Classroom management starts months before you or your students step into the classroom. Experienced teachers end each year troubleshooting their classroom management strategies from the previous school year. While not a comprehensive guide, here are seven tips that can make classroom management a little less challenging and help you fulfill your goal of keeping all students safe, engaged, learning and on task.
As a teacher, your relationship with a student starts the moment you meet them. No matter how difficult a student may be, you need to embrace the challenge of getting to know him or her. Every child deserves love. Life has enough hard knocks in store for a child who struggles socially, and you may be one of the few people that child believes cares about him or her. This could make a difference in his or her life choices, or at least in his or her decision not to disrupt your class.
Many teachers naturally form relationships with children. They enjoy their presence, listen to them and respond appropriately, look with interest at what children show them—from a rock star’s picture in a notebook to a squishy worm—and ask questions about it. They learn their students’ names and greet them at the door. When a dispute arises, they listen and try to be fair. They don’t play favorites. Teaching is a very active job, especially in higher grade levels, in which teachers have less than two minutes per child per class period to establish a relationship.
Create a Positive Learning Climate
One of the most important things you can do to proactively manage your class is to establish a climate that encourages learning. Teachers need to be aware of students’ intellectual, emotional, physical and social needs and establish rules and procedures to meet them. Students should be recognized as individuals, each of whom has something to offer.
Arrange student seating strategically, grouping students by skill level or arranging them in a manner that’s conducive to group work or sharing in pairs. Also, plan for patterns of movement within the classroom and have your students practice until it’s second nature; moving students in a structured, timed way can enliven your classroom, while maintaining control and adding focus. Nothing is as impressive and cohesive as a class moving into prearranged groups for an activity in 30 seconds. This also allows for more variety in your lessons; for instance, you could teach a 15-minute lesson to students at their desks, then move the class to a different setting and teach a different, but related 20-minute lesson.
Establishing student expectations is also an important part of establishing a positive learning climate. Make sure that every student is welcomed in a group and expected to participate. Also, practice good time management and plan to teach from the first day of school.
Encourage Helpful Hands
Letting students take part in the classroom helps them feel invested—and it can be a help to you as well! Some experienced teachers use task cards on which students’ names rotate weekly. Strategies such as this provide fair ways to distribute classroom jobs. It can also be helpful to post a sign that tells how to do a job. For instance, if you assign students to straighten and clean a bookshelf, you might place a list of steps to follow on the bookshelf.
You might also allow students to help in more casual ways, such as assigning group runners for supplies or allowing students to pass out papers or straighten the room. These tasks can serve as helpful self-esteem builders for a child who often feels left out; however, you should note how many times a student helps to avoid favoritism.
Teach Needed Skills
You should teach students the skills needed for success in your classroom. Often, teachers think about teaching content, without realizing how important it is to teach other skills, such as social skills, thinking skills, study skills, test-taking skills, problem-solving skills, memory skills and self-regulation.
Many school issues disappear after a few lessons in anger management or another needed skill. Students can benefit greatly if you find small segments of time to teach and model a skill; however, you may need to be creative, since not all students need instruction in the same skill. However, if students are struggling to get along with peers, be organized or be on time, which is better: to discipline them for what they lack or to teach them what they need to know?
Set Up Structure and Procedures
Structure and procedures are vital parts of classroom management. Every part of the day needs to be thought through and brought into alignment with what works best for your teaching style, your students’ personalities, the age group and any special challenges that could cause a distraction.
Start planning as soon as you see the classroom. Envision each class; ask yourself what you will do and how it can be done easily. When your students arrive, get them on board by teaching classroom procedures, along with your content, during the first week of class. For example, explain how to enter, how get the needed supplies and start the warm-up exercise during the first few minutes of class, how to turn in and pass out work, how to work in a group, how to move between activities and how to exit the classroom. Also, be sure to cover your expectations, including how to behave in class and the consequences of misbehavior.
Organize the Lesson
A lesson that engages all students, moves forward smoothly and allows the teacher to talk to every child can only be accomplished through preparation. You need to design your lesson with classroom management in mind.
First, build as many teaching strategies and interventions as possible into the lesson. Use time management techniques (like setting a timer to help the class transition through a series of activities), and implement quick feedback techniques, such as a checklist to keep up with student progress.
Next, plan one-on-one and small group strategies, design appropriate movement and allow time for social interaction and reflection time. For instance, you could ask students to write in their journals at the end of an activity to give them time to think about what they just learned.
Organization also involves spending time after school arranging handouts, preparing supplies, writing on the board and taking care of other tasks. In doing so, you can prevent pauses during the lesson and better manage your classroom.
Use Effective Discipline
Classroom management can help you avoid most discipline problems. At the beginning of the school year, be sure to explain and post your discipline plan, establishing that no one will be put down, bullied or made fun of in class because it is a “safe zone” where everyone, including the teacher, is allowed to make mistakes and learn from them.
Usually, this forms a cohesive learning environment, where students trust you to take care of their needs and where they respect one another. Much can be said about positive (or negative) peer pressure in a class. If there are students who want to learn and they act accordingly, the dynamic of the class will likely remain fairly stable; however, if students who don’t want to learn disrupt and influence their peers, you may need stronger discipline skills or even an administrator to fall back on.
Even if you are diligent in setting up your discipline plan and have developed signals to warn students that they are about to be disciplined, not every student will comply. When that happens, follow the steps of your discipline plan. If that doesn’t work, you may refer the student to response to intervention (RTI), or you may spend time researching other available discipline plans for ideas. Whatever, you do, don’t give up, the students who are not disrupting – and even those who are – need you.