Classroom Management in the 21st Century Classroom

Surprisingly, my school has had 1:1 laptops from 1st grade onwards since its inception, 7 years ago, but has never had a digital citizenship curriculum or common agreements around the responsible use of the internet. I think it’s wrong that we have given students access to a digital environment, but have not taught them the skills necessary to  successfully consume, contribute, and create online.

As I have gathered resources to build a K-12 Digital Citizenship curriculum, I kept thinking back to those few teachers who don’t even feel comfortable letting their kids use the computers, let alone teaching lessons on how to interact and create an authentic, purposeful audience online. What I have realized is that our classroom management training, procedures, and expectations are outdated. Those teachers who are reluctant about technology, are the ones desperately clinging to control, rather than embracing what learning looks like today. Then it hit me that along with a Digital Citizenship curriculum, we need a common understanding of effective 21st century classroom management strategies.

Photo by MC Quinn via Flickr
CC image courtesy of MC Quinn via Flickr

Annoyingly, I could not find many resources devoted to this topic, and the suggestions that came from searching ‘classroom management strategies’ were very outdated and suggested primarily reactive (and creativity crushing) ways to insist kids raised their hands before talking, stayed in their seats, finished their homework, etc. All very authoritative methods that provide very win-lose situations for kids who are already struggling with big questions like “Why do I have to learn this,” “How will this ever help me,” and “Why do I have to come to school anyway?!” Talk about a recipe for behavior problems.

CC image courtesy of Chris Sloan
CC image courtesy of Chris Sloan

Managing 21st Century Classrooms, written by Jane Bluestein, wrote that ‘uncooperative student behavior’ is one of the biggest reasons cited for teachers who leave the profession! I found this almost hilarious because I wager that ‘uncooperative teacher behavior’ is one of the biggest reasons kids mentally, sometimes even physically, check out of school.

Remember Logan LaPlante’s Tedx “Hackschooling Makes me Happy”?  This is why students are pushing back. Teachers are so entrenched in what they have to cover, they miss what the students want and need for their futures. Check out one of the comments by ItsHawkable to Logan’s talk that got 199 likes: School teaches nothing, its about passing not learning. I am 14 years old and I am a developer for minecraft mods and plugins and general java applications (Which is funny cause he mentions it in the video). Without focusing on school, I learned Java fluently in 3 months and I hope to one day go on to become a software engineer, and school hasn’t taught me a damn thing about my profession. I want to go to college where I can focus on my studies, where I can focus one what I love and want to do for the rest of my life.

CC Image courtesy of Southern Arkansas University on Flickr
CC Image courtesy of Southern Arkansas University on Flickr

Clearly, kids still need teachers and school. The revolution, as Derek Muller explains, needs to be the way teachers connect to students and make school relevant again. He also explains that, “Luckily, the fundamental role of a teacher is not to deliver information. It is to guide the student in the social process of learning.” Don’t be afraid of coaching; our kids should be expected to achieve more and dream bigger than us! So teach how, but then get out of the way.

Now we’re back to the issue and need to teach digital citizenship and responsible, powerful ways to use the internet to learn and make connections. I worked with our librarian on this project and we decided in Grades K-2 to simply build on the Scope and Sequence provided by Common Sense Media and building in extra resources we knew of, such as videos from BrainPop and free tools for research and citations. In grades 3-5, as kids become a bit more independent, teachers will utilize a blended approach using lessons from the scope and sequence, in addition to the Digital Passport program. In middle school and high school, the advisory teachers have 3 choices (or even better – a combo that lasts through the year): they can use the Digital Bytes program, the scope and sequence lessons (see here for HS plans so far), or join the globally collaborative projects through Flat Connections called Digitween and Digiteen.

