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Where Do Teachers Go for Behavior Management Strategies?
Lydia a. beahm.
University of Virginia, 104B Melbourne Park Circle, Charlottesville, VA 22901 USA
Bryan G. Cook
Challenging student behavior can have negative consequences for both educators and students. Although effective behavior management strategies can improve student behavior, they are not consistently implemented with fidelity. The purpose of this exploratory mixed-methods study is to investigate which resources educators and other school personnel use to find information on effective behavior management strategies and their perceptions of those resources. We surveyed 238 educators in four West Virginia counties regarding the degree to which they used, trusted, could access, could implement, and could understand information regarding behavior management strategies on six types of resources (i.e., search engines, internet media, professional organization websites, journals, colleagues, and professional development). Ten participants shared additional insights regarding why educators prefer specific resources and what they searched for in behavioral resources in follow-up interviews. Results indicated that educators primarily used colleagues because they provide information perceived to be accessible, understandable, trustworthy, and usable.
Challenging student behavior, such as noncompliance, aggression, and being off-task, has detrimental effects on both students and educators. Such behavior has been linked to decreased academic achievement, increased encounters with the juvenile justice system, and student drop-out (Gage & Macsuga-Gage, 2017 ; Noltemeyer et al., 2015 ; Rausch & Skiba, 2004 ). In addition, challenging student behavior is among the top causes of teacher burnout and attrition (Brunsting et al., 2014 ; Garwood et al., 2018 ). Issues related to behavior management are not restricted to special education, because most educators report working with students who display challenging behaviors in their classrooms (Reinke et al., 2011 ; Westling, 2010 ). As such, it is imperative that all educators implement effective behavior-management practices. It may be especially important that educators use highly effective behavior-management practices when teaching students with special needs, as this population is most at risk for academic failure, school drop-out, and expulsion (Bradley et al., 2008 ; Vaughn & Dammann, 2001).
Effective behavior-management practices have been shown to increase appropriate student behavior, engagement, and, ultimately, academic achievement (Scott, 2017 ; Simonsen et al., 2008 ). Unfortunately, the majority of educators report not having received adequate training on effective behavior-management practices and feel unprepared to handle challenging behaviors (Freeman et al., 2014 ; Gable et al., 2012 ). In fact, research suggests that educators are not implementing research-based practices consistently or with fidelity (Burns & Ysseldyke, 2009 ; Gage et al., 2017 ; Hirn & Scott, 2014 ), and frequently use some instructional and behavioral practices not supported or even disproved by research (Mostert, 2010 ). This research-to-practice gap is concerning because in general implementing research-based practices improves student outcomes, and their absence may have negative implications for students and educators. Therefore, it is imperative that all students, and especially those who have or are at-risk for disabilities, be taught by educators who utilize research-based behavioral practices in their classrooms (Cook et al., 2016 ; Simonsen et al., 2008 ).
Carnine ( 1997 ) posited that efforts to bridge the research-to-practice gap would be stymied if educators perceive research evidence as untrustworthy, inaccessible, or unusable. Trustworthiness is the level of confidence educators have in research evidence. Carnine speculated that educators commonly view research as untrustworthy because of the controlled conditions in which many studies are conducted and the academic jargon found in many research articles. Boardman et al. ( 2005 ) found that many educators did indeed mistrust research. Educators have expressed that they tend to trust the information provided by colleagues (i.e., practice-based evidence) rather than evidence from research studies (Beahm & Cook, 2021 ; Boardman et al., 2005 ; Smith et al., 2010 ).
Carnine’s ( 1997 ) second factor, accessibility, refers to how easily educators can find and interpret evidence regarding instructional practices. Carnine highlighted the difficulties educators may experience when finding and deciphering research reports (see also Vanderlinde & van Braak, 2010 ). Hudson et al. ( 2016 ) found that educators and administrators had difficulty accessing journal databases to retrieve research and, many times, were unaware of how to obtain access to research. Moreover, most teachers do not have advanced training in research and statistics and may experience difficulties in interpreting research studies.
Carnine’s ( 1997 ) third factor is usability, which refers to the practicality of instructional information, and whether educators feel they can implement the practice based on the information provided. Carnine explained that research reports rarely describe how to implement the targeted practice in a classroom. Landrum et al. ( 2007 ) reported that educators found personal sources (e.g., a colleague) more usable than data-based sources (e.g., research in a journal article) when reading about instructional practices. Likewise, Smith et al. ( 2010 ) found that educators reported finding information from other educators more usable than information from a journal article. In sum, many educators do not find research trustworthy, accessible, or usable but appear to perceive instructional information from colleagues as more trustworthy, accessible, and usable.
With the advent of the internet, social media platforms (e.g., Pinterest and Teachers Pay Teachers) have given educators access to colleagues outside of their own schools. Perhaps because educators appear to find information from other educators trustworthy, accessible, and usable, emerging research suggests that many educators may be using social media platforms such as Teachers Pay Teachers and Pinterest to get information on instructional practices (Opfer et al., 2016 ). However, little is known about where educators are going to find behavior-management practices to support students who display challenging behavior.
The purpose of this study is to investigate which resources educators and other school personnel use to find information on effective behavior-management practices and the degree to which they find these resources to be usable, trustworthy, understandable, implementable, and accessible. We measured two different aspects of usability by asking educators how much they could (1) implement and (2) understand the information found on each resource. We used an explanatory sequential mixed methods design that involved collecting quantitative data first, then collecting in-depth qualitative data to help explain the quantitative results (Creswell & Clark, 2017 ). In the first part of the study, quantitative survey data was collected and analyzed. The qualitative phase (focus-group interviews) was then conducted as a follow-up to the quantitative survey to help explain the survey results. The research questions for this study are:
- What resources do educators report using first when faced with behavior-management challenges?
- To what degree do educators report regularly using behavior-management resources, and to what degree do they perceive information from these resources as trustworthy, accessible, understandable, and implementable?
- Do educators report using some resources more than others to address challenging behaviors?
- Why do teachers prefer colleagues?
- What do teachers look for in an online behavior-management resource?
- Where are teachers spending money on the internet, and why?
We utilized an explanatory mixed-methods design (Creswell & Clark, 2017 ) to examine our research questions. First, we collected quantitative data in the form of a survey. Then we collected qualitative data from focus groups with a subgroup of survey participants to deepen our understanding of the survey results.
