style often ends up sounding good but lacking substance because teachers feel compelled to maintain ultimate power in the classroom.

6. Assertive Discipline

The assertive discipline approach is a teacher-centered classroom discipline model that highlights the rights of students and teachers to work in a safe, calm and professional environment.

Developed by Canter and Canter (1976)14, the model has several key principles: the right to learn, the right to teach, teacher control, clear boundaries, positive reinforcement, positive repetition, firm consequences, behavior modeling and direct instruction, and relationship building. Furthermore, it believes that it is possible to teach difficult students and that teachers should build relationships with their students14,15.

This model bucks the trend of trying to empower students. Instead, it endorses the idea that the teacher should assert their power. Critics, however, (including the progressive educators) point out that it can lead to ignoring individual students’ needs, not addressing root causes of misbehavior, and leading to passivity among learners15.

7. Non-Adversarial Method

The non-adversarial method by Fred Jones emphasizes the use of positive rewards and incentives to avert conflict and promote constructive student behavior16.

Central to this method is the concept of Preferred Activity Time (PAT)16, which allocates time for students to engage in activities they find pleasurable and engaging, such as art, sports, crafts, and free play.

Jones highlights that preferred activities, often being requisite parts of the curriculum, must be executed regardless of student behavior. However, the allure of these activities can be strategically employed by teachers to encourage better student conduct and create a positive and cooperative learning environment.

In practice, the non-Adversarial method utilizes a clear exchange: effective task completion and appropriate behavior are rewarded with extended time in preferred activities. Teachers communicate to students that a specific time (for example, 20 minutes) is allocated for a preferred activity at the end of the day, and further, that efficient completion of day’s tasks may result in additional time for these enjoyable endeavors.

8. Pragmatic Method (Dreikurs)

The pragmatic method, sees misbehavior as a result of “mistaken goals” of children who have concluded that misbehavior would gain them social status17,18.

Stemming from a psychoanalytic theoretical tradition, this view looks at children’s subconsciousness to get to the root cause of misbehavior, and attempts to address this root cause.

Dreikurs pinpointed four primary mistaken goals that children might exhibit:

  • attention-seeking
  • seeking power
  • seeking revenge, and
  • feelings of inadequacy

These mistaken goals essentially represent the tactics children employ in their pursuit to achieve a sense of belonging and recognition within their peer group and social contexts.

To address these mistaken goals and the misbehaviors stemming from them, educators are tasked with employing varied strategies that both acknowledge and navigate the underlying desires driving the disruptive behaviors.

Ways to address the mistaken goals include:

Mistaken GoalHow to Address
Attention SeekingResponses may range from ignoring to redirecting the behavior into a learning experience18.
Seeking PowerStrategies like incorporating the student’s viewpoint into lessons or applying disciplined redirection may prove effective18.
Revenge SeekingEnsure students have affirmative and positive channels to voice and resolve their grievances18.
Feelings of InadequacyBolster a student’s confidence through positive affirmation, embrace mistakes as part of learning, and celebrate successes18.

9. Logical Consequences Method

Also by Rudolf Dreikurs, the logical consequences method focuses on the types of consequences that are distributed when students misbehave and contravene classroom norms.

This model presupposes that there are three types of consequences for misbehavior:

  • Natural Consequences: The natural negative effects of behaviors, such as getting a burn from touching a hot stove.
  • Arbitrary Consequences: Consequences made-up by teachers that are unrelated to the actual behavior.
  • Logical Consequences: Consequences linked to the behavior that make sense and are proportionate to behavior19.

Dreikurs argues that, in the absence of natural consequences, teachers should focus on distributing logical rather than arbitrary consequences for misbehavior. For example, if a student misbehaves during recess, they should miss recess the next day19.

10. Choice Theory

Glasser’s choice theory approach, based on humanist theory, is focused on giving students maximum choice in the classroom. It relies on the belief that students will make decisions that enhance their own wellbeing and the wellbeing of others18,19.

Based on Maslow’s hierarchy, Glasser believes all our behavior is designed to satisfy five basic needs:

  • Survival
  • Love and belonging
  • Power
  • Freedom
  • Fun

Glasser argues that teachers should be aware of these five needs and make sure the classroom meets all five of these needs. When these needs are not met, students may misbehave18,19.

