Building a Culture of Learning through Effective Classroom Management

Establishing a learning environment that’s conducive to learning should be at the top of the list of each teacher’s priorities. In order for students to grow, develop, and achieve to their fullest potential, it’s important to create a climate of cooperation, collaboration, trust, and mutual respect. While there are many ways to build a positive learning classroom, it hinges on helping students to develop interpersonal skills, responsibility, courtesy, and good citizenship. This is typically best accomplished through modeling good behaviors, providing multiple opportunities to practice those behaviors, and providing corrective support when needed.

However, there is another approach to classroom management that’s being offered to teachers across the nation. In a piece entitled Public Schools to Teachers: Run Your Class on Fear or Get Fired, author John Warner describes a classroom management philosophy called No Nonsense Nurturing.

What is No Nonsense Nurturing?

Essentially, No Nonsense Nurturing involves “coaches” sitting in the back of the classroom or nearby, constantly directing the classroom teacher how to interact with students using microphones and earpieces. Even worse is that teachers are required to bark orders at students using short, choppy commands, and no enthusiasm or encouragement from the teacher is permitted. Rather, it is simply a command-followed-by-compliance model. As stated in the article, the two goals of teachers adhering to the No Nonsense Nurturing approach are:

  • I have to earn the respect of my students.
  • I expect to have 100% compliance from my students 100% of the time.

Is This Really Nurturing?

After considering the premise behind the No Nonsense Nurturing approach, we have to ask: Can a teacher truly earn the respect of his or her students by demanding compliance? Or, is this sense or respect simply submission to authority?

There’s a big difference between the two.

The Center for Transformative Teacher Training, which apparently developed this classroom management approach, might be wise to dust off their dictionary and look up the meaning of  “respect” again. If students are expected to comply with teacher commands 100% of the time, this is submission—not respect. And it’s sure not conducive to a positive learning environment. A far better approach would be to build a classroom environment where learners were empowered to think, to question, and to grow–where mutual respect abounds, and where compliance is reserved for annual regulatory reports.

The Real Key to a Successful Learning Environment

So then, how can teachers create safe, robust, stimulating places for students to learn and develop? We as a community of educators must ensure that appropriate information, support, guidance, and professional development are provided so they will have the tools they need to succeed. After all, a teacher’s success leads to student success. Furthermore, this support should start during their initial teacher preparation program and continue until the day they retire.

Preparing Future Teachers

Creating a positive, healthy learning environment that isn’t limited a comply or else model can’t be accomplished within a single college course or workshop. Many schools of education require future teachers to take a Classroom Management course that’s heavy on theory and light on practical applications. These future teachers are then placed in a classroom and frequently told that experience is the best teacher when it comes to managing a classroom effectively. Wrong! Preparing teacher candidates to understand and use the best tools for creating positive learning environments should be woven thoughtfully and purposefully throughout their program, across multiple courses and field experiences. They should receive extensive instruction in practical classroom applications coupled with theory. They should be given the gift of many classroom experiences where they are able to try out what they’ve learned while supported by a caring, experienced mentor teacher.

Supporting Teachers in the Classroom

Once they have been hired, school districts should be 100% committed to supporting each teacher’s success. That includes collaborative learning communities, high-quality professional development opportunities, and peer coaching. Each year of teaching comes with its own set of challenges, and school districts should have a solid support system in place that lies outside of required performance evaluations for continued employment.

The Role of School Leaders

In most instances, the building principal or assistant principal oversees a school’s overall classroom management approach and subsequent discipline policies. It’s the administrator’s role to lead faculty and staff in creating a positive learning environment. In order to provide this leadership, it’s important for administrative staff to be knowledgeable in (1) research-based best practices and (2) how to support teachers who may be struggling with classroom management. Far too often, this is minimally covered in educational leadership programs. Instead, a major focus is on curriculum, standardized testing, budgets, laws, and regulations. School leaders need to know how to create a positive, supportive environment for teachers so those teachers in turn can create a positive, supportive environment for their students.

Need Some Good Resources?

There are some wonderful, high-quality resources available to help future teachers, practicing teachers, and parents who are homeschooling their children. A few examples include:


Through proper training and ongoing support, teachers can create powerful, robust learning environments where students are eager to come to school, and where they enthusiastically talk about their day at the dinner table. This culture of learning is not built on submission and compliance, but instead on respect, communication, consistency, and fairness.

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in quality assurance, educator preparation, and empowerment-based learning. She supports educational institutions and non-profit agencies in areas such as accreditation, competency-based education, and teacher/school leader prep programs design.  Roberta also writes about academic excellence and can be contacted for consultations, webinars, and on-site workshops through her site ( 


Competency-Based Education: Academic Excellence in Action


Competency-based education (CBE) is quickly becoming accepted as an effective way to facilitate powerful, authentic learning at all levels. Sometimes referred to as personalized learning, mastery learning, or proficiency learning, students must demonstrate what they know and are able to do, rather than just put in “seat time” and complete a prescribed set of courses. However, designing a solid CBE program is not as simple as it sounds–it requires a great deal of thought, understanding, and know-how.

