Many have tried to solve the enigma of human behavior for centuries. As a teacher, I am daily fascinated by how and why students act in certain ways. While human behavior itself is a phenomenon, its management is even more of a mystery. I decided to research some of the leading behavior management theories, analyze them, and see if I can combine the best elements of each philosophy into my own theory.
Abraham Maslow designed a hierarchy of basic human needs. It consisted of six components: knowledge and understanding, self-actualization, self-respect, belongingness and affection, safety and security, and psychological needs. Maslow’s underlining theory was that every human has an innate need to be competent and accepted. He further argued that such needs could not be met without the involvement of the surrounding human beings. Only when the needs were met, could the individual become motivated and capable of learning. Hayhoe (2004) proposed that if we truly examined our experience, Maslow’s theory would make a lot of sense. For example, if the physical environment of the classroom were chaotic and unsafe, students would not be able to learn. He also found that Maslow argued that achieving a sense of self-actualization did not have anything to do with academic accomplishments or awards. Rather, it was an inner sense of fulfillment with one’s performance.
Rudolf Dreikurs theorized that children’s basic need was to be socially accepted. He proposed that a misbehaving child was acting out only because he was struggling to find the acceptance. Dreikurs also suggested four reasons for student misbehavior: attention-getting, power, revenge, and display of inadequacy. Croake (2011) summarized Dreikurs’ book “Children: The challenge,” which addressed parenting issues that could relate to classroom management. Dreikurs suggested that the world changed with the industrial revolution when feminist movement took root in history. He concluded that the new freedom was not without difficulties. Children quickly followed the new example set for them, hence, new parenting and classroom management issues. Dreikurs researched how levels of discouragement posed with an unmet need as well as problems for parents and teachers, which in turn pushed children toward continuous failure. He also researched how encouragement techniques could meet the need for acceptance and prevent misbehavior.
Glasser proposed a list of five basic needs to satisfy the powerful forces within humans: to survive and reproduce, to belong and love, to gain power, to be free, and to have fun. He argued that students would function productively in a school environment only when they had a sense of control over their education. In his book, Glasser elaborated on the notion of encouraging students’ sense of involvement and empowerment in their education. He explained that educators encountered off-task behaviors because students were treated as if they were objects to be filled with information. In his article on discipline, Glasser (1985) argued that while the lack of discipline was a problem, it was not the root of behavior issues in schools. Traditional behavior management was based on stimulus-response theory, and that was the underlining problem. He argued that students would not get interested in learning because they were threatened or rewarded, rather, they made the effort to learn because it interested and satisfied them.
Coopersmith (1967) centered his research on factors that influenced self-esteem: a sense of significance, competence, and power. According to Coopersmith, significance consisted of a positive involvement of two parties, competence referred to accomplishing a task just as well or better than others, and power required an ability to understand and control one’s environment. McDonald’s (2010) positive learning framework (PFL) aligned with Coppersmith’s theory of significance, competence, and power. Teachers trained to operate in line with the framework were challenged to facilitate the following conditions: develop environments where students would feel that they belong, provide them with tangible experiences where learners would develop competency, as well as engage in activities that would give opportunities for power and independence.
Comparing and Contrasting the Theories
Abraham Maslow designed a hierarchy of human needs and covered a variety of aspects of human nature that required a positive experience in order to accomplish meaningful learning. Rudolf Dreikurs, on the other hand, narrowed down his research to specific reasons for child misbehavior. He concluded that social acceptance was one of the highest human needs, which was indicated by a certain behavior that showed whether the need was met or not. Dreikurs proposed a variety of encouragement techniques that could help parents and teachers to deal with child misbehavior. Glasser took a broader approach like Maslow and attempted to cover every aspect of human needs to achieve proper development and learning. Coopersmith similar to Dreikurs focused on one aspect of human desire: self-esteem powered by a sense of significance, competence, and power. Glasser and Maslow would have agreed with him on the importance of power and control. It appears that the four of the above-mentioned theorists concluded that human behavior heavily depends on human physical and emotional needs. This leads to the conclusion that they would probably agree with each other. While those needs are imperative to well being and survival, I believe it is important to address the spiritual aspect of the human condition, which affects behavior just as much as physical and emotional factors. Recent research suggests that in order to fully assess client condition; counselors are encouraged to choose a holistic approach, which integrates physical, mental, and spiritual needs (Curry, 2010). I believe this approach can be applied to behavior management in the classroom.
