The Research Files Episode 44: Student perspectives on effective classroom management

Hello, thank you for downloading this podcast from Teacher magazine – I'm Dominique Russell.

In this episode of The Research Files I'm joined by Helen Egeberg, the Master of Teaching coordinator at Edith Cowan University in Western Australia. Her recent report, What do students believe about effective classroom management? A mixed-methods investigation in Western Australian high schools has produced some clear views students have about their favourite teachers.

Dominique Russell: Helen, thanks so much for joining me on this episode of The Research Files. I want to begin by asking about the three key characteristics that you've outlined in the report that explain what students believe to be ‘good teachers'. Can you go over those for me?

Helen Egeberg: Yes, certainly. From our report and from our research, the students suggested that the three key elements were: developing and having positive, caring relationships with their teachers; that they wanted and required and needed their teachers to be able to manage them and manage their behaviour ­– so have authority but without being authoritarian, if you like; and also, they believed that good teachers teach them well, can engage them, make the lessons interesting, make the lessons fun and make it somewhere that the students want to be.

DR: And how did you collect your data throughout the study?

HE: We went to a series of schools. We chose our schools here in the Perth metropolitan area based on trying to make them as different as possible. So, we had six secondary schools involved. We had three from the private system, three from the public system, and then we had three that were kind of higher ICSEA [Index of Community Socio-Educational Advantage] standing and three that were lower in terms of their socioeconomic kind of rating, if you like. And we approached the schools and asked them if we … first of all, survey their students, and then interview a group of the students from each of the schools. And those schools were very happy for us to be involved and to do that, so letters went out to all the parents of the particular year groups, because we targeted Year 9 and Year 10, and so letters went out to the parents of those students saying what we were doing and what the research was about, were they happy for us to do that with their young ones, and they were all very happy. So then we simply went out to the schools. We carried out a survey, first of all, with the students just to get them familiar, I suppose, with what aspect of teaching we were particularly looking at. And then after that, a few days later, I came back to the school and then did a focus group interview with about six of the students at each school.

DR: And just on that, why did you target the certain age range that you did?

HE: Yeah, it was a lot of discussing over which group should we target? I guess the thought process for us was the older the students, probably the better. In terms of, if they're older they're maybe more able to articulate exactly what they believe and what they feel. But also we felt that the older they were, the longer they'd been maybe at the school, and so had had experiences with different teachers and could relate those experiences to us. We then decided not to target the Year 11s and 12s because we just know how busy their lives are, their worlds are, in terms of study and workloads and things like that. So the idea then was to look at, well let's look at Year 10s predominately. And it just so happened that in one of our schools, the Year 10s weren't available, so we targeted the Year 9s there. So that's how we came about that particular group as the group that we wanted to look at.

DR: And what did the survey questions look like? What kinds of things were they asked?

HE: Yeah, the survey questions – the survey itself, actually came from Cambridge University. They've got a [project] called The Tripod Project and that's about creating different surveys for different needs and reasons in schools, and one of the surveys that they've created is called the Student Perception Survey. It was actually used by Bill Gates, his organisation in the US, which is the Measuring Effective Teaching Program that they have in the US. So, they used the same survey and that survey has and is founded on The Seven Cs Framework they call it. And the Seven Cs are things like care, confer, captivate, clarify, consolidate, challenge, control, and they have a series of questions – about four questions – to do with each of those. First of all it [the survey] starts with ‘Think about a teacher who you believe creates a really positive learning environment and is what you would say is a good teacher and answer the questions based on that teacher'. And then there are questions in there such as ‘In this class, this teacher makes me feel he or she really cares about me', ‘This teacher seems to know if something is bothering me', ‘Students in this class treat the teacher with respect', ‘This class stays busy' – so a whole series of questions that target one of the Cs in some way or another.

DR: I see. And let's talk about the results, what did they show in terms of the big picture?

HE: Yeah, big picture result, pretty much for the survey, the results from the survey showed that those Seven Cs were very dominant for young people in terms of what they believe their good teachers do. So, their good teachers do care about them, their good teachers do confer with them, their good teachers do captivate them and interest them in the classroom, and all of those things.

What was more interesting, probably from my point of view, I suppose was the findings from the focus group discussions. Because what I wanted to do in there was really just kind of elaborate on what the kids were feeling and what they were seeing and what they were believing. And so the key things from that – because the first question I asked all of the students in the focus groups was, I said to them, ‘Apparently you choose sometimes to behave in some classes and to misbehave in others, is that correct?' And all of them, 100 per cent of the time, all went ‘absolutely!', ‘yes, of course we do' and I said ‘why?' And from that we started a discussion about why they pick and choose their behaviours.

So, from that it came about that pretty much every single student that I spoke to and that was involved in the focus group said the same thing. If a teacher cares for us and shows that they care for us, if a teacher teaches well and if they can manage us when we're being silly but not being mean and nasty about how they manage us, if they can do all that then they're good teachers and we behave for them. So they were the key findings that came through.

DR: Let's go then to the implications of those findings for teachers – particularly in how they may approach managing a classroom. What should they take from this?

HE: Yeah, I think what we take from this is that classroom management is so much more than just rules, rewards and punishments. Even if it is that, I don't – I'm not quite sure that it is that – and the students would say that it's not about that, but just because you've got rules, just because you're rewarding us or just because you've got a series of punishments, that's not going to help us to behave, nor teach us to behave.

… I think on top of that, what we as teachers need to take from this is that kids do want to learn and they do want to learn in a safe environment and in a positive environment. But they need to be taught. And they need to be taught both academically, but behaviourally as well. They need to be taught how to behave and we as teachers can do that, and part of doing that is showing them that we care about them personally as well as academically. Showing that we are willing to support by giving them high expectations, but solid boundaries, and also showing that we're capable of guiding them in their learning through activating positive ways of learning, through captivating them and making it interesting.

DR: And what's next for this research? Will you be doing anything further?

HE: Yeah, well what we want to do now … the idea of this one was to try and capture the voice of young people and now what we want to do, and what we have started to do already, is go back into some of those schools and talk to some of the teachers that the students themselves have mentioned to see whether those teachers are saying the same thing as what the students are. And so we've already done that and when we're talking to those teachers they are saying exactly the same thing that the students are saying. They're saying that it is about positive relationships, it's about managing them but showing it's not too nasty or anything, and it's also about teaching them well.

Now we want to take that a step further and look at what is it that those teachers then are doing? What are some of the things that they're doing in the class to build those positive relationships? What are they doing to teach them well and to engage them? And what are they doing that is about this positive management of their behaviour as well? So we want to try to get some of that together.

These students all spoke very highly of nearly all of their teachers. It was a very rare a young person that spoke negatively about any of their teachers in any way and so I guess I'd like to say I think we're doing it and we're doing it right. According to kids we're doing it, and we're doing it right. And there are some elements that we can obviously improve on as teachers, that's always the case, all good teachers know that. But this is … we're capturing what's essential for our young people.

And I also think that it's important that we listen more heartily to the young people that we teach. So it would be good I think if us, as teachers, could be surveying our kids ourselves. Let's ask our kids what they think about how we're teaching, how we're doing and see what they say so that we can take on board their feedback to change what we're about as teachers as well.

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Helen Egeberg suggests conducting your own student experience surveys in the classroom in order to take on board students’ feedback more regularly. How do you make sure students have opportunities to express their views?

As a teacher, how do you show students you care about them both academically and personally?