After receiving institutional review board approval, we asked six superintendents of county-level school districts from southwestern West Virginia to participate in the study. Four superintendents agreed to send the survey to professional personnel (i.e., teachers, principals, assistant principals, instructional guides, and speech therapists) in their districts. Following Dillman et al.’s ( 2014 ) recommendations, we sent an initial email to all 1,917 professional personnel in these four counties that explained the study and what participation entailed, provided information on informed consent, and included a secure link to the Qualtrics survey. We sent follow-up reminder emails after 1 and 2 weeks.
We received surveys from 238 respondents, resulting in a return rate of 12.43%. As shown in Table Table1, 1 , most participants were white, female, taught in a general education classroom, taught in a Title-1 school, and had education beyond a master’s degree. Fifty-nine percent of the participants reported teaching in a general education setting, 20% taught in a special education environment, and 20% taught in other environments. Six administrators, five instructional coaches, five Title-1 teachers, four speech-language pathologists, four counselors, three social workers, two homebound teachers, and one librarian reported working in “other” environments. Fifteen of the “other” respondents taught in what could be considered a general education setting (e.g., art, music, career, and technical), whereas four indicated they taught in environments that could be considered a special education setting (e.g., self-contained special education classroom, autism classroom). Some of the respondents selected “other” but did not provide details regarding their teaching environment. Teaching experience ranged from 1 to 41 years, with an average of 14.29 years, with a relatively even distribution of respondents across grade levels. The average school size was 565 students (range = 110–1,900).
Descriptive statistics of participant educators demographic characteristics
a Percentages add up to >100 because some educators taught in multiple grade categories
At the end of the survey, we invited respondents to participate in a focus group session. Survey respondents could click on a link that directed them to a google doc to provide their email address to be contacted about participating in a focus group. Ten individuals volunteered and ultimately participated in the focus group sessions. Eight of the participants were public school teachers, one was an administrator, and one was a school counselor. All focus group participants were white, and seven were females. Five of the teachers were teaching at the elementary level (three were special education teachers), and two were middle-school teachers.
To develop the survey, we asked a convenience sample of five currently practicing teachers (who did not participate in the survey) to list resources they frequently used to find behavior-management practices. Multiple teachers stated they used Teachers Pay Teachers, Pinterest, YouTube, teacher podcasts, teacher blogs, Google, information from professional development (PD) training, and textbooks. We chose not to include blogs and podcasts as resources on the survey because teachers indicated they found those resources via Pinterest or by using a search engine. We added (1) professional and academic journals and (2) professional websites (e.g., Intervention Central, IRIS Center) to our list because these resources are designed to bridge the research-to-practice gap and provide educators with information on research-based behavioral practices, and we were interested in educators’ perceptions of them. Two other teachers (who did not participate in the survey) and two special education professors reviewed the draft version of the survey. They provided feedback regarding clarity, language, and the possibility of survey fatigue, which informed the survey’s final iteration.
Survey respondents were asked how regularly they used eight resources (i.e., search engines [e.g., Google], Teachers Pay Teachers, Pinterest, professional websites, YouTube, professional and academic journals, colleagues, and PD training) to find information on addressing challenging and/or disruptive behaviors, as well as the degree to which they could trust, access, implement, and understand information from each resource. In particular, we asked participants to rate their agreement with each of the following statements on a 5-point Likert scale, from strongly disagree (1) to strongly agree (5) for each resource:
- I regularly use [the resource] to find information on addressing challenging and/or disruptive behaviors.
- I trust information found on [the resource] for addressing challenging and/or disruptive behavior.
- I can easily find relevant information on [the resource] for addressing challenging and/or disruptive behavior.
- I can easily understand the information found on [the resource] for addressing challenging and/or disruptive behavior.
- I can easily implement the information found on [the resource] for addressing challenging and/or disruptive behavior.
The survey also included eight demographic questions and four contextual questions regarding challenging behaviors (e.g., I feel prepared to deal with challenging and disruptive behaviors in my classroom). An open-ended question was also asked at the beginning of the survey to identify what resource respondents first use when faced with a behavior challenge that their initial efforts to manage were unsuccessful. Finally, to triangulate and expand on participants’ ratings of their use of various internet resources, we also asked respondents if they downloaded teaching materials from the internet and, if yes, how much money they spent in the previous year. The question regarding money was included because instructional materials can be downloaded for free or for a fee from many internet resources. As such, we wanted to understand if teachers downloaded materials and how much they spend doing so.
Focus Group Development
Twenty individuals expressed initial interest in the focus groups and were sent emails requesting dates and times convenient for them to participate. Ten individuals responded to these emails, and we created two focus group sessions. One session had three participants, and the other had six. Research suggests that small focus groups provide valid qualitative data (Kitzinger, 1995 ; Morgan & Spanish, 1984 ). One individual could not meet during either selected focus group time, so they were interviewed individually. As these sessions were conducted at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, both focus groups and the individual interview took place via Zoom. Given the study’s explanatory mixed-methods design (Creswell & Clark, 2017 ), focus group questions were developed after we had reviewed the survey results and were guided by Carnine’s ( 1997 ) conceptual framework. The interviews were semi-structured, with primarily open-ended questions and probes used for follow-up comments and questions (Merriam, 2009 ). Focus-group questions explored (1) where teachers searched for behavior-management resources and why; (2) what, if any, external support they currently had access to when dealing with challenging behavior (e.g., administrators, board certified behavior analysts) and why they felt supported by that external support; (3) what they wanted in an online resource; and (4) on what resources they thought teachers were spending money. The lead author conducted the focus group discussions and each lasted approximately 40 min.
Quantitative Data Analysis
Descriptive statistics were used to answer the first and second research questions. Because Teachers Pay Teachers, Pinterest, and YouTube are all internet resources not associated with professional education organizations, we created an Internet Media variable representing mean respondent ratings for these three resources, resulting in six resources being analyzed. Cronbach’s alpha across the five rating items for the six resources ranged from .85 to .95, indicating a high degree of consistency across participants’ perceived use, trust, findability, understandability, and implementability for each resource. We used a one-way repeated measures ANOVA to examine the third research question of whether differences exist among educators’ use of six resource categories. We used follow-up pairwise comparisons to examine whether educators reported different frequency of use between specific resources.