Now that I am nearing completion of these units, I will shift my attention to the changes that need to happen in classroom management in order to facilitate 21st century learning. Several teachers at my school are comfortable with this shift and have embraced new ways of teaching, which may be a good place to start. If a think tank can be convened around the topic of 21st century classroom management agreements, then maybe we can begin to show all teachers win-win strategies so that students and teachers alike don’t feel the temptation to leave school.


12 thoughts on “Classroom Management in the 21st Century Classroom”

  1. Randi, this is great. I learn so much from our conversations about these topics, while also realizing I have a lot more to learn. But in the end, that’s what it should be about…learning. If everyone could just realize that – that it’s ok to admit to not knowing – then maybe that would get ‘the reluctants’ at least taking a step in the right direction. Somehow we need to foster that feeling of our elementary being a ‘safe learning environment’ for all of the teachers, so that they are willing and able to learn from others who might have an idea or experience that could help them.
    I’m excited to start the year next year with digital citizenship lessons that you have devised and having kids work through the Digital Passport as well. I appreciate all of the work you (and others) have put into developing the digital citizenship plans for the school.


    1. Thanks Jodee. Your continued support, including agreeing to go on this COETAIL ride with me, is a gift I won’t soon forget. Another video from Derek Muller of Veritasium was published a few days ago that goes right along with our discussions; he makes the case that we are actually teaching our students Learned Helplessness – and I actually agree! I’d love to hear what you think.


  2. I love the reference to the “uncooperative teacher.” Regardless of our professions, I think we are all ambivalent about change. In my previous career (I was a mailman), I remember my supervisors encouraging us to embrace change. We were rightfully skeptical, because most of the changes eliminated jobs, or were put in place to keep an eye on us. However, teachers do need to embrace change. Maybe not new policies or standards, but they need to keep up with the times to continue to find ways to relate to kids and make content more meaningful to students. More and more, modern technology offers students multiple ways to demonstrate learning, and teachers should embrace this, rather than obstinately trying to deliver curriculum the way “they’ve always done it.” Sadly, many of these “uncooperative teachers” don’t realize that embracing change doesn’t necessarily entail more work. As you said, they just need to teach students how and “get out of the way.” Sometimes we don’t even need to teach them how– they can teach us!


    1. Well said Cory – Change is necessary, not always in ONE’s best interest, but usually it serves the betterment of us all. Can you imagine if doctors stopped learning new techniques and searching for cures? They might make more money on treating our illnesses, but never rid us of them. In teaching I understand the fear of becoming irrelevant, but it seems on the whole people outside education are calling for the most radical and innovative change – have you read about the Altschools going up in America? It started with business people in silicon valley, who have been trained to think in new ways – not by teachers who are holding tight to what we’ve always done. So if we don’t seek to better prepare our kids for their futures, someone else will and we’ll be irrelevant anyways. This is why I’m loving the CoETaIL experience, because it feels like we’re starting a movement and that we’re ready to lean in and help create change!


  3. Hi Randi,
    I enjoyed reading your post very much. I laughed too when you wrote about ‘uncooperative teachers’. Anyone who has run a professional development with teachers gets this immediately. And in some naive way it surprises me for two reasons. One, many of those same uncooperative teachers are the same ones that expect total obedience from their students (so I think they would do the same when being presented to) and two, ideally, isn’t learning supposed to be a life long endeavour? If so, embrace change! Learn. And like Cory states in his comment, maybe you just might learn something from the students!

    The idea of starting with the ‘high flyers’ is a good one, I believe. I think of it as informal mentoring and if the reluctant teachers see it’s not so difficult, then they might be more willing to try it. Otherwise, a school mandate can feel like a hammer. I also love, love, love Common Sense Media. Great resources.

    For the final project, I am working with another COETAILer regarding Responsible Use Agreements. Jocelyn (the other COETAILer) had the fantastic idea of having the teachers and admin sign their own Responsible Use Agreement which goes a little like this: facilitate innovation and creativity, communicate and collaboration (Model Digital Age Work and Learning), exhibit positive attitude towards technology, and promote digital citizenship. Why aren’t the teachers held up to the same standards as students? I can’t believe I didn’t think of this myself.

