spacer - blank
  Chapter 1
  Chapter 2
  Chapter 3
  Chapter 4
  Chapter 5
  Chapter 6
  Chapter 7
  Chapter 8
  Chapter 9
  Chapter 10
  Chapter 11
  Chapter 12
Tools for Critique: Chapter 8
Classrooms as Communities: Developing Caring, Democratic Relationships


Chapter 8, “Classrooms as Communities: Developing Caring, Democratic Relationships,” surveys the legacy of management, discipline, and control that many teachers still rely on to organize classroom life. It also examines a second tradition—creating child-centered, caring and democratic classrooms—that, while less common, also has deep American roots. The chapter concludes with attention to the contributions of critical theorists, whose insights can help teachers respond with agency to issues of power and domination as they strive to make their classrooms socially just.

Chapter Headings

  • Caring and Democratic Classrooms
  • Management, Socialization, Discipline, and Control: Lasting Legacies
    • Classrooms as Well-Managed Factories
    • Classrooms as Places to Socialize Youth
    • Using Behavioral Psychology to Discipline and Control Students
    • Preventing Disruption with Consistency and Attentiveness 
  • Child-centeredness, Caring, and Democracy: A Second Set of Legacies
    • Child-Centered Schooling
    • An Ethic of Care
    • Socially Just Classrooms: Doing Democracy 
  • Creating Classroom Communities Is an Ongoing, Emancipatory Struggle

Generative Questions and Activities

    Classrooms as Communities: Developing Caring, Democratic Relationships

  1. Interestingly, some teachers with enlightened approaches to teaching subject matter revert to rewards, punishments, and rules when it comes to “discipline.”  Third-grade teacher Kimberly Min believes that learning “rights and responsibilities” in the classroom requires the same careful, democratic learning processes as those required to effectively learn the course content.   “I have never had a list of ‘rules’ in the class posted on the door before students have walked in.  I think it is important to listen to their ideas and incorporate what I want to see and what they want to see in the class.”  Why might a teaching/learning model centered on positive behaviors be more effective than a conventional discipline model designed to correct unwanted behaviors?

    Caring and Democratic Classrooms

  2. Sixth-grade teacher Amy Lee shares an anecdote about a student named Hector, whose behavior had initially frustrated her, and her attempts to create a caring and respectful classroom community.  She describes how Hector “blossomed” as she persistently sought to develop a caring relationship with him.  Can you think of a student who reminds you of Hector?  List several obstacles that could (or do) get in the way of your establishing a caring and respectful relationship.   For each of these obstacles, identify some ways to overcome or work with these obstacles.  Try doing this exercise as a shared challenge with others in a group.

    Management, Socialization, Discipline, and Control: Lasting Legacies

  3. Because all students have been “taught” appropriate classroom behaviors from the earliest grades (i.e., raise your hand before speaking, do not chew gum, come to class on time), many teachers believe that students should possess these “good” or “correct” learning-appropriate classroom behaviors.  Generate a list of reasons for classroom “misbehavior” other than the explanation that students have not learned a firm list of non-negotiable behavioral expectations.  In particular, pay attention to (or speculate on) developmental elements of sociocultural learning and to students’ prior schooling experiences.

  4. Consider the class in which you are now enrolled.  Do you misbehave?  With others, generate a list of reasons why you forego many or most of the misbehaviors that one might expect to find in K-12 classrooms.  Avoid simplistic answers such as, “We’re more mature.”  On the other hand, looking only at yourself, see if you can identify some behaviors that might be considered acts of resistance —actions you might take that, while not overtly defiant, preserve your autonomy while diminishing the authority or goals of the class or school.

  5. What do “equitable learning communities” and conventional notions of “correct” or “good” classroom behavior have to do with one another?  How do they overlap, and how are they contradictory?  Discuss the role of rules in a caring, respectful, and democratic learning community.

  6. The authors seem to offer a mixed view of William Glasser’s “Choice Theory.”  While preferring Glasser’s program to “overtly behaviorist classroom management programs,” the authors criticize Glasser for neglecting “many of the mediating factors” within the whole school’s social environment.  Inevitably, all consultant-provided and commercially available classroom management programs will fail to adequately address the entire social context from which students’ behavior emerges.  Therefore, teachers must be very aware of how their adjustments and modifications of these imported programs must “customize” the programs for the teachers’ own students and class.  Briefly (try for one paragraph), develop a list of questions you would want to ask about any such program before adopting it in your own classroom.

  7. The authors refer again to early nineteenth-century schools as trying to match the organizational efficiencies of factories.  These factories placed a high priority on training workers who would labor dutifully within the factories’ systems. How might students benefit from schools that follow a factory-like efficiency model?  How might teachers benefit?  What are possible problems for students or teachers that might result from using this model?  Give examples from schools with which you are familiar.