Qualitative Data Analysis
Audio recordings of each session were transcribed verbatim by the lead author. The first author undertook the first stage of coding, which involved a close reading of the transcripts with words or phrases coded into themes. Carnine’s ( 1997 ) framework was used to develop the first stage of codes and possible themes, as well as to select which relevant quotes to highlight. The second step included reviewing, reducing, and organizing codes by category to establish patterns within and between groups. In the final step, salient themes were derived from recurring codes across categories (Krueger, 2014 ; Rabiee, 2004 ). Next, the third author reviewed the transcripts and codes to check for accuracy. Interobserver agreement (IOA) was calculated by dividing the total number of codes minus the disagreements by the total number of codes (65%). Disagreements were then reviewed and discussed until agreement was reached. Finally, participants were invited to review and evaluate the final summary of themes to ensure the researchers’ interpretation reflected their reality (Creswell & Poth, 2016 ; Thomas, 2006 ). Participants were asked to agree or disagree with the presentation of the themes and to provide further explanations to clarify their perceptions (all agreed and did not provide further explanations).
To provide context regarding survey respondents, Table Table2 2 presents the means and standard deviations of participants’ responses to the four quantitative items examining educators’ perceptions related to challenging behaviors. The table shows that 72.99% of the educators somewhat agreed or agreed that their students exhibited challenging and disruptive behaviors; 80.17% somewhat agreed and agreed that they felt prepared to manage students’ challenging behaviors; 65.55% somewhat agreed or agreed that they had access to the resources that supported them in managing challenging behaviors; and 78.90% somewhat agreed or agreed that they would like to access more high-quality behavioral resources. In addition, 89.49% of the educators responded that they downloaded material related to teaching and instruction from the internet in the past year. Finally, 58.82% reported they paid for downloaded teaching material in the past year, with the amount of money spent ranging from US$5–$1,000 ( M = $150).
Descriptive statistics for educators’ perception related to challenging behavior
Before the survey questions, participants responded to an open-ended question asking them to identify the first resource they used to get information about addressing challenging behavior. Respondents identified colleagues ( n = 100); administrators ( n = 30); internet ( n = 24); school counselors, school psychologists, behavior specialists, and social workers ( n = 31); parents ( n = 16); the student’s individualized education plan or behavior support plan ( n = 6), and other resources ( n = 31; e.g., discussion with the student or school-wide behavior programs).
As reported in Table Table3, 3 , participating educators’ reported use and perceived trustworthiness, accessibility, understandability, and implementability of information varied by resource. In general, participants perceived colleagues, journals, PD sessions, and search engines positively. Ninety-one percent of participants strongly or somewhat agreed that they regularly used information from colleagues to address students’ challenging and disruptive behaviors. The most positive perception regarding colleagues was understandability of information; 92% strongly or somewhat agreed that information from colleagues was understandable. Participants felt positively regarding all attributes of information from colleagues. Sixty-four percent of respondents strongly or somewhat agreed that they regularly used information from professional and academic journals. The most positive perception of journals was trustworthiness (71% strongly or somewhat agreed), and the highest level of disagreement was for implementability of relevant information (9% strongly or somewhat disagreed). Fifty-six percent of respondents somewhat or strongly agreed that they regularly used information from PD sessions. Whereas 63% somewhat or strongly agreed that they could understand information from PD, 20% somewhat or strongly disagreed that it was easy to find relevant information from PD sessions. Fifty-one percent of participants somewhat or strongly agreed that they regularly used information using search engines such as Google. Whereas 62% strongly or somewhat agreed that the information from search engines was understandable, 20% of respondents strongly or somewhat disagreed that they trusted information from search engines.
Educators’ ratings of resource use
Note. Ratings on a 5-point Likert scale from strongly disagree (1) to strongly agree (5)
Perceptions regarding information from professional websites and internet media (i.e., Teachers Pay Teachers, Pinterest, and YouTube) were more neutral. Only 27% and 8% of respondents somewhat or strongly agreed that they regularly used professional websites and internet media, respectively. The majority of respondents neither agreed nor disagreed that information from both resources was trustworthy, findable, understandable, and implementable.
Respondents’ use ratings differed across the six resource categories, F (5, 1170) = 120.74, p < .001. Follow-up pairwise comparison results, provided in Table Table4, 4 , show that respondents agreed that they used colleagues as a source for information for behavior management significantly more than all other sources. Ratings of regular use were significantly lower for professional websites and internet media than all other sources (but were not different from one another). The reported use of search engines, journals, and PD did not differ significantly.
Pairwise comparison of resource use ratings
Note. Ratings on a 5-point Likert scale from strongly disagree (1) to strongly agree (5). Prof . Professional. PD Professional Development
Focus group participants were asked why they chose a particular resource and what they wanted in an online resource. Themes were developed a priori based on Carnine’s ( 1997 ) framework and the survey results.
Theme 1: Understandability
We defined understandability as any response related to educators’ ability to interpret and understand the resource, including guidance for implementing the practice (e.g., a checklist of critical elements) and the ability to ask clarifying questions. Educators preferred resources that included familiar language that did not require further explanation. One participant suggested, “Make sure [the resource] uses simple language, not a lot of technical terms. If there are technical terms, they need to be explained.” Another participant indicated, “[The resource] doesn’t need to have a bunch of buzzwords because we already know those. Say it in plain English so we can read it and understand it quickly.” Eight participants either stated or agreed with the notion that resources should be free of academic jargon.
In addition, participants wanted resources to provide exact details on implementing the practice that included simple steps to understand the content better. One participant said, “It’s helpful to have an example, picture, or even a video.” Another participant noted, “Mostly having an example that is written within the text is helpful to see how it was specifically applied. [It is nice to] have a narrative to see how [the practice] was used with a student.” Another stated, “It would be nice to see, here’s what you do for the first week, second week, etc., and provide a step-by-step guide to implementing [the practice] in your classroom.” Five participants agreed that they would like to “see [the practice] in action” or have a detailed step-by-step guide.
Moreover, participants found colleagues to be their preferred resource because of how easy it is to understand their colleagues’ explanations of recommended practices. They also mentioned that colleagues provided clear descriptions of practices and offered continued support. One participant explained, “If you have questions or you’re trying to do something, it’s really easy to go back [to the colleague] and ask more questions [so you can understand the practice better].”