There are three ways to help children’s needs be met:

  • Fulfill Intrinsic Needs: Meet students’ intrinsic needs rather than providing extrinsic rewards and punishments. If we just provide rewards and punishments, we’re not looking at the reduce cause of issues.
  • Create Active Learning ScenariosCreate engaging, exciting and relevant lessons so that students are excited about learning (‘fun’ and ‘freedom’). By making class a comfortable and enjoyable experience that meets students’ needs, misbehavior will decline.
  • Promote Choice and Ownership over Actions: Students should be given free choice to take ownership of their own actions. If students have their own free choice, they need to learn decision-making skills and take ownership of those decisions.

10. The Kounin Approach

Jacob Kounin proposes a proactive approach to classroom management, with the goal of preventing misbehavior in the first place.

A crucial aspect of this philosophy is to preemptively establish control and fostering a conducive learning environment before disruptive behaviors can manifest18,19,20.

Kounin presents four key strategies to achieve this:

StrategyDescriptionKey Techniques
With-it-nessMaintaining comprehensive oversight of the classroom.Teaching position, constant roaming, and visibility
OverlappingManaging multiple groups and activities concurrently.Group division, and multitasking
Group FocusFacilitating and maintaining a cooperative and collaborative group work atmosphere.Teaching group work skills and assigning roles
Movement and ManagementEnsuring controlled student movement and smooth transitions between lessons.Planned transitions and structured movement
Adapted from Kounin (1970)20

Through these strategies, Kounin provides a framework that enables educators to proactively manage classroom dynamics and preemptively mitigate potential behavioral disruptions.

11. Coaching Style

The coaching style of classroom management focuses on the development of students by guiding, encouraging, and giving them feedback. It is a student-centered approach that rests on a positive relationship between the teacher and student.

This style is about turning traditional knowledge-driven teaching into skills-driven interactive learning, with the teacher acting more like a coach than a strict disciplinarian.

Much like how a sports coach does, a teacher with a coaching style celebrates the strengths, skills, and individual abilities of their students, and addresses areas for improvement through constructive feedback, practice, and training.

Features of this style include:

  1. Fostering autonomy: In coaching style, teachers encourage students to take responsibility for their own learning, promoting their engagement and motivation.
  2. Providing personalized feedback: This is not about just correcting mistakes, but guiding students on their individual learning paths and helping them to improve.
  3. Setting clear goals: Just as in sports coaching, academic goals are set for students. They are also guided on strategies to achieve them and navigate challenges, enhancing their self-efficacy.

The major benefit of using the coaching style is it encourages a more collaborative and respectful relationship between teacher and students, promotes student autonomy, and develops necessary life skills like decision-making, problem-solving, and more.

12. Behavior Modification Style

The Behavior Modification Style of classroom management is based on B.F. Skinner’s theory of operant conditioning, which states that a learner’s behavior can be shaped by reinforcement or punishment.

In this style, desired behaviors are encouraged and reinforced with rewards (positive reinforcement), while undesired behaviors are discouraged by taking away certain privileges (negative punishment) or introducing unpleasant consequences (positive punishment)18,19.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Clear Expectations: The teacher sets clear, enforceable rules for classroom behavior. These expectations are communicated to the students at the beginning of the academic year/session.
  2. Reinforcement: The teacher uses rewards (like praise, stickers, extra recess time) immediately after the student displays positive behavior. This is meant to encourage the student to repeat the behavior in the future.
  3. Consequences: Likewise, when students display negative behavior, consequences are given. These consequences can vary from losing privileges to extra assignments, or any other agreed-upon penalty.
  4. Consistency: The teacher applies the rewards and punishments consistently, thus conditioning students to expect certain outcomes from their actions18,19.

Behavior modification strategies are often pre-planned and discussed with students ahead of time so that the students are completely aware of the consequences of their actions.

The major advantage of this method is its clarity and predictability, which can create a stable classroom environment. However, it also has been criticized for mainly addressing the symptoms of behavior problems and not the problems themselves18,19.

13. Situational Style

The Situational Style of classroom management refers to a flexible and adaptable approach to managing a classroom that is based on the unique situation or the specific needs at a given time. It’s about responding to what’s happening in the moment, rather than adhering strictly to pre-set rules or conventions.

In this style, classroom rules and behavior expectations are not fixed or rigid. Instead, the teacher adjusts their management strategies based on the current classroom dynamics, individual students’ needs, learning objectives, and environmental factors.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Observation: The teacher observes the lesson and notes any changes in the students’ interaction, engagement, and behavior.
  2. Adaptation: Based on their observations, the teacher then dynamically modifies their instructional methods, activities, group organizations, and even disciplinary strategies to suit the current situation.
  3. Feedback: The teacher provides feedback that is directly related to the situation at hand, making it more contextual and relevant for the students.