  8. To what extent can a teacher create a caring, respectful, and democratic classroom community within a school that runs (or tries to run) with factory-like efficiency?

  9. A central dilemma—one that continually frustrates educators and theorists—is to find productive ways to deliver essential support and resources to students who have not mastered the mainstream, dominant culture and language, without falling into the trap of seeing these students as “culturally deprived.”  Although this dilemma is unlikely ever to be fully resolved, how can sociocultural learning theory inform the discussions and decisions of teachers who want to help students preserve their unique, culturally-specific backgrounds and identities and their different strengths while making sure these students can find success within the dominant culture?  How important do you think it is for students from non-dominant groups to maintain their families’ cultural practices, and do you think that they can do this while also “fitting in” with the dominant cultural practices?  To what extent should such students have to adopt such practices in order to succeed academically?

  10. Request printed matter or download from Internet sites, the advertising and promotional materials from commercial (private) providers of school and/or teacher improvement programs that offer learning and discipline goals (such as Glasser’s Choice Theory, Assertive Discipline, Sylvan Learning Centers, Avid, and others) to schools.  Include among your searches programs that are “nonprofit,” associated with public universities, or have other relationships with public or noncommercial entities (e.g., Success for All, Cognitively Guided Instruction), since these programs also “compete” to have schools buy their services or materials.  Develop a list of criteria for evaluating how useful these programs might be in accomplishing what they promise to accomplish.  In particular, assess the promotional materials for their attention to or neglect of sociocultural principles of learning.

  11. Kindergarten teacher Javier Espindola describes the positive impact of removing the Assertive Discipline program from his classroom.  What steps would teachers need to take if they wanted to remove similar discipline programs from their classrooms?  What alternative practices, routines, and structures would need to be in place? 

  12. Consider the “zero tolerance” policies discussed in the text and in Focal Point 8.2. Imagine you worked at a school with a strict “zero tolerance” policy and a scenario similar to those described in Focal Point 8.2 occurred with one of your students. To what extent do you have agency as a teacher to combat these policies and advocate for your student? What might you do in this situation?

  13. The authors make clear links between effective instruction and classroom management. If possible, observe a classroom where the teacher seems to have relatively few “discipline problems.” What does the instruction look like? What is the relationship between management and pedagogy? Alternatively, observe in a classroom that has considerable disruptions due to students’ “misbehavior.” What does the instruction look like in this classroom? How is the teacher attempting to “manage” the class? Do you think improved instruction would help with the “behavior problems”? If so, how?

  14. Bilingual coordinator Mauro Bautista describes how he responds to students’ “misbehavior” by first reflecting on his own teaching in order to determine how he might make instruction more engaging for his students.  This approach gives students the benefit of the doubt, while encouraging teachers to constantly strive to meet students’ expectations.  Have you ever seen teachers ask themselves what they might be doing wrong before blaming students for misbehaving?  What are some ways that you might systematically reflect on your own practices and how they might be contributing to or influencing student behavior?

    Child-Centeredness, Caring, and Democracy: A Second Set of Legacies

  15. Have you ever seen schools, classrooms, or individual teachers who reflect the legacy of care and respect established by the “socialized education” movement of Addams and Dewey and the humanistic education movement of Rogers, Maslow, and Lawrence?  What specific commonalities do you see between these schools, classrooms, or teachers and these historical movements/trends?

  16. Social and emotional learning (SEL) has gained increasing attention since it emerged in the 1990s. What do you think of the strategies for teachers to teach SEL skills to students that are listed in Focal Point 8.3? Have you been a student or a teacher in a classroom that focuses on social intelligence and SEL? What did it look like? Consider a classroom you are currently familiar with, perhaps your own. How might SEL be incorporated into the teaching?

  17. Consider Nel Noddings’ view of care as a “continuous search for competence.”  How might this view both encompass and extend your previous view of what it means to care?  Think about how the search for competence in others enters into relationships with one’s children, parents, friends, colleagues, teachers, and students, and how those relationships might change if greater attention were paid to the search for competence.  Consider, also, how competence is constructed and co-constructed within these relationships.  Describe an example of the co-construction of competence in a relationship that you have experienced or observed.  Keep in mind that while searching for competence may result in a profound, deeply memorable, and life-changing understanding, it may also proceed gradually through cumulative micro-steps.

  18. The authors have previously criticized “Assertive Discipline” and other rule-oriented programs designed to control student behavior.  In this chapter, they strengthen their criticism by drawing on the work of Noddings, Fogel, Howes and Richie, Noblitt, and other psychologists, researchers, and theorists.  But do the authors and other progressives offer a compelling alternative to behavioral methods?  What would you say to a critic who claimed that Noblitt’s “dogged determination” really means “put up with misbehavior while the kids run all over you”?  In other words, will an emphasis on care lead adults to abandon their responsibility to set limits and teach the young how to behave?  In your view, is it possible to model respect and caring while strictly enforcing an assertive discipline/behavior policy?

