Text Box: Ms. L’s Transformative Elementary Class
In Ms. L’s urban public school third grade class, what first strikes the observer is the low level of anxiety and high level of confidence to take risks and express themselves among the students in the class. Today the students re-enter the class after recess and take their seats without the need for direction. After a smooth transition, the class is directed into a math lesson. In contrast, next door a comparable third grade class comes back from recess somewhat rowdy and unfocused. The teacher immediately begins to call out students who are misbehaving. The students finally open their math books after an extended transition. During the lesson, few students volunteer to share as they possess a substantive fear of looking incompetent. The lesson is stopped many times to deal with misbehavior. Back in Ms. L’s class, every student appears engaged and eager to share answers and/or to ask questions when they are not clear. The energy in the room is almost entirely focused on the activity. There are no students feeling the need to entertain themselves by misbehaving. Ms. L. is calm and soft spoken and refrains from any hint of negativity. She leads the lesson with questions that keep the students engaged and thinking critically and there is a distinct flow to the activity. Throughout the lesson the students look forward to being intellectually challenged.

TCM Table of ContentsClassroom Management ResourcesSchool ClimateJohn ShindlerTCM Workshops



Chapter 1: Introduction to Transformative Classroom Management

From Transformative Classroom Management. By John Shindler. ©2008

Reproduction is unlawful without permission


In this Chapter

  • Introduction
  • Transformative Classroom Management
  • Developing a Guiding Personal Vision
  • The Progression of the Book


This book is intended to demystify the process of creating a high functioning classroom. It will be your guide to creating the kind of class environment that you desire. For those who seek to do more than gain student compliance, this book offers strategies to make your classroom a place that changes lives for the better -- a transformative classroom.


If we had the ability to examine every classroom in every school, we would find that they vary dramatically from one another. We would find classrooms in urban, suburban, rural, public and private schools, from every grade level and subject area, kindergarten through twelfth grade, that were functional and productive places and we would find, contrastingly, those in the same sorts of schools that were dysfunctional and unproductive. If we were to identify the variable in each class that was most responsible for the quality of the learning environment, we would find that it is we ourselves -- the teachers. Our thoughts, values and actions all have the effect of defining the climate and experience in our classes. Too few of us truly appreciate the ultimately powerful influence that we have. We too often neglect to recognize that our classroom management choices can:

·         Promote either community or fragmentation

·         Lead to clarity or to confusion

·         Create a psychology of success or one of failure

·         Be a liberating influence or perpetuate an unjust social class structure

·         Foster a climate of motivation and joy, or one of disinterest and drudgery


In addition, researchers find that our classroom management actions and attitudes can be the difference between our having either a sense of job satisfaction and a feeling that our gifts are being successfully utilized, or a feeling of burn-out and unhappiness (Friedman, & Farber, 1992). Moreover, how we approach classroom management will significantly determine the degree to which we feel successful and satisfied with our teaching positions (Fallona, & Richardson, 2006).


Text Box: Ms. R’s Transformative High School Social Studies Class
Ms. R. teaches Social Studies in an urban public high school. The school is considered low performing by most measures with a dropout rate above 50%. But what strikes the observer of Ms. R’s class is that students are sincerely working collaboratively. The students in the class are from various different cultures, neighborhoods, and cliques within the school, but in Ms. R’s class they function as a unified team. When this same group of students was observed the period before, they seemed to be mentally checked out and unruly. In that class, the teacher seemed to struggle with control, spending a lot of time raising his voice and threatening the students to get to work. In Ms. R’s class the students were entirely invested in the task and prepared when it was time to report their groups’ findings. Maybe the best words to describe the class are trusting and respectful. The students respect each other, their teacher, and their learning, and they know that their teacher trusts and respects them.

Reader Note: Chapter Reflections will be included throughout each chapter. They are intended to provide the reader opportunities to reflect on the ideas presented in the text in relation to their own personal experience. Some readers may want to skip over the reflections on the first reading. This will be true if one is attempting to progress through the chapter at a quick pace. Alternatively, some readers will find that the chapter reflections provide a means by which the content in the chapter can be processed in a more practical and personal manner.



Chapter Reflection 1-a: Consider doing your own independent research in this area. Survey a sampling of teachers’ levels of job satisfaction and levels of stress each day, and include a question about how successful they feel in the area of classroom management. Do you find a relationship between the two?





To understand what makes a classroom a transformative place, we might begin by examining the description of the four actual case example classrooms in the text boxes at the beginning of the chapter. All four teachers have created what could be characterized as transformative classrooms. As we examine each of the four classrooms we notice they have common attributes, including clarity of purpose, self-responsibility, bonds among students, and an ever-increasing level of function over time. In other words, they promote skills that are critical for success both in and outside the classroom.





