Classroom Management with Collaborative Problem Solving

posted May 29, 2013, 6:45 PM by Dawn Gernhardt

I participated in a classroom management discussion with my Fellow teacher candidate, Mark. We opened our conversation with the topic of moral authority.

First, the (Wikipedia) definition: “Moral authority is an authority based on principles and values that are independent of written laws and considered more fundamental and lasting and considered to be normative for behavior. The fundamental assumptions that guide our perceptions of the world. And, people who communicate these principles, but cannot enforce them on the unwilling (religious leaders).

To understand education, classroom management, and behavior we wanted to start by looking through the lens of U.S. history.

Parents and Families
1950s to 1975: authoritarian, “listen to your father”
1975 to 2000: women’s lib, ”listen to your mother and father” (who both work)
2000 to now: “let’s all listen together” (even the nanny and the child)

1950s to 1975: Bomb shelters, faith in government (for the most part), Vietnam, Watergate. Divorce becomes common place. People are more disenfranchised. Beat generation leads to hippie generation and rejection of “norms.”
1975 to 2000: Carter, Reagan, Clinton, Bush – international affairs, cold war/fear nuclear war, the wall came down 1991.
2000 to now: financial crisis, housing bubble bursting, politics more adversarial, first African American president. Merging of parties to one (in a way)

Law Enforcement
1950s to 1975: Attica prison revolt, Miranda (1966) and other social rights were still being developed, and addition, Brown vs. Education (1954), Roe vs. Wade (1973).
1975 to 2000: L.A. riots and Rodney King beating, Carter Iran hostages debacle (almost) and Regan elected.
2000 to now: Hurricane Katrina, war on terror, 9/11 attack, limits on rights

1950s to 1975: Vatican II (reform - opened up to the masses from Latin)
1975 to 2000: Mega-churches started, Billy Graham (advisor to President) and Tammy Fae (scandal), mysticism in politics
2000 to now:  Scandals, Pope to retire before death

Higher Education
1950s to 1975: More separate colleges for men and women; not everyone had a degree, B.A. meant something; GI bill.
1975 to 2000: affirmative action in full force; standardized testing; measures, many first generation college attendees
2000 to now: technology, online course, open online enrollment to major pack 10 universities, no child left behind; assumed everyone will go to college, huge student loans, education bubble

The reasons to consider these factors is that higher education, politics, religion, parents and families, and law enforcement all impact and morph our moral authority over time. They also impact our hidden biases and subconscious opinions of how classroom management (including student and teacher behavior) should be.

Personal, social, or educational issues can lead student to “check out” or have classroom management issues due to their disruption, distraction, or unwillingness to go along with the rules and responsibilities of the classroom and teacher. Freshman, of the high school students, tend to have the majority of classroom management issues, in part because their prefrontal cortexes are still developing. They don’t understand the “new rules” that a more mature environment, like high school brings. They are simply growing up in our classrooms. There are always some students who go against the grain, don’t buy in, and fight the “system.” To me, they are the “beats” or “hippies” of our generation. However, there are also students who have developmental, language, behavioral and other psychological issues that prohibit them and cause them have trouble fitting in and succeeding in the classroom, which often causes them to fail—unless there are successful supports in place.

The article Mark and I read is “Collaborative Problem Solving” by Ross W. Greene. The article reminds us that “challenging students aren’t always challenging” in their lives, “only when the demands placed on them outstrip their skill in meeting those demands.” Greene reminds us that “challenging episodes are predictable” and therefore, preventable of at least understood and identifiable in advance.

Greene suggests that we “pathologize less and appreciate the complex factors that give rise to the behavior.” If Suzie always has an outburst during lectures and direct instruction, the lectures could be too long, something else might be going on outside of school for her, being talked at doesn’t work for her, we need to break up direct instruction with discussion and checks for understanding, and the like. “Teaching skills instead of giving detentions, suspensions, and expulsion” should be the goal.  

Through Collaborative Problem Solving, “adults learn different ways of understanding challenging behavior, communicating with challenging students, and working together to durably solve the problems that set challenging behaviors in motion by identifying lagging skills—it’s not always that the student is unmotivated or has undesirable personality traits (aggressive, pushes buttons, confrontational).”

The goal, according to this article, is to have “Plan B conversations, instead of Plan A (do as I say or punishment or reward). Plan C” is ok, too, because sometimes there are deeply ingrained issues and it may be that there isn’t the time to address all of the issues at once. Sometimes the teacher needs help to “set priorities, and provide a ‘holding pen’ for low-priority unsolved problems that will have to wait until another time.”

Plan B involves solving problems collaboratively, and consists of three steps. 1. Empathy, where the adult gathers inforamtion from the student to get a clear understanding of his or her concern or perspective on an unsolved problem. 2. Define the Problem, where the adult introduces his or her concern or perspective about the same unsolved problem. 3. Invitation, where the student and adult brainstorm realistic and mutally satisfactory solutions. The article also gives a model teacher-student conversation for an example.

Green, R. (October 2011). “Collaborative Problem Solving” Kappan (V93, N2)