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The Theory of Bumps is the basis of Peter Smilanich and Barry Bennet’s “Classroom Management: A Thinking and Caring Approach.” This is an excellent resource, I can’t recommend it highly enough. I was lucky enough to be trained by Peter Smilanich himself in not only using it but coaching other teachers.

It’s a very, very simple way to describe classroom behaviour and literally tells you step by step how to deal with it. Assuming that you share some philosophical convictions with the authors about the classroom being for education.


The classroom is bubbling along and there is an ‘incident,’ called a bump. How you and other people around respond determines whether the bump is dealt with and bubbling resumes, or if it is bumped up, and up, and up.

Kids bump each other all.the.time. Most of the time it’s not malicious, it’s just about establishing tribes and loyalties and trying on opinions and roles. They also have a tendency to kick when down and hunt in packs, things I say with the utmost affection and acceptance – they are learning how to interact and finding their place. Usually an adult can smooth it over pretty quickly.

Unfortunately, sometimes it is the adult doing the bumping. A teacher, an aide, a parent, someone in the classroom who doesn’t shut it down but encourages the incident to get bigger. I’m sure it’s not on purpose, but it goes back to that shared philosophical conviction of the purpose of a classroom. If you ask people straight out, you’ll generally get an answer along the lines of ‘of course it’s for education!’ But if you delve into a particular incident or particular actions, sometimes you get very different answers.

And that’s where teachers (parents too, this works exactly the same with your own kids) need to be reflecting –

  • what is my goal in this setting?
  • Am I meeting that goal, or is my own behaviour bumping it up?
  • If I’m bumping, am I happy with that or do I need some new tools?
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{ 1 comment }

Tracy lefevre August 31, 2012 at 5:23 am

Hello, are you located in Australia? Do you offer training? Do you know where I can access training on this or cms on east coast. Thank you for adding to education by giving bump theory a bit more of profile. I love this text and am bit jealous of your first hand trailing haha thank you again.