Investigating the emotional side of the classroom: 4 Major Classroom Management Theories

Last time round I introduced the main themes of classroom management theory. Over the course of five posts we’ll be considering the major theories in turn, each of which has its merits and weaknesses. As teachers we can use the theories to define, support, reflect on and even develop our own philosophy of education and classroom management style.

As noted in my last post, effective classroom management brings about a smooth-running classroom where learning can occur. For this reason, we as teachers need some form of plan to manage our learning environment by anticipating and preventing problems, facilitating appropriate behavior and addressing problem behaviors as and when it’s necessary to do so.

1. Behaviorism: The Skinner Model

In the Skinner model teachers strongly guide learner behavior to reach desired outcomes. Within the context of classroom management, behaviorism is firmly established in practice.

Key points

  • Constant, consistent reinforcement of the rules is required in order to make it work properly.
  • Good behavior has to be rewarded, whereas bad behavior must either be ignored or – preferably – punished without delay.
  • The theory provides the theoretical support behind such practices as Behavioral Intervention Plans, learner contracts being a prime example.

Basically, any teachers who use classroom rules are engaging in the behaviorist practice of negative reinforcement.

2. Choice Theory: The Glasser Model

The Glasser Model views the role of teachers as helpers of those in their learning environment. The idea behind it is that all behavior is an issue of choice; teachers should merely serve to facilitate the making of good decisions.

Key points

  • Teachers create environments – and curricula – that cultivate appropriate behavior through meeting learners’ needs for belonging and the feeling of empowerment.
  • Classroom rules and their enforcement remain a key factor in making learners responsible for their behavior choices.
  • Discussion, reflection and even making amends are positively encouraged, rather than the administering of simple rewards and punishments.

Choice Theory was designed so as to assist learners in understanding the motivations behind their behavior, so that they might learn to make better choices.

Teaching Japanese students at Sussex Uni
‘Teaching Japanese students at Sussex Uni’ by @eltexperiences from #ELTPics

3. Learner-Directed Learning: The Jones Model

If all this discipline is just too much for you to handle, hope is at hand! The Jones Model necessitates that teachers work with learners in helping them to develop a sense of self-control.

Key points

  • Developing a sense of self-control empowers learners and prepares them for their future lives and careers.
  • By employing appropriate body language, making use of an incentive system and efficiently assisting learners, teachers help them learn to control themselves.
  • Learner-directed learning places classroom management in the hands of the classroom community rather than just that person at the front of the room.

Such democratic classrooms as those in which the Jones model prevails adhere to the social learning theories of Piaget and Vygotsky, empowering learners by giving them both control of and responsibility for their own learning. The teacher’s role is that of facilitator.

4. Assertive Discipline: The Canter Model

The Canter Model is an assertive classroom discipline model in which rules and behavior expectations are clearly stated and consistently enforced.

Key points

  • The basis of this theory is that teachers have the right to teach without interference and learners the right to learn without disruption.
  • Responsibility for bad learner behavior is on the teacher. Most learner behavior is deemed appropriate: the notion of assertive discipline reminds us to recognize positive behavior as a way of encouraging more of it.

Teachers must clearly communicate their expectations and expect compliance, acknowledging learners who comply, while redirecting those who don’t.


Giving some serious thought to these classroom management theories will provide you with the background knowledge that enables you to aim for best practice in the classroom. Don’t forget, though, that creating a positive learning environment takes work, and sustaining it in the long-term even more.

Whether you adopt one or combine practices from each of the theories, learners will always reap the rewards of a classroom environment based on principles, free of distraction and conducive to learning. Over the course of another four posts, I’ll look at each of these in more detail, before summing up with a post looking at how you might analyse your own classroom management style.

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