Personal Theory of Classroom Management and Biblical Perspective
The aforementioned theorists dedicated a great deal of effort in their attempts to paint a picture of human development and behavior. I believe the Bible has the most complete perspective on the human condition. My personal theory of classroom management stems directly from the Scriptures. First of all, a Christian teacher must acknowledge and communicate to students that they are significant, as Coopersmith theorized because they are made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27). They are also significant because God was actively involved in their creation by knitting them together in their mothers’ wombs (Psalm 139:13). I also believe if students come to understand that God has a plan for their lives that is good (Jeremiah 29:11), they will not have to struggle for control and power like Glasser and Coopersmith suggested. Maslow’s theory of belongingness and affection falls in line with the Scriptures that emphasize human need for a meaningful kind of love (1 Corinthians 13:1-13). Rudolf Dreikurs’ assumption that humans are in need of acceptance was also in line with the Biblical commandment, which encouraged people to love their neighbor as themselves (Mark 12:31). God did not simply execute a command; He demonstrated it in the most sacrificing way to communicate His own love and the importance of loving and accepting one another (Romans 5:8). Therefore, the communication of love, respect, and affection are some of the most important aspects of my personal theory of classroom management. Students that come from difficult family backgrounds are especially in need of love and acceptance because they do not receive it at home. Dreikurs expanded on the reasons for child misbehavior. He concluded as the Bible suggests, that the cure for misbehavior is love, encouragement, and acceptance.
One concept presented by Maslow, which was supported by Glasser and Coopersmith, was self-actualization and the gaining of power. They argued that only when students feel self-actualized and in control can they truly learn. While success was always the driving force of human nature, Christ set a different example for those who truly wish to succeed in life (Philippians 2:7). Therefore, I would have to disagree with Maslow and Glasser and present a counter-argument. Throughout the entire Bible, God favored and elevated the weak as well as the poor. For example, Joseph, the youngest son of Jacob, was sold into slavery by his brothers, later elevated as a ruler in Egypt, and was used to rescue his family from the famine (Genesis 37-44). Tamar was a daughter-in-law mistreated by her family, yet God had mercy on her and placed her offspring in the line of the Messiah (Genesis 38). Ruth was a foreigner favored by Boaz for her faithfulness and hard work, whose child was also in the line of the future Redeemer of Israel (Ruth 1-4). David, the youngest and the smallest of eight brothers, was chosen to be a man after God’s own heart, a ruler of Israel, and the ancestor of Christ (1 Samuel 16 – 1 Kings 2).
Characters highlighted in the Bible were by no means in control of their lives. They gave full control to their God and offered Him their faith and obedience. God Himself said that He does not delight in accomplishments or sacrifices but in contrite and humble hearts (1 Samuel 15:22). An important aspect of my classroom management is a demonstration and a call to humility. I do not believe we have to be completely self-actualized or in full control in order to accomplish learning in the classroom. If both teacher and students come to exemplify an attitude of humility and a trusting relationship, it will be possible to achieve a well-managed classroom and quality learning. I do not mean to undermine the importance of the authority of the teacher in the classroom, yet, I am fascinated at the perfect balance that Christ had between making Himself nothing (Philippians 2:7), walking humbly among humans and at the same time presenting with the authoritative teaching (Matthew 7:29). While we have much to learn from leading classroom management theorists, I believe the Bible and the example of Christ have even more to offer to Christian teachers like me.
Students ask my husband and me how we ended up leaving everything behind and moving to southern Texas on the border with Mexico to teach at the school where we currently work. We enjoy sharing our testimony with them because it is a perfect picture of giving control to God and allowing Him to change our own plans as well as direct our lives in a better place than we would have chosen for ourselves. I do not believe we would have learned many valuable life lessons if we had not given up our desires for self-actualization and control. While the above-mentioned education theorists have done excellent research on human behavior and classroom management, I have not found a single human theory, which provides a complete solution to behavior management. The Bible, however, offers infinite wisdom, which scientists only now begin to crack through research.