Chapter Reflection 1-b: Have you seen classrooms that you would characterize as “transformative?” Reflect on the kinds of classroom management practices that occurred in them.



A “transformative classroom” functions to change for the better those who are within it -- as individuals and as a collective. Transformative Classroom Management (TCM) is an approach to classroom management that assumes that classroom management practices have a powerful long-term effect on student development and our ability to be successful as teachers. TCM presumes that over time, high function is possible in any classroom; that some pedagogical and management practices lead to greater function while others lead to greater dysfunction; and that if designed successfully, any classroom can be a transformative place.


TCM, unlike many other models, assumes that problems do not require reaction, but rather that the sources of those problems need to be identified and altered. Problems within any class should not be viewed, as some would suggest, as a finite quantity of misbehaviors that need to be “dealt with” or “handled.” Both functional and problematic/dysfunctional behaviors have explicable causes, and are in most cases related directly or indirectly to teaching practices. Most problems are manifestations of predictable factors including the interaction between teacher/school and student, the systems that have been put in place, congruence between the expectations of the students and teachers, and the degree to which our class meets the students’ basic needs. TCM places a special emphasis on perpetually working toward a better tomorrow.


Figure 1.A depicts the three domains of change within the TCM classroom. First, the Transformative Classroom supports each student’s individual progression from irresponsibility and a “failure psychological orientation” to self-responsibility and a “success psychology” (i.e., internal locus of control, sense of acceptance and belonging, and mastery vs. helpless orientation, Ayling, 2009). Second, the Transformative Classroom promotes the growth of the collective from its current state of function to one of greater function and ultimately into greater levels of community. Third, TCM endeavors to assist the teacher in his/her own growth toward greater levels of self-awareness, a more effective and intentional set of practices, and provides him/her with the tools to become a visionary leader in the classroom.


Figure 1.A: Depicting the Three Domains of Transformative Classroom Management and the Movement within Each


Movement and Growth from ________ à to à __________



Failure Psychology à Success Psychology

Irresponsible à Self-Responsible

Dysfunctional Behavioral Patterns à Functional Behavioral Patterns


Dysfunction à Function

Independent Survival à a Connected Community

Egocentric à Contributors


Reactive/Accidental à Intentional/Aware

Short-term Survival à Long-term Vision

Manager à Leader


Text Box: Mr. T’s Transformative Elementary Class
Mr. T. teaches fifth grade in a suburban public school. What an observer first notices is that he has given control of the class almost entirely to the students when it comes to making decisions and solving problems. He calls his class “Mr. T’s Tribe.” He commonly gives his class collaborative problem-solving exercises and simply watches from the sidelines. The self-directive skills that the students demonstrate are evidence of a great deal of training, practice and reflection, but by this point in the year Mr. T finds himself needing to intervene very little. One of Mr. T’s tools is a participation assessment system that incorporates a clearly defined rubric for high quality behavior. After a couple of months, almost all of his students have developed the habit of working at the highest level defined in the system which is characterized by a student finding ways to help others succeed. As a result, most of the students in the class have internalized the notion that their success is contingent on their ability to contribute to the group and support others.

To begin the process of creating a high-functioning transformative classroom, you will need to start by developing a vision of what you want to accomplish. To do so it will be beneficial to take a few preliminary steps. First, clarify your intention. What do you specifically want? When you reflect upon this question, it is useful not to let your thinking be overly restricted by what others tell you is possible, or not possible, or what you have become accustomed to through practice or observation. Allow yourself to conceive a vision that is guided as little as possible by fear and resignation and as much as possible by what you feel is right. What kind of classroom would make you proud and would give you a sense of being true to your core values? Second, be purposeful about raising your level of awareness. If you have not yet started teaching, you might want to observe a broad range of classes from a variety of different schools. It is common that teachers default to practices to which they were exposed themselves, so recognize that what you have seen to this point may Text Box: Stick to Your Vision
Each of us possesses our personal vision of the ideal classroom. For most of us that vision is rather ambitious and was part of what inspired us to work with young people as teachers, coaches, counselors, administrators, support staff, and paraprofessionals.  Yet, when confronted over time with the realities of schools -– the motivational level of the students, the discouraging attitudes of some of our peers, the difficulty of the job-- many of us increasingly become resigned to relinquishing that ideal vision and make compromises that we never wanted to make out of a perceived need for survival and/or what a seeming practical necessity. However, what you want to accomplish is possible. You can get there. There are answers and pathways to making your vision a reality.
have been a limited sample of what is possible. See what is out there. And if it you do not see your vision “operationalized” within the classrooms that you observe, it may mean that you are in the position of making a significant contribution as a trailblazer. If you are currently teaching, this book will offer many opportunities to reflect on what you are doing and why you are doing it. Exploring both internally and externally will be useful. More effective practice begins with a examination of who we are and what we value, followed by taking stock of what we are doing and asking ourselves if it is getting us closer to our vision or not. Third, we need to recognize that every practice has an effect. Every choice we make shapes our overall classroom climate. Even the smallest action on our part can have a profound impact on the behavior, motivation, and achievement of our students.



