Child-Centered Classroom Management

Fall, 2011

Source: Action in Teacher Education, 33(3), p. 254-264,  Fall 2011.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The purpose of this article is to provide an overview of a classroom-based child-centered elementary classroom management approach and compare and contrast a teacher-led approach using a vignette.

Child-Centered Philosophy and Classroom Management
Child-centered classroom management focuses on building empathy, responsibility, and prosocial behaviors in children.
Using child-centered classroom management fosters children's self-awareness, confidence, and self-regulation—it does not forego the need for teachers to set limits and provide guidance to children.

Vignette: David

To illustrate child-centered classroom management, the authors detail the vignette of David. They describe classroom interactions first from a traditional teacher-led approach and then from a child-centered approach.

David is a 7-year-old second grader in an inclusive classroom.
David had displayed a number of behavioral issues and performed poorly academically and socially.
David rarely completed in-class assignments, did not complete or return assignments or papers sent home, and did not engage in whole-group learning activities.
Additionally, David repeatedly engaged his peers in arguments, tattled, complained that the other students were mean to him.

Over the course of the first few months of the school year, David's teacher attempted many interventions to decrease his behaviors.
David was kept in each day from recess to complete homework from the night before.
He was placed in the front of the room near the teacher's desk in an attempt to keep him on track and to be productive during the day.
David's name was written on the board for disruption and fighting.
David was a frequent visitor in the principal's office for acting-out behaviors.
David was also reminded by his teacher numerous times each day to stop these various behaviors that created issues in the classroom.


Traditional Teacher-Led Approach to Management: David
The areas of concern that David displays are apathy toward work and learning, inappropriate social interactions, and behavioral disruptions.
David is unsuccessful at getting his needs met through positive interactions with others and is unsuccessful in following directions in expected ways in the classroom.
Their mutual lack of success relating to each other and its accompanying disappointment and frustration was further compounded by a lack of success of the interventions attempted.
David continued to tattle and repeatedly blamed his peers for his own difficulties and behaviors, resulting in the teacher having to escalate the consequences for his behavior.


A Child-Centered Approach to Management: David

The authors reexamine each area of difficulty that he demonstrates using child-centered strategies.

The three skills presented that assist teachers in building rapport, communicating in a way that attends to children's needs:

1. Engaging in Reflective Listening
The child-centered approach uses the skill of reflective listening and responding to help children recognize and name their feelings, accept those feelings, and then to learn to manage and diffuse those feelings in appropriate ways.

Over time David's improved behaviors transferred to small- and large-group activities, with occasional redirection through the teacher's reflective statements.

2. Assigning Positive Intent
As a teaching strategy, attributing positive intent helps to create teachable moments throughout the day.

Using reflective responding skills allows David's teacher to understand his perception or worldview and helps David further clarify his needs and wants.

3. Allowing Children to Make Choices
Focusing on giving children a "choice" rather than a command is also a major component of child-centered classroom management.

David's teacher reported that when she was able to provide descriptive statements about his current behavior, give him at least two positive choices, and the consequence for a poor choice, David was consistently able to make a prosocial choice.


The authors conclude that the benefits of child-centered classroom management include reducing classroom disruptions, child emotional distress, teacher stress, and facilitating development of positive relationships between teachers and students (White, Draper, & Flynt, 1997).

By adapting child-centered therapy approaches to teaching practices, educators better equip children to advocate for themselves. In this article, a rationale for classroom teachers to use a child-centered approach to classroom management was suggested.

White, J., Draper, K., & Flynt, M. (1997). Kinder therapy: Teachers as therapeutic agents. International Journal of Play Therapy, 6, 33-49.

Updated: Aug. 28, 2013