Finally, participants also wanted resources to be simple and straightforward in order to understand the material quickly. One participant stated, “Sometimes you can read all these research articles on what’s best, but it’s really hard to figure out what you need to do. I need it quick and easy. I don’t have time to figure out what it means.” Likewise, another explained, “[The resource] has got to be straight to the point, or I’m not going to read it.” Overall, participants wanted resources that clearly explained critical information using a common vocabulary that included a detailed guide to implementing a practice.
Theme 2: Accessibility
We defined accessibility as responses related to educators’ ability and ease of accessing resources, including finding resources for their particular situation (e.g., finding a practice for a second grader who is off task during math). Participants wanted resources that are easy to find, are simple to navigate and provide the necessary information efficiently. One participant stated they want a way to filter through information to see what was relevant quickly, and five participants agreed with this statement. In addition, participants wanted to be able to quickly make adjustments so the practice could easily be adapted to their needs. One suggested,
If [the resource] had a drop-down menu of options (e.g., a filtering system) [that allowed you to filter through] what happened, when did [the behavior] happen, did it happen when [the student] was triggered. It would give you options that might work for this child.
Another participant said, “It would be useful if there was an app where I could plug in the problems that I’m having, and the app could generate, not only potential things that we could try, but the supporting documents to go with it.”
One participant commented how convenient printable items are by saying, “Printables, it’s about speed. It’s about getting on [the website] and getting off of there.” Not only did the participants want documents to print off, but the materials needed to be appropriate for their environment. One special education teacher explained that printable resources would need to be “specific to the population that I’m working with.” Overall, teachers wanted filtering systems that provided practices specific to their problems that could be quickly tailored to fit their unique needs and include printable sheets for data collection.
Theme 3: Trustworthiness
We coded responses as trustworthy if they related to trusting the effectiveness and appropriateness of recommended content (e.g., colleagues know my students well), including practice-based evidence (e.g., it’s worked for them before), and confidence that recommended practices are appropriate or effective for their students. Participants found practices that were supported by practice-based evidence trustworthy. Practice-based evidence is generated in real classrooms with real teachers (Beahm & Cook, 2021 ) and therefore is perceived as trustworthy by many educators. Six participants mentioned going to colleagues because their colleagues provided them with practices proven successful for the student. For example, one participant said, “I go to the prior teacher or the counselor because they understand and have prior experience.”
Likewise, teachers valued recommended practices that had been successful with other teachers and students. One participant stated, “[Colleagues] are only going to tell you stuff that they’ve tried, and it’s worked,” while another explained, “[My colleagues have] a good track record,” and one more said, “It’s [a practice] that has worked for them.”
Participants also preferred colleagues because they had intimate knowledge of classrooms and students. For example, one indicated, “[Colleagues] know my students, and they understand what I’m asking for and who I’m asking for.” Another noted,
[Colleagues] will ask you questions like, “what is the student doing” and “what do you need help with specifically,” so it kind of narrows down what your plan is instead of typing in a general what they did wrong and hoping that you get some good stuff like in a book or online.
Overall, educators found their colleagues trustworthy because they understood the situation, answered questions, and their suggested practices are supported by practice-based evidence.
Theme 4: Usability
Like the previous themes, teachers want resources to provide information that is easy to implement. To distinguish understandability from usability, we defined the latter as responses related to the feasibility of using recommended content, including implementing the practice independently. Six of the participants mentioned the need for quick and easy data collection. For instance, one stated, “data tracking has got to be simple.” Another participant suggested that it would be easy if teachers could input data into an app that was uploaded to a website that automatically graphed it. Also reflecting the notion of ease of use, one participant said,
I want [a resource] that allows me to tick off (i.e., collect behavioral data) what the student does, have [the resource] generate a plan, and collect data all from the same location. I want to be able to put it in an app and have the teacher input information and have this resource gather data, keep track of it, and continue to build a plan. Then I can print out a behavior plan [based on this information].
Others stated the desire for resources to provide editable documents so they can efficiently adapt the materials. As indicated by one participant, “It would be nice to have a printable, but also an editable documentation sheet that you can go through and tweak it to your needs.” When one participant was discussing an online resource they preferred, they said,
[The website] is very easy. It’s very robust. It’s got a lot of options. It’s very flexible, and I like the flexibility of it. I don’t want to hear the history of the practice. Just tell me how to do it. Just fix [the problem].
In response to the question of where teachers spend money on instructional, all participants stated they used Teachers Pay Teachers because of how quick and simple it is to use. One participant explained, “Teachers love Teachers Pay Teachers, and you can’t get them to stop. Teachers go to Teachers Pay Teachers because of usability. It’s easy to use; it’s easy to understand. It’s in a language they understand. It’s usable and user-friendly.” One participant mentioned that their school had purchased PowerPoints from Teachers Pay Teachers for an entire grade to go along with a language arts unit to save teachers time and effort. Overall, teachers found resources usable when the resource was quick, efficient, and made their job easier.
Many educators report feeling unprepared to handle challenging student behavior and have not received adequate behavior-management training to support their students (Gable et al., 2012 ). This lack of preparation may lead to educators seeking out behavior-management resources on their own. Previous studies suggest that educators are primarily utilizing colleagues as instructional resources (Boardman et al., 2005 ) as well as websites like Pinterest and Teachers Pay Teachers (Opfer et al., 2016 ). However, little research has examined what resources educators use to inform their behavior and classroom management or why they use those resources. Therefore, the main purpose of this study was to investigate which resources educators use when facing classroom and behavior management challenges, their perceptions of those resources, and why they use those resources.
Consistent with previous research (Reinke et al., 2011 ; Westling, 2010 ), the majority of participants reported that students in their classrooms exhibit challenging or disruptive behaviors. Eighty percent of participants reported feeling prepared to deal with challenging student behaviors, which is inconsistent with previous findings (e.g., Gable et al., 2012 ). This may be related to the teaching experience ( M = 14 years) and education level (57% held master’s degrees with additional professional hours) of our sample. Despite the majority of participants feeling prepared to deal with challenging behaviors, 80% of participants indicated that they wanted more access to high-quality behavior-management practices. This suggests that even highly trained and experienced educators want additional resources to help effectively manage challenging student behavior.