Chapter Reflection 1-c: Take a moment either now or after reading this chapter and envision your ideal classroom. What does it look like? What is going on? How do you feel as the teacher?



Gaining Perspective

In most cases, while common sense and teaching experience are valuable, they alone are not sufficient in helping us succeed at translating our classroom management vision into a reality. Good intentions and common sense do not necessarily lead us to good practice. If they did, we would see mostly excellent teaching and classrooms, free of conflict and full of motivated students, wouldn’t we? The actuality is that we do not. Likewise, experience does not necessarily lead to improved practice over time. If this were the case, we would observe that the most experienced teachers would be the most effective classroom managers. In some cases, this is true, and the value of experience cannot be underestimated; however, in many cases more experience simply leads to repeatedly applying the same flawed principles and practices day after day.


Moreover, adding isolated management strategies here and there may or may not result in improvements. We need to ask ourselves, “To what are we adding them?” Without a foundation that supports a positive strategy, the strategy itself may not bring about the positive effect that we desire, or even have a desirable effect at all. Having in place a sound set of guiding principles for our action and thinking is necessary for independent practices to be effective and to function as part of an integrate whole. Furthermore, in most cases, our classroom management will be more positively affected by what we cease doing rather than something we add to our repertoire.


In addition, we need to be wary of advice that includes the phrase “well, it works.” The fact is anything can be said to “work.” Every sound and unsound practice that is being used by teachers today is defended with “it works.” But the question should not be whether they work, the question we must ask is, “Is this practice getting me closer to my long-term management goals and vision?” In many cases, justifying a classroom management practice based on the rationale that it works is often a smoke screen for using an ultimately dysfunctional practice only because it is familiar or convenient. Many popular strategies have genial-sounding names such as token economy, praise, behavioral charts, reward systems and consequences, etc. However, as you will see throughout the course of this book, when we examine these practices more closely we will see that they have detrimental long-term effects. We might ask ourselves whether we are looking for practices that will sweep problems under the rug, lead to domestication rather than growth, deceive students temporarily, make us feel better or justified. Or in contrast, do we want our management practices to have real, long-lasting effects that change the lives of our students for the better? Isolated quick-fix strategies can be helpful for ameliorating problems, but in some cases they can disguise the true source of a problem, or worse yet, limit the growth of the students toward more evolved behavior.



Text Box: Mr. S’s Transformative Middle School Math Class
In this urban public middle school, most students fear and dislike math. However, in Mr. S’s math class, students come into the room with a sense of positive energy. What one notices first about the way that Mr. S teaches is that he uses questions many times more than statements. The students are responsible for doing the thinking and problem solving. The guided practice activity today is hands-on and active. Students use algebra tiles to work out solutions to problems. When Mr. S asks students to report their findings, unlike many other classes where weaker students avoid involvement, all students eagerly volunteer. It is clear that the expectations in the class are well established for those occasions when the student who is responding struggles. Students are entirely supportive of those responding, and Mr. S stays with the responder and helps work through their thinking. The result is a group of students who feel empowered and safe to take risks.


Chapter Reflection 1-d: It may seem that the answer is obvious, but how would you answer the question “What does it mean when a classroom management practice ‘works’?” Was it more difficult to answer this question than you first thought? Why?





The progression of the book is designed to be developmental, and each chapter is inter-related. The sequence of content is intended to support the new teacher in the development of a personal classroom management plan and the experienced teacher in the process of reforming and improving their classroom management practice. It begins with chapters intended to promote self-assessment and the development of a personal vision and set of intentions. It then offers a series of chapters that address essential elements of successful management including the practical steps in creating a democratic classroom. This is followed by chapters that specifically address what it takes to achieve the qualities of a transformative class.


In part one of the book: Assessing Where We are and Raising Awareness, we begin by examining the Teaching Style Matrix (see figure 1.B), and how one moves from practices characterized by the less effective lower quadrants to those in the more effective upper level. In this chapter, we examine the nature of the effective classroom and what types of practices lead to either function or dysfunction. Throughout the book the reader will be 1) encouraged to avoid practices characterized by approaches in lower quadrants of the matrix and 2) encouraged to compare the relative advantages of either an effective teacher-centered or student-centered approach when considering several of the ideas presented in the book.