I’ve worked in institutions using traditional learning models and spent 10 years working in one that employs the CBE model effectively. I’ve really come to appreciate the level of learning that takes place in a CBE model, and I’ve seen over the years how effective it is in supporting students’ learning. I’ve celebrated with students and their families who reached their goals and achieved their dreams because they were in an environment that enabled them to show what they knew and then move on at their own pace. CBE, when structured properly, helps educators to personalize learning experiences. I predict the CBE model will be a major player in the educational arena over the next two decades at the P-12 level as well as at the collegiate level.

There are some essential thoughts to consider for programs thinking about adopting the competency-based education (CBE) model, and I shared some of those tenets in a commentary published in the Journal of Competency-Based Education entitled, Implications for Educator Preparation Programs Considering Competency-Based Education. 

Helping students to demonstrate what they know and are able to do within the context of a set of well-articulated competencies and measured through high-quality assessments is certainly one example of academic excellence.



Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation, online learning, and academic quality assurance. An accomplished presenter, writer, and educator, she currently supports higher education and P-12 schools in areas such as competency-based education, teacher preparation, distance learning, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC. She can be reached at:

Looking for Innovation? Think CBE.

Thinking about adopting a competency-based educational (CBE) model? This can be a great, innovative way to teach adult learners at the community college or university level, but it can also be quite appropriate for youngsters at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. Here are a few basic tenets of CBE to consider:

Competency-based education is not an easy way to learn or to earn a college degree. Instead, it is a different way to learn. Rather than just sitting in a class and earning attendance points, learners really have to demonstrate what they know and are able to do through a variety of high-quality assessments.

True competency-based education is standards-based education. A house must have a solid foundation in order to stand over time. Likewise, curriculum must be based on standards, and from those standards, competencies, learning objectives, and assessments are developed. As industry standards change, so must a competency-based curriculum evolve to ensure relevancy and currency.


Competency-based education is carefully planned and developed. It is not a simple matter to create or switch to a competency-based educational model. It requires a great deal of thought, planning, training, and a commitment to various resources. Simply put, it is not realistic for an institution to believe this can be created by one or two faculty members given extra teaching load pay over a semester or two. It requires systemic commitment and long-range strategic planning.

The curriculum found in a high-quality competency-based educational program comprises both breadth and depth. As previously stated, a solid curriculum must be standards-based. In addition, a CBE curriculum can’t just “cover” certain key concepts and principles—this approach will not lead to deep, sustained learning. Instead, major content must be identified and embedded multiple times within signature learning experiences; they must be scaffolded throughout a program of study at increasing levels of complexity. Learners must be given multiple opportunities to understand and apply what they are learning in various contexts.

Self-paced learning is a cornerstone of the CBE model. Rote memorization has been debunked by many over the years as an ineffective way to learn. Likewise, educators now acknowledge that lockstep teaching and learning does not meet the needs of individuals. An age-old approach known as “Teach to the Middle” is still often the norm in environments where class size is excessive and teachers need to work as efficiently as possible simply to manage their classrooms. However, this approach neglects the needs of students who are struggling, and it neglects the needs of students who have already mastered those skills and are ready to move on. One of the most beautiful aspects of competency-based education is that it is based on a self-paced learner model: Students work at their own pace, taking as much or as little time as they need to understand, apply, and demonstrate their proficiency in the stated competencies and learning objectives. Learners are less frustrated; they feel empowered and more in control of their own progress.

The competency-based model lends itself well to online learning. CBE certainly can work well in traditional face-to-face learning environments. However, it can work equally well in distance learning models. There are different nuances to consider in the planning stage, but CBE is adaptable to all learning environments. What’s important is the strength of the curriculum, the learning resources, the quality of instruction, and the support given to learners. If the curriculum can be seen as the foundation of the house, then the other instructional elements can be viewed as the walls supporting the structure.

The quality of a competency-based program is heavily reliant upon the quality of its assessments. In a competency-based model, learners demonstrate what they know and are able to do relative to specific learning objectives. They demonstrate this through a variety of high-quality assessments, frequently in the form of internally-created objective examinations, performance assessments, field-based assessments, and externally-created proprietary assessments. If the curriculum is the home’s foundation, and the walls are comprised of learning resources, instructional quality, and learner support, assessments represent the roof. There must be direct alignment between what learners are taught and how their knowledge is measured.

Continuous, critical review of assessment data is essential. Many educators throw around the term “data-driven” decision making these days, but few really understand what it means. As with curriculum development, a comprehensive assessment plan is essential to any institution, regardless whether it adheres to a competency-based educational model or not. There are many steps that need to be taken to ensure the quality, integrity, and continual improvement of the ways in which learner proficiency is measured.

The bottom line: It’s all about efficacy. Irrespective of the educational model being implemented, the strength of a program actually can best be determined by the sustained impact on the lives of learners and those they interact with in their chosen profession. For example, do graduates from an educator preparation program demonstrate a positive impact on their P-12 students’ learning and development? Do graduates from a medical school demonstrate a significant impact on improving the quality of their patients’ lives?

Competency-based education is not just about learning in the moment; it’s about learning for a lifetime to serve the greater good.