  19. Consider two opposite positions sometimes taken to describe classroom behavior “problems.”  The first is that misbehavior resides entirely within the student(s), and students must change their actions or attitudes to correct the problem.  The second is that all misbehaviors can be addressed and corrected by a caring teacher who offers “interesting” or engaging lessons.  Describe a third position that seems more accurate and fair to both to teachers and students.

  20. The authors cite some questions that Alfie Kohn proposes can help “turn classrooms into places where discipline problems rarely happen.”  (“What makes school awful sometimes?” “What can we do this year to make sure things go better?” “Suppose you hurt someone’s feelings, or did something even worse. How would you want us, the rest of the community, to help you then?” and “What if someone else acted that way? How could we help that person?”)*  How can teachers and students construct a safe and caring learning community?  Answer/discuss these questions with a group in your own class.  Propose a few additional questions that are specifically tailored to your class context and discuss those.  Consider, also, the ways in which you would need to mediate a discussion of these questions with your students.  What, specifically, would you say as you discussed these questions/issues with a group of students for the first time?

  21. Kindergarten teachers Cicely Bingener and Vivian Gussin Paley approach community building in much the same way as education writer (and former teacher) Alfie Kohn.  This approach is time-consuming because it involves having real discussions with children about real issues.  Have you witnessed or experienced “community meetings” or discussions that have been used by teachers to build a caring and respectful classroom community?  If so, what specific strategies and techniques did the teacher use to mediate these meetings/discussions? What impact did these meetings/discussions have on classroom management? If not, what strategies and techniques do you think a teacher should use?

  22. Consider the comparison of Punitive Responses and Restorative Justice Responses in Concept Table 8.1. What elements of Restorative Justice are present in your school or classroom? If “discipline” at your school is mostly “punitive,” how might you make your classroom a place where Restorative Justice is the norm? How would you go about implementing these principles? What long-term benefits of adopting this approach do you foresee?

  23. How does this or another class provide and/or fail to provide culturally relevant opportunities for your learning?  In what respects do the professor and/or your classmates understand or not understand you well enough to respond to you in culturally relevant ways?  What changes do you think could be made to make this course more culturally relevant? Now consider implications for your own teaching.

  24. If you are largely comfortable with the cultural environment of your current class(es), imagine yourself in a classroom in which your culture was very poorly understood and you felt unconnected to the content or people.  In that case, what about you and your background would it be important for others to understand and accept so that you could feel comfortable, included, and trusting in that environment?

  25. The authors mention Antonia Darder’s call for classrooms to be “apprenticeships in democracy.”  Have you seen examples of classrooms that allowed students to learn about democracy by actually participating in democratic practices, processes, and structures?  If so, what impact did such participation seem to have on the classroom community?  If the best way to learn about democracy is by practicing it, how can teachers organize classrooms so that students have meaningful opportunities to engage in such practice? 

  26. Ramón Martínez discusses how he aims to counteract his young students’ resistance to school: “Group discussions, weekly ‘sharing time,’ and interactive journals are three ways that I have attempted to validate my students’ lived experiences. I have tried to communicate to them that their thoughts, ideas, and experiences are important and worthy of discussion in the classroom.” Have you observed or implemented any of these practices in a classroom? What other ways can you convey to students that their knowledge and experiences are valued in your classroom? You may want to use Ira Shor’s “student resources” to help you.

    Creating School and Classroom Communities Is an Ongoing, Emancipatory Struggle

  27. Create list of considerations that would go into a year-long management/community building plan for the grade you teach or would like to teach.  Be sure to include details such as seating plans (or whether or not you would include seating plans), everyday procedures (pencil sharpening, attendance, going to the bathroom, going to lunch, changing classes, etc.), the development of classroom rules or community agreements, office referrals, and home contacts.  Working with a group, you should be able to come up with a very long list.  Next, identify for each of these considerations (when possible) one “Potential for Good” and one “Potential for Harm.”  What theory supports your assessment of these potentials for good or harm?  After weighing the pros and cons of each issue, decide which rules to include and which to exclude.  Thinking back to Kimberly Min’s decision to let her students co-create the classroom rules with her, how might you incorporate your ideas from this plan into a co-constructed set of rules?  Would you assert your ideas before listening to students’ suggestions, during the discussions, or not at all?  Would establishing your “year-long” plan occur in the first week or month of school, or might it take longer?  How long?

    * Alfie Kohn, Beyond Discipline: From Compliance to Community (Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 1996), pp. 114–115.
    spacer - blank
About the New Edition About the Authors Digging Deeper Tools for Critique