Participants’ most frequent response was colleagues when asked where they first go for behavior-management resources. This sentiment is echoed in participants’ use ratings for colleagues, which were significantly higher than all other resources and affirmed by all focus-group participants. Information from colleagues also received the highest ratings regarding accessibility, implementability, understandability, and trust. These findings are consistent with previous studies (e.g., Landrum et al., 2007 ; Smith et al., 2010 ), which reported that teachers prefer to use information from colleagues because it is perceived as trustworthy, accessible, and usable. This notion is supported by both the quantitative and qualitative results from this study.
The reasons participants gave in the focus-group interviews for prioritizing colleagues as their preferred resource for classroom and behavior management challenges varied. Some participants went to colleagues because they were available to answer questions and help make adjustments to the recommended practice as needed. In addition, the majority of participants liked colleagues because they are familiar with their student(s) and classrooms and provide practices that teachers trust to be effective. As one participant stated, teachers do not want to “reinvent the wheel,” and going to colleagues provides battle-tested advice.
Whereas colleagues being the top choice was not surprising, we were surprised that internet media (i.e., YouTube, Pinterest, and Teachers Pay Teachers) received the lowest ratings of all resources. Previous studies (Hott et al., 2018 ; Opfer et al., 2016 ) reported that teachers frequently use Pinterest and Teachers Pay Teachers. It is possible that the highly educated, experienced, and confident nature of our sample influenced their low ratings of internet media. Although the quantitative evidence suggests that teachers do not use internet media, the qualitative results suggest that at least some educators frequently use Teachers Pay Teachers. All focus group participants mentioned purchasing items from Teachers Pay Teachers. One participant said, “Teachers definitely use Teachers Pay Teachers and Pinterest,” and another noted, “I spend my money on Teachers Pay Teachers.” However, one participant mentioned that Teachers Pay Teachers has relatively few resources for behavior management, so that may help to explain the low ratings of use of these resources.
Another interesting result is, despite the relatively low ratings for internet resources, approximately 90% of participants indicated that they downloaded materials from the internet, and almost 60% spent money to access these materials. Although many educators may not have agreed that they regularly used internet media as a resource for classroom and behavior management, almost all used internet media as an instructional resource, and most spent money to access resources on these websites. The average respondent reported spending $150 on downloaded materials, and five educators reported spending over $500, with one educator reporting to have spent “at least $1,000.” Focus-group participants also indicated that teachers spend money on resources from Teachers Pay Teachers. These findings indicate that despite their relatively low ratings of trust for internet resources, many teachers still choose to spend money to download these resources. Additional research is needed to further examine this issue.
Implications and Recommendations for Practice
Study findings indicate that teachers prefer to use colleagues as a behavior-management resource because they are easy to access and understand, and they provide trustworthy and usable information. Thus, researchers should strive to imbue research-based behavioral resources with these same beneficial characteristics. To illustrate, researchers may want to (1) avoid technical terms in articles and other research-based resources and (2) provide step-by-step guides on implementing recommended practices. Although providing sound evidence to support the effectiveness of recommended behavior practices is important, supplementing that evidence with resources that are usable and easily understood may facilitate educators’ understanding and adoption of the practices. Qualitative data suggested that teachers prefer their colleagues because colleagues recommend practices that seem to have been effective in their classroom. As such, researchers may want to include practice-based evidence when discussing research-based information (see Beahm & Cook, 2021 ). Practice-based evidence is generated in real classrooms by real teachers. For example, researchers may want to include a description of how a teacher implemented a strategy in their classroom and any adaptations they made. In addition, researchers might disseminate information using video models that include examples of application in real classroom settings.
As participants reported using colleagues more frequently than other resources, other resources targeting practitioners (e.g., PD, professional websites, practitioner-focused journals) may want to feature examples or stories from real-world educators when providing information on effective behavior-management practices. Some possible examples include using videos of a teacher implementing a targeted behavior-management practice and testimonials from educators describing their experiences with a practice on a website and in PD training. As focus group participants stated the need to see the practice in action, it may be beneficial for teachers to role-play implementing the practice. Another possibility would be to provide teachers with video models that they can access after receiving PD training.
In addition, as teachers indicated the need for information that was “quick and to the point,” PD providers might consider explicitly highlighting and rehearsing the critical elements involved in implementing targeted behavior-management practices during PD sessions. It may also be helpful to provide more information regarding the effectiveness of targeted strategies for different students (e.g., age range, disability status), for different outcomes (e.g., increasing engagement, reducing maladaptive behavior), and in different environments (e.g., whole class, small group, 1:1) to make easier for teachers to select an appropriate EBP for their students.
Implications and Recommendations for Future Research
This study provides preliminary insights into where educators go for behavior-management resources; their perceived use, trust in, accessibility to, implementability, and understanding of a variety of behavior-management resources; and preferred features of behavior-management resources. Future research should extend these initial findings by examining whether results vary by geographical region and across different professional roles (e.g., are there differences in how general and special educators perceive and use behavior-management resources?). We recommend that researchers continue to examine the features of behavior-management resources that teachers perceive as helpful and undesirable to inform and improve the design of behavior-management resources. As this research base matures, researchers can experimentally test the effects of various features of behavior-management resources on educators’ perceptions and of those resources and the implementation of targeted practices.
One important limitation to the study is that both the survey and focus-group interviews relied on self-reported data, which are subject to response bias and may be influenced by social acceptability (Dillman et al., 2014 ). Although we attempted to minimize the possibility of response bias by informing participants that their responses were completely anonymous in the survey and confidential in the focus group, this limitation still exists. In addition, our response rate was only 12.4% on the survey. Although other studies involving web-based surveys of educators had similarly low response rates (e.g., Graziano & Bryans-Bongey, 2018 ; Webster et al., 2020 ) and Manfreda et al. ( 2008 ) found that low response rates are common in web-based surveys, it is important to consider that nonresponding educators may have responded differently. In addition, respondents tended to be highly confident, experienced, educated, white, and female; and were all from one region in a single state. It is possible that a more representative sample of educators may have responded differently to the survey items and in the focus groups.
