Managing Groups During STEM

The first thing I often tell my new staff is to think hard about the difference between “management” and “control.”


Managing learning is about doing what you can to support engaged, creative, social learning.Successful managers of learning know that learning is messy, loud, and even chaotic sometimes.


Control is about doing what makes you, the adult, feel comfortable.In its worst form, it can manifest as controlling youths’ bodies, like requiring everyone to put their hands facedown on the tables or sit in a certain style. Since there is no empirical evidence that putting one’s hands facedown on a table actually impacts learning, these are decisions rooted in a need for control.

Let’s face it; we all have the little control-tower voice inside our heads that says things like, “They’re being too loud!” “They’re not following instructions!” or “They need to use better manners.” This is the little voice of comfort telling you what kinds of learning settings you prefer, and this voice can lead you to want to control. When this little voice is speaking, we have to be careful to pause, take a step back, and think about whether or not to intervene.

The question we have to ask ourselves is, “Does this (thing I’m about to say) support learning?” Often, the answer is “no,” and in that case, we have to think about why we feel compelled to control the situation. Is it because of our own assumptions about how youth should behave? Is it because of cultural belief that youth should talk and act like White, middle-class families? Interrogating these kinds of questions can lead to deep, reflective learning, and it will make you a real asset to your program.