Think Classroom Leadership, not Classroom Management

Classroom management is not just the application of theories, strategies, and methods. We can also think of it as a form of leadership.  Many of the kinds of decisions we make in the classroom are those that leaders make, such as a vision and mission for the class (through the development of curriculum), guidance towards objectives (through assessment), and the day-to-day interactions that encourage collaboration and cooperation (behavioral discipline/procedures). 

Of course, we have some duties that we see as managerial, such as completing paperwork on deadline and adhering to policies, but leaders have duties. Those duties don't drive their focus, though; they are professional in following through. A manager thinks:  "I've got to finish this report.:" A leader thinks:  "This report is going to help me better understand what this student/class needs to be successful."

This idea of leadership mindset in place of classroom management is relatively new, however.  In their review of the nation’s teacher preparation programs, Teacher Prep Review 2013, Greenberg, McKee, and Walsh (2013) emphasize the movement away from the traditional training regimen of classroom management (that of presenting strategies and methods) to instilling a “professional mindset" (p. 6). The idea being that those learners with a leadership mindset have the basics they need in order to respond to a variety of issues or circumstances.

The ability to respond to a variety of issues is what new teachers struggle with because they may have learned Strategy A, but they don’t see how strategy A works in Situation B. However, if they can grasp that they are leaders of people and not managers of behaviors, they may have an easier time. This image offers a strong visual:

In general, a manager functions more like a boss, making all decisions and expecting compliance. The leader involves his/her followers in the decision-making and models expectations, which leads to the embracing of principles as opposed to mere compliance.  The difference in students' behavior and contributions to the class when the teacher possesses and conveys a leadership mindset, particularly at the secondary level, is remarkable. 

In his study of teachers in Mississippi, Burkett (2011) found a strong correlation between a teacher’s ability to manage a classroom and his/her leadership traits.  His study showed that those teachers who were effective leaders demonstrated greater efficacy in classroom management. It isn’t such a huge leap, then, to consider that when teachers understand that classroom management is a form of leadership, they may approach situations more effectively. 

Stanford’s Graduate School of Education (2013) takes this theory of classroom management as leadership very seriously, to the extent that they have renamed their secondary management course to Classroom Leadership and Management: Secondary. The course emphasizes that a “tool box of simple management behavioral techniques” (Stanford, 2013) will only get new teachers so far with students. By exploring the core of behaviors and philosophies, the teacher candidates are exposed to a completely different mindset in moving forward, that of leadership and decision making.  In essence, they are provided with instruction in how to be classroom leaders, which offers a cohesion of theories and methods introduced to learners.  

One secondary educator noted that in his teacher preparation coursework he was "inadequately prepared in the day-to-day, immediate management techniques that would have made [his] first few years successful” (Greenberg, et al., 2013, p. 46).  I wonder how he might have felt more prepared had he known that he was a leader and not a manager, had he known that he didn’t need a bunch of techniques as much as he needed a mindset that conveyed greater collaboration with his students.


Burkett, M. C. (2011). Relationships among teachers’ personality, leadership style, and efficacy
of classroom management
. (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from ProQuest. (UMI
number 3455430) 

Greenberg, J., McKee, A., & Walsh, K. (2013). NCTQ teacher prep review 2013 report. Washington, D.C.: National Council on Teacher Quality. Retrieved from http://www.nctq.org/dmsView/Teacher_Prep_Review_2013_Report

Milton, S., Curva, F. & Milton, A. L. (2011). Teachers from Florida teacher preparation
                programs: A report on state-approved teacher preparation programs with results of
                surveys of 2009-2009 program completers. Retrieved from: http://www.fldoe.org/profdev/pdf/ProgramCompletersSurvey2011.pdf

Stanford Graduate School of Education. (2013). Classroom leadership and management:

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