Challenging student behavior occurs in most classrooms and, although most educators in our sample felt prepared to deal with behavioral challenges, they still expressed a need for more access to behavioral resources. Similar to previous findings (e.g., Boardman et al., 2005 ), our results suggest that educators primarily go to colleagues when faced with behavioral challenges because colleagues are easy to understand and provide usable information. Inconsistent with previous findings, professional and academic journals were rated as being used regularly by many educators, and internet media (i.e., YouTube, Pinterest, and Teachers Pay Teachers) were used relatively infrequently as resources for behavior-management strategies. Consistent with Carnine’s ( 1997 ) theory, our results suggest that educators’ use of resources aligns with perceived accessibility, usability, and trustworthiness. More research is necessary to understand what makes educators perceive resources as trustworthy, understandable, accessible, and usable; and how to manipulate these variables to influence educators’ use of behavior-management resources.
The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.
All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional review board.
The authors declare no conflict of interest.
Research approved by UVA IRB – SBS #303
Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.
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Approaches to Support School Connectedness
Some classroom management approaches strengthen school connectedness. See below for example strategies, tools, and templates that school staff can use to apply these approaches in their face-to-face, virtual, or blended learning modes.
- School connectedness is the belief held by students that adults and peers in the school care about their learning as well as about them as individuals.
- Students who feel connected and engaged at school are less likely to report risky behaviors (such as early sexual initiation, substance use, violence, and suicide) and have more positive academic outcomes. 1-6
- Classroom management is the process that teachers and schools use to create positive classroom environments in face-to-face or virtual learning modes.
- Classroom management includes teacher- and student-led actions to support academic and social-emotional learning among all students. 7
- Well-managed classrooms that incorporate positive behavior management strategies are one way that teachers and other school staff can build school connectedness. 8
Which classroom management approaches and skills increase connectedness?
CDC researchers reviewed scientific papers on classroom management and identified these classroom management approaches that promote student connectedness and engagement. Strategies to support these approaches were identified through a structured review of web-based practice resources.
Teacher Caring and Support
Peer Connection and Support
Student Autonomy and Empowerment
There are other classroom management approaches that appear promising for promoting school connectedness and engagement, although more research is needed on the extent to which these classroom management approaches directly impact connectedness.
These approaches have been linked to increased school connectedness and engagement when combined with other classroom management approaches.
Instructional Monitoring & Support.
When teachers use instructional approaches that 1) monitor the needs of students and 2) explicitly focus on increasing students’ interest and engagement (combined with other classroom management approaches such as those reported above), students report higher levels of engagement and connectedness. 9 -11
For example, when teachers demonstrated a number of classroom management skills including awareness and responsiveness to students’ needs (e.g., walking around the classroom and checking in on students) and maximizing students’ interest and engagement in learning (e.g., using interesting and engaging lesson materials & active facilitation), students were more likely to report a strong sense of peer community and school bonding. 9
Students report higher levels of school engagement when teachers demonstrate a variety of strong classroom management skills and make classroom content useful and relevant to them.
For example, when students perceived that their teachers had high expectations for them and connected classroom content to their lives and future goals, they were more engaged and involved at school. 12 Teachers may increase school connectedness by ensuring that all students from diverse backgrounds have opportunities to engage in content that includes individuals, communities, and experiences that reflect their own.
- Wilkins NJ, Verlenden JV, Szucs LE, Johns M. (2022) Classroom management and facilitation approaches that promote school connectedness. Journal of School Health . doi: https://doi.org/10.1111/josh.13279
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- Marraccini ME, Brier ZM. School connectedness and suicidal thoughts and behaviors: A systematic meta-analysis. School Psychology Quarterly . 2017;32(1):5.
- Niehaus K, Rudasill KM, Rakes CR. A longitudinal study of school connectedness and academic outcomes across sixth grade. Journal of School Psychology . 2012;50(4):443-460.
- Carter M, McGee R, Taylor B, Williams S. Health outcomes in adolescence: Associations with family, friends and school engagement. Journal of adolescence . 2007;30(1):51-62.
- Griffiths A-J, Lilles E, Furlong MJ, Sidhwa J. The relations of adolescent student engagement with troubling and high-risk behaviors . Handbook of research on student engagement : Springer; 2012. p. 563-584.
- Lei H, Cui Y, Zhou W. Relationships between student engagement and academic achievement: A meta-analysis. Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal . 2018;46(3):517-528.
- Evertson CM, Weinstein CS. Classroom management as a field of inquiry. Handbook of classroom management: Research, practice, and contemporary issues . 2006;3(1):16.
- Hawkins JD, Guo J, Hill KG, Battin-Pearson S, Abbott RD. Long-term effects of the Seattle Social Development Intervention on school bonding trajectories. Applied developmental science . 2001;5(4):225-236.
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- Kim HY, Cappella E. Mapping the social world of classrooms: A multi‐level, multi‐reporter approach to social processes and behavioral engagement. American journal of community psychology . 2016;57(1-2):20-35.
- Kiefer SM, Pennington S. Associations of teacher autonomy support and structure with young adolescents’ motivation, engagement, belonging, and achievement. Middle grades research journal . 2017;11(1).
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20 Classroom Management Strategies and Techniques [+ Downloadable List]
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Universal classroom management strategies for educators
Classroom management strategies for individual students, downloadable list of classroom management strategies for teachers, classroom management strategies infographic, classroom management faqs, final thoughts about these classroom management strategies.
Paper airplanes fly across the room. Students race between desks. You can’t get a word in, as they yell over you.
Disruptive behavior doesn’t have to be this dramatic, like a movie scene you’d watch in a media literacy lesson, but poor classroom management will almost assuredly elevate your stress and burnout rates.
Unfortunately, a 2019 report indicates that teachers overwhelmingly report a lack of professional development support in improving classroom management. Despite this unideal situation, there are straightforward and effective classroom management approaches you can implement by yourself. These approaches can enhance prosocial student behavior and academic engagement, establishing an orderly learning environment.
Available as a downloadable list to keep at your desk , below are 20 research-backed classroom management strategies and techniques.
Use the ones that best appeal to your situation and teaching style.
These 20 classroom management techniques have shown to improve classroom behavior, build relationships for a better classroom community, and foster a positive classroom environment where student learning is the number one collective goal.
Try these effective classroom management strategies with your students to become a happier, more effective teacher.
1. Model ideal behavior
Make a habit of demonstrating behavior you want to see, as many studies show that modelling effectively teaches students how to act in different situations.
