Teacher “Withitness”

By Professor Marie Proto

Effective classroom management is at the core of all good teaching. When we discuss classroom management we have to move beyond a literal interpretation. Classroom management includes managing the physical environment, time, materials, instruction, lesson planning, student achievement as well as student behavior. It is the essence of all a teacher does in the classroom.

So what is it that successful teachers do that make them more effective? Researchers have been studying this for decades. In the ’70s, (the dark ages for many of you and for some a very memorable decade), Jacob Kounin observed teachers at work in their classrooms and identified the behaviors of more effective group managers. One common practice observed by Kounin was what he termed “withitness”. “Withitness” means that the teacher is aware of every action in the classroom and will respond accordingly. It is described as “having eyes in the back of your head.” Kounin concluded that withit teachers consistently maintained higher levels of student work involvement, student participation, and were more successful at minimizing student misbehavior. The practice of “withitness” is a practice that transcends time and can be a valuable asset in the contemporary classroom.

What might “withitness” in action look like?  It begins proactively with the teacher arranging the environment so that every inch of the classroom is visible. It then involves a great deal of teacher effort and commitment. The withit teacher becomes adept at multi-tasking. For example, if the teacher is working with a small group he or she will regularly look beyond the group and observe the other students to maintain student engagement and behavior. Making eye contact, nodding disapprovingly, giving a look of dismay, smiling, or signaling thumbs up convey to students that the teacher knows what is going on. It is important to note that the appropriateness and timeliness of the teacher’s responses are essential considerations. Does the action or reaction fit the crime and is there little disruption to the flow of instruction?

Furthermore, ‘withitness” during instruction occurs when a teacher recognizes a student who is not participating and acts to reengage the student. For example, the teacher might position himself near the identified student, ask for a comment, or inform the student how he or she will be held accountable. The withit teacher also recognizes when to slow down or speed up the pace of instruction based on the students’ understanding of the content. The withit teacher instinctively monitors the classroom for clues to student behaviors and very often can nip misbehavior early on.

Teachers are likely not born with “withitness” but can make a conscious effort  to embrace the practice.” Withitness” sends a powerful message to students that the teacher is aware, cares, and that students will be held accountable for their achievement and behavior.  Everyone benefits.


You can find further information and a quiz at:

www.burtbooks.com/What is Your Level of Classroom “Withitness”?


Kounin, Jacob S. Discipline and Group Management in Classrooms. Huntington, New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1970.


3 thoughts on “Teacher “Withitness”

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  2. Reblogged this on Intentional Teaching and commented:
    Wow – this is what I often talk with my student teachers about – Withitness. Yes, it’s an academic term that has been researched. It’s about your awareness, your instinct, your proximity, your presence in the classroom. If you don’t have it naturally, work to develop it. Withitness is your optimum classroom management strategy.

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