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Encouraging Critical Thinking & Classroom Management Skills

by Samuel Hamilton, studioD

When learning how to teach, beginning teachers must learn how to think critically about the best ways they might manage their classroom. Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, founders of the Leadership Challenge, recommend that new teachers “always be flexible with kids, but [don’t] leave them with no structure, because many times we are the only structure these kids have.” By encouraging critical thinking and classroom management skills, you can develop the kind of flexible management style that fosters engagement.

Defining Terms & Relationship

Neither “critical thinking” nor “classroom management” are self-evident concepts. As such, your first objective is to clearly define each term for the new teacher, as well as their relationship to each other. In “First Days of School,” Harry Wong suggests that critical thinking means anticipating and predicting based on your students’ behaviors and your experiences. For Wong, this ability to anticipate students’ behaviors allows new teachers to prevent potential classroom management issues such as fights or disruptive and off-topic conversations from happening in the first place.

Identifying Goals

While working with a new teacher as she practices thinking critically and classroom management skills, you must also be clear with her about what your goals are for her training. While your ultimate goal for the new teacher will be for her to naturally and easily think critically and manage a classroom successfully, this big goal can and should be broken down into smaller stages. For example, you might ask her to write daily reflections that analyze her classroom management strategies, and have her practice new management techniques to evaluate their effectiveness.

Switching Up Techniques

As a new teacher develops more comfort with thinking critically and managing her classroom, you should challenge her with different strategies and activities so that she doesn’t become complacent. By switching up your techniques, the new teacher must remain in a critical thinking mode, which will prevent her from slipping into a rigid management style. For example, you might have her try to anticipate potential classroom management problems one week, then reflect on classroom management successes a second week. She could then try to anticipate potential classroom management successes a third week, and reflect on problems a fourth week. By switching up between these two critical thinking techniques -- anticipation and reflection -- the teacher develops a richer understanding of her classroom management skills, which in turn will keep her questioning her old methods (reflection) and trying to come up with new methods (anticipation).

Providing Feedback

As with any teacher training exercise, encouraging critical thinking and classroom management skills requires that you provide plenty of constructive and critical feedback to the new teacher. This feedback can come in the form of a question, such as “Why did you handle the class disruption the way that you did?” It might also come in the form of a directive such as “When transitioning into group work, you should tell students exactly who they should work with, and where.” Your feedback should also, at times, be more general and encouraging. You could say something along the lines of “I noticed you are thinking hard about how best to arrange your desks so your room encourages discussion. Good work.” By providing feedback, you can guide the new teacher to keep doing those things that are valuable to developing critical thinking and classroom management skills, while avoiding those things that aren’t.


About the Author

Samuel Hamilton has been writing since 2002. His work has appeared in “The Penn,” “The Antithesis,” “New Growth Arts Review" and “Deek” magazine. Hamilton holds a Master of Arts in English education from the University of Pittsburgh, and a Master of Arts in composition from the University of Florida.

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