Haim Ginott was born in Israel in 1922. He. He studied clinical psychology at Columbia University in New York City earning his doctoral degree in 1952. Later he moved on to work with troubled children at the Jacksonville Guidance Clinic in Florida. Throughout his life Haim Ginott was a clinical psychologist, parent educator, and author of three books including Between Parent and Child (1965), Between Parent and Teenager (1967), and Teacher and Child (1972). Despite his death in 1973 his theories are being kept alive by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. Ginott’s theories combined setting limits and using compassion with congruent communication as the key tool. He believed that there was no such thing as an unacceptable child, only unacceptable behaviors. He encouraged parents and teacher to set clear boundaries for behaviors while acknowledging and exploring emotions (feelings). Because Ginott believed that there was only unacceptable behavior he encourages parents and teachers to avoid using personal identification when addressing interactions. For example if a student is continuously talking in class it is better not to say “why are you always talking, I told you to stop talking.” According to Ginott it would be better to say “I am hearing a lot of talking that is disrupting the class.” By using removing the “you” statements and replacing them with “I” statements you can address the situation without attacking or criticizing the student. Another of Ginott’s beliefs was that it is important to attach rules to objects. He believed that children are supported by strict boundaries and rules. Similar to “I” statements, it is important to talk about the object and the rule while not criticizing the child. An example would be to say “A bed is not for jumping.” In the classroom Ginott believed that teachers had complete power through communication to influence classroom situations, whether in a positive or negative way. In order for teacher to make a positive impact, Ginotts stated three things: (1) the teacher must model communication that is congruent with student’s emotions and surroundings; (2) the teacher must include cooperative learning; (3) it is important to use discipline in place of punishment. By actively doing these three things teachers can create an environment with “congruent communication.” Ginott’s theories were very popular during the 1970’s and are still influential today. His congruent communication has had a positive impact on many classrooms. He helped teachers and parents to better communicate and work together.
Haim Ginott’s theories about communication and the importance of positive relationships may be more applicable to a secondary classroom than the elementary one simply because students are more able to respond and contribute, however several basic principles can be included in any classroom. It may be implemented on its own as a classroom management system or it may be included into others. One advantage of Ginott’s theory is that it can be weaved in relatively easily to any existing classroom or school management system without disruption.
The main principles of Ginott’s theories as they relate to implementation in a classroom include asking questions and listening to students, brevity, acceptance, and respect. In an ideal classroom according to Ginott, the teacher would be more of a facilitator for conversations that include every member of the class and address all the important issues. This could be done in a class meeting setting, a daily opener or an evaluation process of some kind. It is important to value the contributions and to listen to everyone’s ideas. Ginott wrote that teachers often speak too much and that brevity on the part of the teacher will contribute to feelings of validation for the students.
Being brief and clear also helps minimize interruptions in the classroom instead of making spectacles out of minor misbehavior. For example, if a typical disruption occurs like a student out of their seat, the teacher could quietly tell that student that it is distracting for others to have someone walking around the room rather than yelling in front of the class. For this same reason, it is also important to have the rules and specific consequences posted and remind students of them often.
In general, teachers should accept their students both for their person and for the behavior. If there is a problem teachers should address it, not the character of the student and should always strive to guide students to acceptable behavior rather than criticize. This is a useful technique for getting students used to procedures and also helps keep negative feelings at bay. Name-calling, sarcasm, and other forms of put-downs should always be avoided. Good communication cannot take place if one party feels belittled. Ginott recommends a system using mostly “I” statements such as “I feel...” or “I think...” Finally, there should always be respect for the students. Teachers should not pry into their privacy nor should they mask their own emotions to try to hide something. In essence, the teacher is the model of what s/he wants the students to be.
Practical tips in for the classroom include ignoring disruptive behavior until the teacher can speak to the student about it positively and privately. Ginott also recommends ignoring offensive language rather than making a big deal out of it. Both of these approaches indicate of idea of picking your battles and evaluating the original disruption versus the one the teacher would make resolving it.
There is one final tip from Ginott regarding classroom management: punishment should be avoided and praise should be handed out only if it is authentic and warranted. Punishment is counter-productive according to Ginott because once it is over the student feels that they have paid for their mistake and are free to commit it again. Rewards, on the other hand are often not understood or put pressure on students to perform and should therefore be given very carefully.
At first Haim Ginott’s ideas seem to fit society’s ideal teacher: respectful, open, non-judging, and caring. In fact, the idea of basing a classroom on good communication is widely regarded as essential to student learning and self-esteem. Many places around the country use formalized processes such as reflections, meetings, or progress evaluations to give students a voice in their own learning that fit nicely into Ginott’s ideas. Also, many teachers would say that they try to be accepting and respectful of their students. They try to minimize distractions and they pick their battles in the classroom to keep the class running smoothly and not alienate a difficult student.
However, there are some criticisms of Ginott’s theories that need to be mentioned before we jump into a management system based on them. First, Ginott went back to school as a young man to become a psychologist. He did not become a professional teacher and did not work himself on a daily basis in the classroom. Fair or not, many people will say that he had no right to tell teachers what to do if he was so far removed from the day to day workings of a classroom.
Second, Ginott’s ideas about communication require that the students themselves know how to communicate their ideas and opinions. Many students do not. This does not mean just language barriers, which do exist in many places, but children who have never learned how to have a mature conversation. Some students are brought up not trusting others and wanting to manipulate. Others are brought up to remain in silence when an adult is speaking. Still others are encouraged to voice their opinions strongly and loudly no matter what anyone else says. For example, if a teacher were to say, “Would you like to pick those papers up and put them back on Jimmy’s desk?” some students might interpret that as an option, not a direction. This could cause misunderstandings and hard feelings between students and the teacher. Ginott’s classroom positive communication style would only work in situations where the teacher and students have similar communication styles and can understand each other.
Third, there are cultural considerations to take into account. Different communication styles, languages, boundaries, implied knowledge and methods of discipline in the home can have an impact on classroom behavior. Ginott’s theory assumes that it will work for all students, but there are many for whom his style of openness and respect would encourage their taking advantage of other students or the teacher. Only with prerequisite instruction of communication norms and rules would his theory work when crossing cultural boundaries.
1. How could Ginott’s ideas fit into your own classroom
2. What is one advantage and one disadvantage of Ginott’s theories?
3. How are Ginott’s theories about congruent communication related to Wong’s idea that social skills are learned during dinner conversations?
4. What indicators do you think Ginott could have used to evaluate how successful teachers are at communicating with their students.
Roebuck, Edith (2002). Beat the Drum Lightly: Reflections on Ginott. Music Educators Journal, 88 (no 5), p 40-4.
Revisiting Ginott's congruent communication after thirty years (2001). The Clearing House, 74 (no 4).
Haim Ginott. Retrieved 10/26/07 from http://www.betweenparentandchild.com