The strength of the situational style lies in the teacher’s ability to be sensitive to the dynamics of the classroom and adjust strategies accordingly.

However, this approach demands a high level of experience, responsiveness, tacit knowledge and decision-making skill from the teacher. Without these, it can lead to inconsistency in classroom management, which might confuse students about what behavior is expected.

14. Rogers’s Humanist Approach (Unconditional Positive Regard)

The humanist style of classroom management is an approach centered on the belief that students are inherently good and have an innate desire to learn21,22. It advocates an overall supportive and respectful environment that meets students’ emotional and intellectual needs.

This approach is influenced by humanist psychologists like Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow, where the focus is on the whole student, considering both their emotional development alongside academic growth. The concept of ‘unconditional positive regard,’ coined by Rogers, is a central tenet of this style21,22.

Unconditional positive regard means accepting and respecting others as they are without judgment or evaluation. In a classroom setting, this means, teachers always see the goodness in the child, expect the best of them, and when they misbehave, they address the behavior and don’t make negative judgements about the personality of the child.

Students are recognized for who they are, including their unique strengths, interests, and needs. The teacher doesn’t simply demand change but works to facilitate growth while maintaining respect for the student’s autonomy.

15. Restorative Justice

Restorative justice is an approach to classroom discipline that involves having wrongdoers make up for the harm they did23.

To understand this model, we need to compare restorative justice to other types of justice:

  • Retributive Justice: A focus on punishment and vengance against offenders.
  • Distributive Justice: Taking money from offenders or privileged people and redistributing it to those in need.
  • Restorative JusticeA focus on reconciliation between the offender and victims 23,24.

Two useful several strategies that teachers can employ when practicing restorative justice in classroom management are:

  • Circles of Understanding: In “community building circles”, students gather in a circle to discuss conflicts or issues in the classroom. The circle is meant to provide a safe, dedicated space for students to share their perspectives and feelings. The lead (which could be the teacher or a peer) would encourage everyone to share and validate their experiences and feelings. This method aims to foster unity, empathy, and problem-solving amongst the group23.
  • Restorative Conversations: This strategy involves direct conversation between the wrongdoer and the affected individual(s). It happens in a controlled environment with the teacher guiding the discussion. Both parties would express their thoughts and feelings, and the offender would recognize the harm caused to the victim. The emphasis here is not on punishing the offender, but on healing the victim and repairing the relationship23.

A downside of this model is that it forces the victims to sit face-to-face with the perpetrator, which can be re-traumatizing.

16. Ginott’s Method

Ginott’s method is a behavior management style where the teacher positions themself as facilitator rather than an interventionist authority figure19,25.

This method starts with the gripe that teachers tend to make a big scene out of disciplinary issues. This big scene is designed to publicly humiliate students and make an example out of them.

Of course, this behavior is very common among teachers – I see it all the time. And teachers don’t seem to care that it’s condescending and humiliating. So long as it works, they’re happy.

So, instead, Ginott’s method highlights the importance of being minimally disruptive while disciplining students.

It proceeds with four core methods:

  1. Minimizing disruptions during discipline.
  2. Facilitating inclusive conversations.
  3. Separating behavior from character.
  4. Using ‘I’ statements.19,25

The method also suggests that a teacher should be a facilitator of class discussions that address behavioral issues. An example might be a class meeting or a daily open discussion time to air issues. During this time, the teacher should be brief and do more listening than talking.

Similarly, teachers should not criticize a student’s personality. Instead, the teachers should focus on the behavior and separate it from the student, much like in the unconditional positive regard method above19,25.

Conclusion

I’ll conclude with a few brief housekeeping notes. First, of course, the above styles overlap, mix, blend, and even contradict one another. It’s up to you to choose the parts that resonate with you in order to create your own unique classroom management style. Second, remember that your style will evolve over time as you are exposed to more situations and different types of students, classroom environments, and school cultures. Finally, remember, as a person with a lot of power in your classroom, remember not to take shortcuts – when your methods are insensitive, inconsistent, or overlook a child’s needs, this will be seared into that child’s mind for decades to come. So, proceed with care.

References

[1] Baumrind, D. (1991). Parenting styles and adolescent development. In J. Brooks-Gunn, R. M. Lerner, & A. C. Petersen (Eds.), The encyclopedia on adolescence (pp. 746-758). New York: Garland Publishing.

[2] Shaw, Z. A., & Starr, L. R. (2019). Intergenerational transmission of emotion dysregulation: The role of authoritarian parenting style and family chronic stress. Journal of Child and Family Studies28(12), 3508-3518.