A straightforward way to model certain behaviors is holding a mock conversation with an administrator, other teacher or student helper in front of the class. Talking about a test or other relatable topic, be sure to:
- Use polite language
- Maintain eye contact
- Keep phones in your pockets
- Let one another speak uninterrupted
- Raise concerns about one another’s statements in a respectful manner
After, start a class discussion to list and expand upon the ideal behaviors you exemplified.
2. Let students help establish guidelines
Encourage all students to help you build classroom expectations and rules, as you’ll generate more buy-in than just telling them what they’re not allowed to do.
This is especially essential for new teachers. Near the start of the school year or during the first day of a semester, start a discussion by asking students what they believe should and shouldn’t fly in terms of appropriate behavior.
At what points are phones okay and not okay? What are acceptable noise levels during lessons?
This may seem like you’re setting yourself up for failure, but -- depending on the makeup of your class -- you may be shocked at the strictness of some proposed rules. Regardless, having a discussion should lead to mutually-understood and -respected expectations for your classroom culture.
3. Document rules
Don’t let your mutually-respected guidelines go forgotten.
Similar to handing out a syllabus, print and distribute the list of rules that the class discussion generated. Then, go through the list with your students. Doing this emphasizes the fact that you respect their ideas and intend to adhere to them. And when a student breaks a rule, it’ll be easy for you to point to this document.
You'll likely want to post these rules up in your classroom — if you haven't already — for occasional reference. If you’re feeling creative, you can include the rule list in a student handbook with important dates, events and curriculum information, too.
4. Avoid punishing the class
Address isolated discipline problems individually instead of punishing an entire class, as the latter can hurt your relationships with students who are on-task and thereby jeopardize other classroom management efforts.
Instead, call out specific students in a friendly manner. For example:
- “Do you have a question?”, not “Stop talking and disrupting other students”
- “Do you need help focusing?”, not “Pay attention and stop fooling around while I’m talking”
This basic approach will allow you to keep a friendly disposition, while immediately acknowledging inappropriate behavior.
5. Encourage initiative
Promote growth mindset , and inject variety into your lessons, by allowing students to work ahead and deliver short presentations to share take-away points. Almost inevitably, you’ll have some eager learners in your classroom. You can simply ask them if they’d like to get ahead from time-to-time.
For example, if you’re reading a specific chapter in a textbook, propose that they read the following one too. When they deliver their subsequent presentations to preview the next chapter on your behalf, you may find that other students want a bit more work as well.
6. Offer praise
Praise students for jobs well done, as doing so improves academic and behavioral performance , according to a recent research review and study .
When it is sincere and references specific examples of effort or accomplishment, praise can:
- Inspire the class
- Improve a student’s self-esteem
- Reinforce rules and values you want to see
Perhaps more importantly, it encourages students to repeat positive behavior. Let’s say a student exemplifies advanced problem-solving skills when tackling a math word problem . Praising his or her use of specific tactics should go a long way in ensuring he or she continues to use these tactics. Not to mention, you’ll motivate other students to do the same.
7. Use non-verbal communication
Complement words with actions and visual aids to improve content delivery, helping students focus and process lessons.
Many differentiated instruction strategies and techniques are rooted in these communication methods. For example, running learning stations -- divided sections of your classroom through which students rotate -- allows you to deliver a range of non-spoken content types. These include videos, infographics and physical objects such as counting coins.
8. Hold parties
Throw an occasional classroom party to acknowledge students’ hard work, motivating them to keep it up.
Even if it’s just for 20 or 30 minutes, they should be happy with snacks and a selection of group games to play. Clarify that you’re holding the party to reward them and they can earn future parties by demonstrating ideal behavior, collectively scoring high on assessments and more.
9. Give tangible rewards
Reward specific students at the end of each lesson, in front of the class, as another motivational and behavior-reinforcement technique.
Let’s say a few students are actively listening throughout the entire lesson, answering questions and asking their own. Before the class ends, walk over to their desks to give them raffle tickets. So others can learn, state aloud what each student did to earn the tickets. On Friday, they can submit their tickets for a shot at a prize that changes each week -- from candy to being able to choose a game for the next class party.
10. Make positive letters and phone calls
Keep students happy in and out of class by pleasantly surprising their parents, making positive phone calls and sending complimentary letters home.
When the occasion arises, from academic effort or behavioral progress, letting parents know has a trickle-down effect. They’ll generally congratulate their kids; their kids will likely come to class eager to earn more positive feedback. This can also entice parents to grow more invested in a child’s learning, opening the door to at-home lessons. Such lessons are a mainstay element of culturally-responsive teaching .
11. Build excitement for content and lesson plans
This one works well no matter the grade level: elementary school, middle school or high school. Start lessons by previewing particularly-exciting parts, hooking student interest from the get-go.
As the bell rings and students settle, go through an agenda of the day’s highlights for the whole class. These could include group tasks, engaging bits of content and anything else to pique curiosity. For example, “Throughout the day, you’ll learn about:”
- How to talk like you’re a teacher (sentence structure)
- Why you don’t know anyone who’s won the lottery (probability)
- What all the presidents of the United States have had in common (social analysis)
The goal of this classroom management technique is to immediately interest students in your agenda and thereby dissuade misbehavior.
Ready to make learning an exciting adventure?
Use Prodigy to boost classroom engagement and excitement about your lesson plans with two captivating learning games for math and English!
12. Offer different types of free study time
Provide a range of activities during free study time to appeal to students who struggle to process content in silence, individually.
You can do this by dividing your class into clearly-sectioned solo and team activities. In separate sections, consider:
- Providing audiobooks, which can play material relevant to your lessons
- Maintaining a designated quiet space for students to take notes and complete work
- Creating a station for challenging group games that teach or reinforce standards-aligned skills
- Allowing students to work in groups while taking notes and completing work, away from quiet zones
By running these sorts of activities, free study time will begin to benefit diverse learners. This should contribute to overall classroom engagement.
13. Write group contracts
Help student group work run smoothly and effectively by writing contracts that contain guidelines, having everyone sign.
Group contracts should be based on expectations that students have for each other, and you have for them. You can gather the class’s thoughts by holding a discussion about what the ideal group member does, and how he or she acts. Once you’ve written the contract, encourage students to come up with consequences for violating expectations.
