You stand in front of your class, ready to dive into the lesson for the day. Before you speak your first complete sentence, two students start an audible conversation in the back of the room. And from the corner of your eye, you notice a boy in the front taking things out of his desk. Before you can deal with those two issues, you’re interrupted by a fourth student, who yells out a question from the periphery.
It’s not even 9 AM and you’re already feeling a little overwhelmed.
If this sounds like a typical morning, you’re not alone! No matter where you teach, classroom management is paramount to learning. Fair or not, part of your performance evaluation will depend upon how well you manage your classroom so that student behavior doesn’t create a barrier to learning. So, let’s look at some key ingredients for a well-managed classroom.
Whether you teach in an elementary or secondary setting, set up routines:
- For how you start your day or class period
- For transitions between activities
- For passing out materials
- For group work
- For anything that students will do consistently in your class
VIDEO: I Heart a Silent Start
The less talking you do in managing your classroom, the better. Silent signals, call and response, and clapping in rhythm can all be incorporated to communicate with students. From the beginning of the school year, have kids practice your expectations until they’re second nature. Pause and practice again when you see routines slipping in order to reinforce the behaviors that contribute to an organized and productive classroom.
Make a Connection
Kids respond to adults that matter to them. Greet kids at the door. Ask them a question about their interests. Find out about their lives outside of school. Share appropriate aspects of your life with them because they want to know who you are as an individual, too. If you care about your students, it will show.
VIDEO: Ready to Learn: Creating a Positive Classroom Culture
Many schools have school-wide behavior expectations — learn these first. If you’re establishing your own rules, consider involving your students in establishing both rules and consequences. Create the shortest list of rules you can, while still covering the behavioral expectations that you need to be successful.
- Pro Tip: Try to keep your classroom expectations positive, as a list of things your students should do instead of focusing on things they should not do. For example, you might tell students, “Be courteous and wait for others to finish speaking before you begin,” instead of, “Do not speak while others are speaking.” It makes a difference!
Many times, what students need is to learn an alternative behavior to replace the one that’s disrupting classroom routines. If their go-to behavior for coping with a disagreement is fighting, teach them calming techniques and help them learn discussion and problem solving skills. If they’re impolite, let them hear models of appropriate speech, but also consider cultural differences. If you must assign a consequence, start small. Consequences can always become more severe, but going from severe to mild doesn’t work.
Chances are you’ve heard a lot of this before. The piece that’s missing is your style. Just as we teach students that one of the components of writing is voice, I believe a teacher’s voice is evident in their behavior management moves. How you use humor, your gender, your age, your teaching environment, your hobbies, even your style of dress, can all impact how you interact with students, and by extension, how you use discipline.
Your style or voice will likely be picked up on by your students before you realize it yourself. They often know just how far they can push before you push back. They recognize the parts of your day that are most important to you. The kids that love you will only push in other areas. The most troubled kids will target the parts of your day that will create the most chaos.
You’ve heard it before that your students won’t remember what you taught, but they will remember how you made them feel. While we hope they’ll remember both, make sure your classroom is structured enough to provide students with a feeling of security, and is also flexible enough to leave room for their emotions.
To help you develop your classroom voice, watch some other teachers in action here and here, and spend some time perusing the resources in Teaching Channel’s Class Culture Deep Dive.
Finally, head on over to visit Edutopia’s New Teachers: Classroom-Management Fundamentals for even more classroom management resources.