[3] Kuppens, S., & Ceulemans, E. (2019). Parenting styles: A closer look at a well-known concept. Journal of child and family studies28(1), 168-181.

[4] Rankin Williams, L., Degnan, K. A., Perez-Edgar, K. E., Henderson, H. A., Rubin, K. H., Pine, D. S., … & Fox, N. A. (2009). Impact of behavioral inhibition and parenting style on internalizing and externalizing problems from early childhood through adolescence. Journal of abnormal child psychology37, 1063-1075.

[5] Theresya, J., Latifah, M., & Hernawati, N. (2018). The effect of parenting style, self-efficacy, and self regulated learning on adolescents’ academic achievement. Journal of Child Development Studies3(1), 28-43.

[6] Tanvir, M., Khurram, F., Khizer, U., & Fayyaz, S. (2016). Parenting style and its effects on academic achievement of children. International SAMANM Journal of Business and Social Sciences, 4(1), 30-42.

[7] Martinez, I., & García, F. (2008). Internalization of values and self-esteem among Brazilian teenagers from authoritative, indulgent, authoritarian, and neglectful homes. Adolescence, 43(169), 13-29.

[8] Moscatelli, S., & Rubini, M. (2011). Parenting Style in Adolescence: The Role of Warmth, Strictness, and Psychological Autonomy Granting in Influencing Collective Self-Esteem and Expectations for the Future. Handbook of Parenting: Styles, Stress & Strategies, 342-359.

[9] Steinberg, L., Blatt-Eisengart, I., & Cauffman, E. (2006). Patterns of competence and adjustment among adolescents from authoritative, authoritarian, indulgent, and neglectful homes: A replication in a sample of serious juvenile offenders. Journal of Research on Adolescence: The Official Journal of the Society for Research on Adolescence16(1), 47–58. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1532-7795.2006.00119.x

[10] Pavlis, D., & Gkiosos, J. (2017). John Dewey, from philosophy of pragmatism to progressive education. Journal of Arts and Humanities6(9), 23-30.

[11] Gadotti, M. (2017). The global impact of Freire’s pedagogy. New Directions for Evaluation2017(155), 17-30.

[12] Johnson B, Sullivan A (2016) Understanding and challenging dominant discourses about student behaviour at school. In: Sullivan A, Johnson B, Lucas B (eds) Challenging Dominant Views on Student Behaviour at School: Answering Back. Singapore: Springer, pp. 27–44.

[13] Drew, C. (2020). To follow a rule: The construction of student subjectivities on classroom rules charts. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood21(1), 46-57.

[14] Canter, L. & Canter, M. (1976). A take-charge approach for today’s educator. Seal Beach: Lee Canter & Associates.

[15] Charles, C. & Senter, G. (2005). Building classroom discipline. Boston: Pearson.

[16] Jones, F. H. (1987). Positive Classroom Discipline. McGraw-Hill.

[17] Dreikurs, R. & Grey, L. (1968). Logical Consequences: A New Approach to Discipline . New York: Plume.

[18] Walker, J. D., & Barry, C. (2020). Behavior Management: Systems, Classrooms, and Individuals. Plural Publishing.

[19] Martella, R. C., Nelson, J. R., Marchand-Martella, N. E., & O’Reilly, M. (2011). Comprehensive Behavior Management: Individualized, Classroom, and Schoolwide Approaches. SAGE Publications.

[20] Kounin, J.S. (1970). Discipline and gorup management in classrooms (2nd ed.). New York: Holt, Rinehard & Winston.

[21] Greene, R. R. (2017). Carl Rogers and the person-centered approach. In Human Behavior Theory& Social Work Practice (pp. 113-132). Routledge.

[22] Kohn, A. (2005). Unconditional teaching. Educational Leadership: Journal of the Department of Supervision and Curriculum Development, N.E.A., 63(1). 20-24.

[23] Morrison, B., & Vaandering, D. (2012). Restorative justice: Pedagogy, praxis, and discipline. Journal of School Violence, 11(2), 138-155.

[24] Sherman, L. W., & Strang, H. (2007). Restorative Justice: The Evidence. The Smith Institute.

[25] Ginott, H. G. (1971). Teacher and child. New York: Macmillan.

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Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]

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Dr. Cornell has worked in education for more than 20 years. His work has involved designing teacher certification for Trinity College in London and in-service training for state governments in the United States. He has trained kindergarten teachers in 8 countries and helped businessmen and women open baby centers and kindergartens in 3 countries.

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