Summary of the Classroom As A Social Environment
by J. W. Getzels and H. A. Thelen

The classroom is a unique social environment unlike most others.

Classroom Goals

  • Learning is the main objective.
  • Outcomes of learning and procedures for achieving them are chosen before the group is assembled.
  • There is little participation by the members of the group in the assessment and revision of goals and methods of instruction.

Classroom Participants

  • Mandatory participation by students is enforced by law.
  • Time of birth and place of residence determine school and class placements.
  • Members of the class have no control over the composition of the group.

Classroom Leadership

  • The leader is chosen without the participation or consent of the membership.
  • Law and custom, rather than group consensus, establish the prerogatives of the leader.
  • Freedom of expression and movement are controlled by the leader.

Classroom Relationships

  • What the class can and cannot do is often determined by those who preceded and will follow them.
  • Membership in other groups may exert strong pressures to accept or reject classroom norms.
  • Other groups often carefully scrutinize the work of students and their teachers.

Points of Interest

  • Most social groups select leaders. Members may choose to participate and the degree of participation. If individual members do not agree with the group, they may leave.
  • If a majority of the members do not approve of the leader’s role, they elect a new leader.
  • The teacher is the appointed leader of the class, or a social group, and derives authority from this appointment as teacher.
  • The power of leaders depend on how they interact with students. Leadership power derives from five sources of power illustrated on this Classroom leader power model and chart

J. W. Getzels and H. A. Thelen summarized the social environment of the classroom in The Classroom Group as a Unique Social System. The 56th yearbook - The Dynamics of Instructional Groups: Part II (pp. 53-82), Chicago: National Society for the Study of Education.

Dr. Robert Sweetland's Notes ©