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September 2003 | Volume 61 | Number 1
Building Classroom Relationships Pages 6-13
The Key to Classroom Management
By using research-based strategies combining appropriate levels of dominance and
cooperation and an awareness of student needs, teachers can build positive classroom
Robert J. Marzano and Jana S. Marzano
Today, we know more about teaching than we ever have before. Research has shown us
that teachers' actions in their classrooms have twice the impact on student achievement as
do school policies regarding curriculum, assessment, staff collegiality, and community
involvement (Marzano, 2003a). We also know that one of the classroom teacher's most
important jobs is managing the classroom effectively.
A comprehensive literature review by Wang, Haertel, and Walberg (1993) amply
demonstrates the importance of effective classroom management. These researchers
analyzed 86 chapters from annual research reviews, 44 handbook chapters, 20
government and commissioned reports, and 11 journal articles to produce a list of 228
variables affecting student achievement. They combined the results of these analyses with
the findings from 134 separate meta-analyses. Of all the variables, classroom
management had the largest effect on student achievement. This makes intuitive sense—
students cannot learn in a chaotic, poorly managed classroom.
Research not only supports the importance of classroom management, but it also sheds
light on the dynamics of classroom management. Stage and Quiroz's meta-analysis
(1997) shows the importance of there being a balance between teacher actions that
provide clear consequences for unacceptable behavior and teacher actions that recognize
and reward acceptable behavior. Other researchers (Emmer, Evertson, & Worsham, 2003;
Evertson, Emmer, & Worsham, 2003) have identified important components of
classroom management, including beginning the school year with a positive emphasis on
management; arranging the room in a way conducive to effective management; and
identifying and implementing rules and operating procedures.
In a recent meta-analysis of more than 100 studies (Marzano, 2003b), we found that the
quality of teacher-student relationships is the keystone for all other aspects of classroom
management. In fact, our meta-analysis indicates that on average, teachers who had high-
quality relationships with their students had 31 percent fewer discipline problems, rule
violations, and related problems over a year's time than did teachers who did not have
high-quality relationships with their students.
What are the characteristics of effective teacher-student relationships? Let's first consider
what they are not. Effective teacher-student relationships have nothing to do with the
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teacher's personality or even with whether the students view the teacher as a friend.
Rather, the most effective teacher-student relationships are characterized by specific
teacher behaviors: exhibiting appropriate levels of dominance; exhibiting appropriate
levels of cooperation; and being aware of high-needs students.
Appropriate Levels of Dominance
Wubbels and his colleagues (Wubbels, Brekelmans, van Tartwijk, & Admiral, 1999;
Wubbels & Levy, 1993) identify appropriate dominance as an important characteristic of
effective teacher-student relationships. In contrast to the more negative connotation of the
term dominance as forceful control or command over others, they define dominance as
the teacher's ability to provide clear purpose and strong guidance regarding both
academics and student behavior. Studies indicate that when asked about their preferences
for teacher behavior, students typically express a desire for this type of teacher-student
interaction. For example, in a study that involved interviews with more than 700 students
in grades 4–7, students articulated a clear preference for strong teacher guidance and
control rather than more permissive types of teacher behavior (Chiu & Tulley, 1997).
Teachers can exhibit appropriate dominance by establishing clear behavior expectations
and learning goals and by exhibiting assertive behavior.
Establish Clear Expectations and Consequences
Teachers can establish clear expectations for behavior in two ways: by establishing clear
rules and procedures, and by providing consequences for student behavior.
The seminal research of the 1980s (Emmer, 1984; Emmer, Sanford, Evertson, Clements,
& Martin, 1981; Evertson & Emmer, 1982) points to the importance of establishing rules
and procedures for general classroom behavior, group work, seat work, transitions and
interruptions, use of materials and equipment, and beginning and ending the period or the
day. Ideally, the class should establish these rules and procedures through discussion and
mutual consent by teacher and students (Glasser, 1969, 1990).
Along with well-designed and clearly communicated rules and procedures, the teacher
must acknowledge students' behavior, reinforcing acceptable behavior and providing
negative consequences for unacceptable behavior. Stage and Quiroz's research (1997) is
instructive. They found that teachers build effective relationships through such strategies
as the following:
• Using a wide variety of verbal and physical reactions to students' misbehavior,
such as moving closer to offend-ing students and using a physical cue, such as a
finger to the lips, to point out inappropriate behavior.
• Cuing the class about expected behaviors through prearranged signals, such as
raising a hand to indicate that all students should take their seats.