By having them sign a fresh version of the contract before each group task and project, you’re empowering them to hold each other accountable.
14. Assign open-ended projects
Encourage students to tackle open-ended projects -- projects that don’t demand a specific product -- to allow them to demonstrate knowledge in ways that inherently suit them.
This starts by giving the class a list of broad project ideas, asking each student to choose one. Be sure to provide a rubric for each project that clearly defines expectations. By both enticing and challenging students, you should notice they’ll:
- Work and learn at their own paces
- Engage actively with appropriate content
- Demonstrate knowledge as effectively as possible
With these benefits, students may actually look forward to taking on new projects.
15. Give only two scores for informal assessments
Recall a time you saw a big “F” in red ink on your work. You were probably too upset to review mistakes and feedback, and so are your students when they see the same.
So, consider avoiding standard marks on informal and formative assessments .
Instead, just state if a student did or did not meet expectations. Then, provide struggling students with a clear path to improve. For example, pair classmates who didn’t meet expectations with those who did, giving them a review and practice activity. When strugglers are confident they understand key concepts, encourage them to tell you. Provide a new assessment, allowing them to prove their competency.
16. Use EdTech that adjusts to each student
Give students who struggle to process your content opportunities to try educational technology that adapts to their needs.
There are many games and platforms that use adaptive learning principles to detect a given student’s skill deficits, serving them content to help overcome them.
For example, Prodigy Math adjusts its content to help students in grades 1 to 8 address their trouble spots. It also offers feedback to help them solve specific mistakes, as they answer questions that use words, charts, pictures and numbers.
Sign up for your free teacher account today!
17. Interview students
Interview students who aren’t academically engaged or displaying prosocial behavior to learn how to better manage them.
While running learning stations or a large-group activity, pull each student aside for a few minutes. Ask about:
- What helps them focus
- Who they work well with
- Their favorite types of lessons
- Their favorite in-class activities
- Which kinds of exercises help them remember key lesson points
Note their answers to come up with activities and approaches that engage them, thereby limiting classroom disruptions.
18. Address inappropriate or off-task behavior quickly
Avoid hesitation when you must address inappropriate or off-task behavior, especially when a student breaks a documented rule.
Acting sooner than later will help ensure that negative feelings -- whether between students or you and a student -- won’t fester. Failure to act can result in more poor behavior, leading to needlessly-difficult conversations.
But keep in mind: It’s usually best to talk to the student in private. Research shows that punishing students in front of peers has “limited value.”
19. Consider peer teaching
Use peer teaching as a classroom management strategy if you feel your top performers can help engage and educate disruptive and struggling students.
Peer teaching activities, such as pairing students together as reading buddies, can be especially beneficial for students who suffer from low confidence and poor interpersonal skills.
Authoritative research states tutors improve self-esteem and interpersonal skills by giving feedback. Tutees realize benefits because they can ask questions and receive immediate clarification. A later study of at-risk students echoes these advantages. Although you should spend time teaching peer tutors how to properly communicate with tutees, you’ll likely find the benefits are worth the work.
20. Gamify personal learning plans
Motivate students on personal learning plans by gamifying those plans, as studies — such as recent research from South Korea — indicate this will continuously engage and incentivize them.
Consider gamification strategies such as:
- Adjusting your scoring system -- Give experience points (XP) -- along with traditional scores -- on tests and assignments, setting a goal for the student to reach a certain amount of XP per unit. For example, if a student scores 60% on a quiz, give him or her 6,000 XP. You can also award XP for completing extra assignments, participating in class or anything else that shows effort to learn.
- Using stages -- Refer to topics and units as stages. The former terms have clear connotations for you, but students may not see how they fit together. If they’re gamers, they’ll understand that reaching the next stage requires overcoming precursory challenges. Emphasize this by framing certain tasks as prerequisites to reach the next learning stage.
If these strategies work especially well for individual students, you should see similar success by using them as class-wide student management techniques.
Click here to download a simplified list of the above classroom management strategies and techniques to print and keep at your desk.
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What is the best classroom management style?
According to Diana Baumrind's work, a clinical psychologist known for her research on parenting styles, some educators believe an authoritative classroom management style may the best one. This type of high control, high involvement classroom management style is characterized by strong expectations of appropriate behavior, clear understandings of why certain behaviors are acceptable and others not acceptable, and warm student-teacher relationships.
However, there is no specific approach that has been proven to be the most effective. So you may wish to review The Classroom Management Book by Harry K. Wong and Rosemary T. Wong which includes a variety of solutions that can be easily implemented. Every group of students has varying needs and will likely need a unique approach to help every student bring his or her best self to the classroom and be ready-to-learn every single day.
What are the four components of classroom management?
Implementing the top four components of classroom management from the start will set you and your students up for success all year long. They are:
- Classroom design — be intentional about how you set up your desk, your students' desks, bulletin board displays, devices and other aspects of your classroom. Thoughtful classroom design can help create a safe and welcoming learning environment.
- Rules/discipline — to create a safe and caring school community, develop classroom rules your students understand and — hopefully — respect. While it may not be fun, be sure to communicate that breaking classroom rules will have concrete yet fair consequences.
- Scheduling/organization — being on time, keeping on task and staying organized will help set up your lessons (and your students' learning) up for success.
- Instructional technique — while you may not have the flexibility you'd like when it comes to content and curriculum, you should have the freedom to choose how you teach. For example, 8th grade students may prefer a lecture-style lesson with small group discussions while 3rd grade students may prefer learning math with a digital game-based learning platform. Observe how your students learn best and use the classroom management strategies and techniques to teach your lessons.
Why is classroom management so important?
When done effectively, classroom management is important for three main reasons. It:
- Creates and sustains an orderly learning environment in the classroom
- Improves meaningful academic learning and fosters social-emotional growth
- Increases students' academic engagement and lowers negative classroom behavior
These class-wide and one-on-one approaches to classroom management largely work across subjects and grade levels . Implementable without admin and parent support, they should empower you to establish an orderly — yet friendly and engaging — environment.
Look forward to better teacher-to-student and student-to-student interactions as a result.
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In Meece J. L., Eccles J. S. (Eds.), Handbook of research on schools, schooling, and human development (pp. 25–41). Routledge. Google Scholar.