Figure 1.B: Teaching Style Matrix

Effective,1,2,Orchestator,Facilitator,4,Student - 
Centered,Teacher -












In Part Two: Exploring the Nature of Classroom Dynamics and Student Motivation, we begin in Chapter 3 by examining the fundamental dynamics of the classroom environment, including the idea that “we teach who we are.” This chapter includes an examination of the nature of “social/indirect learning” dynamics and how to harness its power. In Chapter 4, we will compare common strategies for developing clear and shared classroom expectations, examine which strategies will be more effective in this process, and consider why shared expectations are the cornerstone to successful classroom management. In Chapter 5, we address technical management – the strategies that promote a culture of listening and respect, and ensure 100% of our students are attentive, on task, responsible, and our class functions efficiently on a practical level. In addition, this section includes an exploration of motivational strategies in Chapter 6, and how to create a “psychology of success” in our students in Chapter 7. We will explore how each teaching act either promotes or undermines our students’ psychological orientation to learning and achievement, and the practices that are likely to produce each result.

Text Box: Natural Condition
The natural condition of any classroom is functional, harmonious, satisfying, and productive. This natural condition exists beneath the various sources of dysfunction, stress and strain in each classroom, and is most often masked by the effects of ineffective management practices and the negative student reactions that result from them. The problems in our class such as apathy, struggle, hostility, anxiety, inefficiency, and resistance, while common, are essentially unnatural conditions that are brought about by one or more dysfunctional ingredients present in the class. In other words, they are normal, but not natural. The positive feelings that exist in our classes such as the love of learning, desire to collaborate, experience of achievement, inspiration, joy of contributing and growth are all natural states. This is not to suggest that teaching is naturally easy, or that an effort to promote a classroom that characterizes more of this natural condition will cause problems to disappear overnight. In most cases the process of creating a high functioning class will be challenging and entail a great deal of commitment and effort. But the closer we get to it, the more normal that natural state becomes.

In Part Three: Developing a Functional Democratic Classroom Society, we begin in Chapter 8 with exploring how to create a functioning democratic classroom. At the heart of any functional class is a set of common understandings, and a sense on the part of students that they are responsible for being accountable and contributing to the collective. Through the development of a shared social contract, clear expectations, a sense of purpose and a set of logical consequences, any class can achieve the qualities of a high-functioning democracy. In Chapter 9, a distinction is made between punishments and logical consequences, and a process is outlined for developing logical and related consequences that will lead to more responsible student behavior and a stronger social contract. Chapter 10 outlines a system for implementing the social contract and promoting student responsibility -- the key to a functioning democracy.


In Chapter 11 of Part Four: Good Teaching Practices Lead to Good Management Outcomes, we examine the connection between instruction, assessment, and classroom management. The starting point for this discussion is the idea that teachers who are more effective pedagogically will inherently have fewer problems. In this section, we examine the relationship between how we teach and how it affects our management. Also in this section, we will examine how instructional and managerial choices work to either reinforce or liberate the social class structure and the students within that structure. In Chapter 12, practical ideas for successfully leading and managing cooperative learning are presented.


In Part Five: When We Need It: Remediation without Coercion, we examine how to work with conflict and the “more difficult” students in Chapter 13. Conflict is a natural part of life in and out of the classroom and can be a source of growth or result in suffering. Some students will come to us with habits that will require a greater degree of intentional effort on our parts than others. In Chapter 14, we will examine how to bridge the gap with students who appear disconnected, and help students who have developed a pattern of negative identity learn to reform the processes they have used to reach their goals and encourage them toward more healthy and functional behavior patterns.


In Part Six: Adopting a Transformative Mindset, we examine how to synthesize the strategies in the previous chapter into an approach for achieving the transformative classroom. In Chapter 15, we will explore how to successfully implement a student-centered 1-Style management approach and promote classroom community. Chapter 16 offers an in-depth exploration of the relationship between our thinking patterns and our effectiveness and job satisfaction. In many respects, the level of function or dysfunction in our classrooms will be a reflection of the thoughts, attitudes, patterns and beliefs we hold in our minds. Here we examine how to make our thinking an ally in the process of reaching our goals rather than a self-limiting hurdle. Chapter 17 examines how to move from a management approach characterized by a less effective 4-Style approach to a more effective 2-Style “conductor” approach. This chapter will be most useful to those teachers who hold the belief that the only way that they can succeed as a teacher is by dominating their students -- yet are at least a little open to considering a new approach that does not leave them feeling perpetually negative and disappointed and helps alleviate the hostile climate within their classrooms.