• Providing tangible recognition of appropriate behavior—with tokens or chits, for
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• Employing group contingency policies that hold the entire group responsible for
• Employing home contingency techniques that involve rewards and sanctions at
Establish Clear Learning Goals
Teachers can also exhibit appropriate levels of dominance by providing clarity about the
content and expectations of an upcoming instructional unit. Important teacher actions to
achieve this end include
• Establishing and communicating learning goals at the beginning of a unit of
• Providing feedback on those goals.
• Continually and systematically re-visiting the goals.
• Providing summative feedback regarding the goals.
The use of rubrics can help teachers establish clear goals. To illustrate, assume that a
teacher has identified the learning goal "understanding and using fractions" as important
for a given unit. That teacher might present students with the following rubric:
4 points. You understand the characteristics of fractions along with the different types.
You can accurately describe how fractions are related to decimals and percentages. You
can convert fractions to decimals and can explain how and why the process works. You
can use fractions to understand and solve different types of problems.
3 points. You understand the basic characteristics of fractions. You know how fractions
are related to decimals and percentages. You can convert fractions to decimals.
2 points. You have a basic understanding of the following, but have some small
misunderstandings about one or more: the characteristics of fractions; the relationships
among fractions, decimals, and percentages; how to convert fractions to decimals.
1 point. You have some major problems or misunderstandings with one or more of the
following: the characteristics of fractions; the relationships among fractions, decimals,
and percentages; how to convert fractions to decimals.
0 points. You may have heard of the following before, but you do not understand what
they mean: the characteristics of fractions; the relationships among fractions, decimals,
and percentages; how to convert fractions to decimals.
The clarity of purpose provided by this rubric communicates to students that their teacher
can provide proper guidance and direction in academic content.
Exhibit Assertive Behavior
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Teachers can also communicate appropriate levels of dominance by exhibiting assertive
behavior. According to Emmer and colleagues, assertive behavior is
the ability to stand up for one's legitimate rights in ways that make it less likely that
others will ignore or circumvent them. (2003, p. 146)
Assertive behavior differs significantly from both passive behavior and aggressive
behavior. These researchers explain that teachers display assertive behavior in the
classroom when they
• Use assertive body language by maintaining an erect posture, facing the offending
student but keeping enough distance so as not to appear threatening and matching
the facial expression with the content of the message being presented to students.
• Use an appropriate tone of voice, speaking clearly and deliberately in a pitch that
is slightly but not greatly elevated from normal classroom speech, avoiding any
display of emotions in the voice.
• Persist until students respond with the appropriate behavior. Do not ignore an
inappropriate behavior; do not be diverted by a student denying, arguing, or
blaming, but listen to legitimate explanations.
Appropriate Levels of Cooperation
Cooperation is characterized by a concern for the needs and opinions of others. Although
not the antithesis of dominance, cooperation certainly occupies a different realm.
Whereas dominance focuses on the teacher as the driving force in the classroom,
cooperation focuses on the students and teacher functioning as a team. The interaction of
these two dynamics—dominance and cooperation—is a central force in effective teacher-
student relationships. Several strategies can foster appropriate levels of cooperation.
Provide Flexible Learning Goals
Just as teachers can communicate appropriate levels of dominance by providing clear
learning goals, they can also convey appropriate levels of cooperation by providing
flexible learning goals. Giving students the opportunity to set their own objectives at the
beginning of a unit or asking students what they would like to learn conveys a sense of
cooperation. Assume, for example, that a teacher has identified the topic of fractions as
the focus of a unit of instruction and has provided students with a rubric. The teacher
could then ask students to identify some aspect of fractions or a related topic that they
would particularly like to study. Giving students this kind of choice, in addition to
increasing their understanding of the topic, conveys the message that the teacher cares
about and tries to accommodate students' interests.
Take a Personal Interest in Students
Probably the most obvious way to communicate appropriate levels of cooperation is to
take a personal interest in each student in the class. As McCombs and Whisler (1997)
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note, all students appreciate personal attention from the teacher. Although busy
teachers—particularly those at the secondary level—do not have the time for extensive
interaction with all students, some teacher actions can communicate personal interest and
concern without taking up much time. Teachers can
• Talk informally with students before, during, and after class about their interests.
• Greet students outside of school—for instance, at extracurricular events or at the
• Single out a few students each day in the lunchroom and talk with them.
• Be aware of and comment on important events in students' lives, such as
participation in sports, drama, or other extracurricular activities.
• Compliment students on important achievements in and outside of school.
• Meet students at the door as they come into class; greet each one by name.