    Lastly, when you wrote about teachers getting out of the way… how true this statement is. Be the guide, be willing to step aside and not know all of the answers. Learn with and from the students as they learn with and from you.



    1. It’s so true Claire – teachers seem to be some of the worst learners. Maybe because we are used to being the ‘Sage on Stage’ with all the answers. I also think it’s taught inadvertently by a school’s culture around meetings. Did you read the article that argued faculty meetings are a huge waste of time?

      I think we are trained to not be learners at work. We come to PD days ready to learn, but during school days I am lucky if I get 4 attendees to a 20 minute training session I host on Wednesdays before and after school (I also make a screencast of the lesson, that MAYBE 4 people watch). We have meetings all week, but 98% of the content could be sent out in an email. When my principal announced that she was going to change our weekly staff meetings to a learning session (we went through the design process to reimagine our student portfolios – so not boring, passive learning), we had several grumblers who spoke up that they liked the meetings the way they were because they were relaxing after a hard days work.

      But I’m staying positive and like you said, starting with the high-flyers and creating excitement and momentum there first. Others will follow because as Toni Robinson says, “Progress equals Happiness.” ~Randi


  4. Hi Randi
    This was an excellent read and I found it very informative. The school I work at is going down the one-to-one route next academic year and I trying to put together the digital programme that will support both pupils and staff down this path. I think that your comment on 21st Learners is an important one. If I am not careful I will be just showing pupils and staff new ways to do the same things, rather than opening the door for experimentation and creativity. I am also aware that some staff are worried about the potential distractions of having technology in all lessons – so this is a huge hurdle that I need to overcome before I can even start discussing how to use them effectively. I have excellent after school PD sessions and staff are always willing experiment in these. However, time restrictions and looming deadlines makes these sessions harder to initiate within the school day. I guess I wanted to comment as I have found this blog really interesting and it highlighted some of the “stuff” I am experiencing. As I build my own curriculum I feel that I will be doing a lot of Flipped classroom work, I am hoping that by teaching the sessions first I can give both students and teachers support (as the digital learning will be taught in Home Room)- and the pressure is removed from the classroom. I would be happy to share my experiences (videos, worksheets etc…) if you are interested – although I think you are further one than we are. Thanks again I found this most useful!


  5. Hi Cate and thanks for your positive feedback. It sounds like you have a big job ahead of you and I’d love to collaborate in any way I can – including taking a look at the resources you have gathered and created 🙂
    I like that you are considering all your possible approaches to enable teachers and students to enter their new digital environment at a higher level than substitution, but I also think that some substitution methods and productivity tricks are a good place to start with reluctant teachers. I’m sure your already aware of this, but I find the best way to build a relationship with a teacher is to start by saving them time.


    1. Ha yes I agree with you. In fact I think saving anyone time and being open to discuss concerns and ideas are the key requirements to Tech Facilitation. Fortunately I love a good chat so I should be ideally suited to the job! Thanks again for your comments and I will share some of my resources – it would be great to get feedback from someone in a similar position. Summer holidays soon – whoop!


  6. Thoughtful post! I agree that we need to invent new procedures and routines in order to keep up with the technology in our classrooms. I think that is definitely why the thought of using technology in the classroom can be so overwhelming to teachers, especially when it’s already difficult to effectively manage a traditional classroom! One of the great things about being part of a PLN is that we have access to a network of tech-savvy educators who have already figured out a lot of this stuff! I think that’s where we need to turn first, especially since classroom management strategies relating to technology are a relatively new thing. We just have to keep on sharing our struggles and successes, and learn as we go…


  7. The last class of course 4 the teacher asked us about one word that describe “teacher”. I said that teacher is a guide. My teacher guided me and he showed me how to search for information and he let me do it my own. I agreed with the article that said: “teach how and get out of the way.”


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