Part Seven of this book includes three chapters that supplement the previous 17, but may be more useful to some readers than others. Chapter 18 offers insights into the area of classroom competition, and how it can be incorporated in a healthy manner. Chapter 19 examines the popular practice referred to as “behavior systems,” “colored card systems,” or a “putting names on the board” system. This chapter will be useful to those who may have adopted one of these systems and are interested in taking a closer look at the effect it may be having, and/or those who might be considering implementing such a system in the future. Chapter 20 offers a step-by-step system for assessing process and/or behavior. It explains why this practice needs to be done correctly or not at all, and how it can be a useful asset for meeting the goals of the effective classroom.


The book finishes with a series of Appendices. These appendices include a question-and-answer session, extensions of some of the ideas introduced within the text, and an introduction to the Transform Your School (TYS) school-wide behavioral system. Transformative classrooms can exist in isolation and can still be powerful as independent entities, but when an entire school adopts a transformative mindset and set of practices, the burden for each teacher becomes lighter and the results become more profound.



Reader Note: Each chapter in the book will include end-of-the-chapter Journal Reflections and Chapter Activities. These are intended to help the reader and/or course instructor further process key ideas within the chapter. The journal process can be a valuable asset in processing one’s thinking more deeply. The chapter activities may be helpful to the reader to develop your own personal classroom management plan or teaching improvement plan.




Journal Reflections

In what ways has school had a transformational effect on your life? What events were responsible for that effect? Why?

What do you want to accomplish through reading this book?

Have you ever been part of a transformative context (e.g., classroom, team, group, project, committee, etc.)? If you have not, the notion of creating one in your classroom will seem somewhat abstract. But as you apply the principles and practices from the book, you will begin to better recognize what it is. If you have, what was your experience? Many of those who have will tend to judge each successive context by that standard. This is very often true for students. Those who have been part of a transformative classroom are changed permanently. Reflect on why this is the case. It likely has a great deal to do with the fact that the transformative classroom moves the group closer to the “natural condition.” Once a person has experienced that kind of environment, they not only want to experience it again, but they begin to align their actions with that condition whether they are in it or not.




Chapter Activities

1.     Develop a personal vision for your ideal classroom. Make it entirely your own. Do not be too concerned--for now--about limitations that you feel are present in your school, or the kinds of schools in which you see yourself working. Paint a detailed picture of how it looks and feels. What kind of work is going on? How does it feel in the class? What do teacher-student interactions look like? What is the climate in the room?


2.     In a small group, discuss the contents of the table in Figure 1.A. Do you see evidence of a transformational mindset in schools in general? How do you explain your findings?



Anyon, J. (1981) Social Class and School Knowledge. Curriculum Inquiry, Vol. 11, No. 1 pp. 3-42


Ayling, G. (2009, in submission) Report of an adolescent transition, a possible intervention for the stress response and diseases in adult life. International Journal of Epidemiolog.



Ashforth, B.E. & Lee, R.T. (1997) Burnout as a process. Commentary on Cordes, Dougherty and Blum. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 18, 703-08


Fallona, C., & Richardson, V. (2006) Classroom management as a moral activity. In C.M. Evertson & C.S. Weinstein, (Eds.) Handbook of classroom management. (pp. 1041-1062). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.


Friedman, I.A., & Farber, B.A. (1992) Professional self-concept as a predictor of burn out. Journal of Educational Research., 86(1) 28-35.


Gettinger, M., & Stoiber, K.C., (1999) Excellence in Teaching: Review of instructional and environmental variables. In C.R. Reynolds & T.B. Gutkins (Eds) The handbook of school psychology. 3rd Ed. pp. 933-958) New York. John Wiley.


Hamre, B.K. & Pianta, R.C. (2001) Early teacher-child relationships and the trajectory of children’s school outcomes through eighth grade. Child Development. 72(2), 625-638.


Hargreaves, A. (1994) Changing Teachers Changing Times. work and culture in the postmodern age. London. Teachers College Press.


Skinner, E.A., & Belmont, M.J. (1993). Motivation in the classroom: Reciprocal effects of teacher behavior and student engagement across the school year. Journal of Educational Psychology. 85, 571-581.


Travers, C.J. & Cooper, C.L. (1996) Teachers Under Pressure London. Routledge.


Watson, M., & Battistich, V. (2006) Building and Sustaining Caring Communities. In C.M. Evertson, C. Weistein, (Eds). C. Handbook of Classroom management. (pp 253-297) New York. Lawrence Erlbaum.