Use Equitable and Positive Classroom Behaviors
Programs like Teacher Expectations and Student Achievement emphasize the importance
of the subtle ways in which teachers can communicate their interest in students (Kerman,
Kimball, & Martin, 1980). This program recommends many practical strategies that
emphasize equitable and positive classroom interactions with all students. Teachers
should, for example,
• Make eye contact with each student. Teachers can make eye contact by scanning
the entire room as they speak and by freely moving about all sections of the room.
• Deliberately move toward and stand close to each student during the class period.
Make sure that the seating arrangement allows the teacher and students clear and
easy ways to move around the room.
• Attribute the ownership of ideas to the students who initiated them. For instance,
in a discussion a teacher might say, "Cecilia just added to Aida's idea by saying
that . . . ."
• Allow and encourage all students to participate in class discussions and
interactions. Make sure to call on students who do not commonly participate, not
just those who respond most frequently.
• Provide appropriate wait time for all students to respond to questions, regardless
of their past performance or your perception of their abilities.
Awareness of High-Needs Students
Classroom teachers meet daily with a broad cross-section of students. In general, 12–22
percent of all students in school suffer from mental, emotional, or behavioral disorders,
and relatively few receive mental health services (Adelman & Taylor, 2002). The
Association of School Counselors notes that 18 per-cent of students have special needs
and require extraordinary interventions and treatments that go beyond the typical
resources available to the classroom (Dunn & Baker, 2002).
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Although the classroom teacher is certainly not in a position to directly address such
severe problems, teachers with effective classroom management skills are aware of high-
needs students and have a repertoire of specific techniques for meeting some of their
needs (Marzano, 2003b). Figure 1 (p. 10) summarizes five categories of high-needs
students and suggests classroom strategies for each category and subcategory.
• Passive students fall into two subcategories: those who fear relationships and
those who fear failure. Teachers can build strong relationships with these students
by refraining from criticism, rewarding small successes, and creating a classroom
climate in which students feel safe from aggressive people.
• The category of aggressive students comprises three subcategories: hostile,
oppositional, and covert. Hostile students often have poor anger control, low
capacity for empathy, and an inability to see the consequences of their actions.
Oppositional students exhibit milder forms of behavior problems, but they
consistently resist following rules, argue with adults, use harsh language, and tend
to annoy others. Students in the covert subcategory may be quite pleasant at
times, but they are often nearby when trouble starts and they never quite do what
authority figures ask of them. Strategies for helping aggressive students include
creating behavior contracts and providing immediate rewards and consequences.
Most of all, teachers must keep in mind that aggressive students, although they
may appear highly resistant to behavior change, are still children who are
experiencing a significant amount of fear and pain.
• Students with attention problems fall into two categories: hyperactive and
inattentive. These students may respond well when teachers contract with them to
manage behaviors; teach them basic concentration, study, and thinking skills; help
them divide tasks into manageable parts; reward their successes; and assign them
a peer tutor.
• Students in the perfectionist category are driven to succeed at unattainable levels.
They are self-critical, have low self-esteem, and feel inferior. Teachers can often
help these students by encouraging them to develop more realistic standards,
helping them to accept mistakes, and giving them opportunities to tutor other
• Socially inept students have difficulty making and keeping friends. They may
stand too close and touch others in annoying ways, talk too much, and misread
others' comments. Teachers can help these students by counseling them about
Figure 1. Categories of High-Needs Students
Category Definitions &
Passive Behavior that
adult and peer
Marzano Keys CRM.doc Page 6 of 11
others or the pain
child attempts to
protect self from
to abuse and
neglect. Can have
basis, such as
others, is shy,
attempts to be
Fear of failure:
Gives up easily,
is convinced he
or she can't
or controls others
without regard for
The child has
as role models.
Has had minimal
limits set on
to abuse and
may have a
others. Can be
Does opposite of
what is asked.
others agree or
give in. Resists
Appears to agree
but then does the
opposite of what
is asked. Often
while setting up
the student to
behavior and set
activities in and
out of school.
to help teacher
or other students
Attention Behavior that Hyperactive: Contract with
Marzano Keys CRM.doc Page 7 of 11
either motor or
resulting from a
family or social
the student to
in a quiet work
area. Help the
student list each
step of a task.
assign a peer
Behavior that is
shame of making
child fears what
will happen if
of self. Has
criticism or lack
the process of
Tends to focus
too much on the
small details of
avoid projects if
results and not
Ask the student
Have the student
Behavior that is
based on the
make friends but
is inept and
student to keep
Marzano Keys CRM.doc Page 8 of 11
signals of others.
training in these
areas and has poor
forced to be
alone. Is often
lack of social
the meaning of
such as anger
and hurt. Make
Source: Marzano, R.J. (2003). What works in schools: Translating
research into action (pp. 104–105). Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
School may be the only place where many students who face extreme challenges can get
their needs addressed. The reality of today's schools often demands that classroom
teachers address these severe issues, even though this task is not always considered a part
of their regular job.
In a study of classroom strategies (see Brophy, 1996; Brophy & McCaslin, 1992),
researchers examined how effective classroom teachers interacted with specific types of
students. The study found that the most effective classroom managers did not treat all
students the same; they tended to employ different strategies with different types of stu-
dents. In contrast, ineffective classroom managers did not appear sensitive to the diverse
needs of students. Although Brophy did not couch his findings in terms of teacher-student
relationships, the link is clear. An awareness of the five general categories of high-needs
students and appropriate actions for each can help teachers build strong relationships with
Don't Leave Relationships to Chance
Teacher-student relationships provide an essential foundation for effective classroom
management—and classroom management is a key to high student achievement.
Teacher-student relationships should not be left to chance or dictated by the personalities
of those involved. Instead, by using strategies supported by research, teachers can
influence the dynamics of their classrooms and build strong teacher-student relationships
that will support student learning.
Adelman, H. S., & Taylor, L. (2002). School counselors and school reform: New
directions. Professional School Counseling, 5(4), 235–248.
Marzano Keys CRM.doc Page 9 of 11
Brophy, J. E. (1996). Teaching problem students. New York: Guilford.
Brophy, J. E., & McCaslin, N. (1992). Teachers' reports of how they perceive and cope
with problem students. Elementary School Journal, 93, 3–68.
Chiu, L. H., & Tulley, M. (1997). Student preferences of teacher discipline styles.
Journal of Instructional Psychology, 24(3), 168–175.
Dunn, N. A., & Baker, S. B. (2002). Readiness to serve students with disabilities: A
survey of elementary school counselors. Professional School Counselors, 5(4), 277–284.
Emmer, E. T. (1984). Classroom management: Research and implications. (R & D
Report No. 6178). Austin, TX: Research and Development Center for Teacher Education,
University of Texas. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED251448)
Emmer, E. T., Evertson, C. M., & Worsham, M. E. (2003). Classroom management for
secondary teachers (6th ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
Emmer, E. T., Sanford, J. P., Evertson, C. M., Clements, B. S., & Martin, J. (1981). The
classroom management improvement study: An experiment in elementary school
classrooms. (R & D Report No. 6050). Austin, TX: Research and Development Center
for Teacher Education, University of Texas. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No.
Evertson, C. M., & Emmer, E. T. (1982). Preventive classroom management. In D. Duke
(Ed.), Helping teachers manage classrooms (pp. 2–31). Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Evertson, C. M., Emmer, E. T., & Worsham, M. E. (2003). Classroom management for
elementary teachers (6th ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
Glasser, W. (1969). Schools without failure. New York: Harper and Row.
Glasser, W. (1990). The quality school: Managing students without coercion. New York:
Harper and Row.
Kerman, S., Kimball, T., & Martin, M. (1980). Teacher expectations and student
achievement. Bloomington, IN: Phi Delta Kappan.
Marzano, R. J. (2003a). What works in schools. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Marzano, R. J. (with Marzano, J. S., & Pickering, D. J.). (2003b). Classroom
management that works. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
McCombs, B. L., & Whisler, J. S. (1997). The learner-centered classroom and school.
San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Marzano Keys CRM.doc Page 10 of 11
Stage, S. A., & Quiroz, D. R. (1997). A meta-analysis of interventions to decrease
disruptive classroom behavior in public education settings. School Psychology Review,
Wang, M. C., Haertel, G. D., & Walberg, H. J. (1993). Toward a knowledge base for
school learning. Review of Educational Research, 63(3), 249–294.
Wubbels, T., Brekelmans, M., van Tartwijk, J., & Admiral, W. (1999). Interpersonal
relationships between teachers and students in the classroom. In H. C. Waxman & H. J.
Walberg (Eds.), New directions for teaching practice and research (pp. 151–170).
Berkeley, CA: McCutchan.
Wubbels, T., & Levy, J. (1993). Do you know what you look like? Interpersonal
relationships in education. London: Falmer Press.
Robert J. Marzano is a senior scholar at Mid-continent Research for Education and
Learning in Aurora, Colorado, and an associate professor at Cardinal Stritch University in
Milwaukee, Wisconsin; (303) 796-7683; firstname.lastname@example.org. His newest book
written with Jana S. Marzano and Debra J. Pickering is Classroom Management That
Works (ASCD, 2003). Jana S. Marzano is a licensed professional counselor in private
practice in Centennial, Colorado; (303) 220-1151; email@example.com.
Copyright © 2003 by Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development
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