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10 Tips for Classroom Management – TEACH Magazine


Originally published in TEACH Magazine, January/February 2024 Issue

By Adam Stone

At McClintock Middle School in Charlotte, NC, eighth-grade English Language Arts teacher Eric Gaestel knows first-hand the importance of classroom management, and just how hard it can be to achieve.

“The purpose of us being in the classroom together is to create an environment where everybody has a fair chance of learning the material. If you have students who are being disruptive to that plan, you’re doing a disservice to everyone in the room,” he says.

And yet, disruptions happen all the time. “You have people getting up and walking around to do random tasks: ‘I have to throw this out,’ or, ‘My pencil broke.’ All these little interruptions add up,” Gaestel notes. Bigger disruptions make it worse: students talking, quarrelling, or distracting one another.

To continue the learning momentum, teachers need a wide variety of classroom management tools and techniques.

#1: Be Consistent

It’s hard for a teacher to apply the classroom rules consistently all the time. “You’ll have a bad day and say: ‘OK, starting tomorrow, nobody’s allowed out of their seats anymore’—because you’re frustrated,” says Gaestel. “A few days later, somebody gets up and you don’t say anything. Now it’s not a rule anymore.”

In order to manage the learning space effectively, teachers need to strive for consistency. Even then, kids will push the boundaries, and teachers will need to hold firm.

#2: Offer Options

Sometimes disruption can occur when kids feel constrained—they’re individuals and, naturally, don’t appreciate being told to always operate in a certain way.

“Give students choices,” says Eliza Engstrom, MEd, MSpEd, kindergarten head teacher at Children’s Academy in New York. “Children are constantly being told what to do and how to do things. By simply giving choices, students will gain a sense of worth and confidence, which will lead to greater success in the classroom.”

Examples of choice can be as basic as letting them pick “what materials to use, whom to work with, where to work,” says Chris Sweigart, a creator at Limened, whose evidence-based practice guides help educators to address a range of challenges faced by students. “Basic choices like these improve the likelihood that students will comply with directions, stay actively engaged and on-task, and engage in appropriate behaviour.”

#3: Manage Your Own Behaviour First

“Teachers set the tone for the classroom, so if you’re out of control then your students will be out of control,” says Andrea Perry, formerly a K–12 teacher and now a Life, Health, and Wellness Coach at Thrive Life Coaching.

“It can be incredibly difficult to self-regulate when you’re tired, stressed, and emotional,” she explains. “Take a moment to step into your office or other quiet space for a quick breather, listen to calming music during your prep period, or use another tool that you find works for you to reset. If you can’t do this because you’re in the middle of class, try taking a few slow, deep breaths before speaking if you can, or even turn on some quiet classical music to bring calm to yourself and your students as they’re working independently on a task.”

#4: Elevate the Positive

“So often when we think of behaviour management we think of punishment, documentation, demerits. But what if we chose to focus more on celebrating the positive behaviours we see?” Perry asks.

“I share something positive that I notice about a student … and I send a quick email to their parents/guardians about it as well,” she explains. “It not only increases positive communication with the student and their family, but as a teacher it also shifts my mindset in a way that focuses on the good, instead of nitpicking the less desirable behaviours.”

#5: Build Strong Relationships

“Personalized learning and strong emotional connections can positively impact a child’s educational journey,” says Mandy Davis, a former school principal, the author of A Matter of Principal, as well as the founder of Homebuilt Education.

With this in mind, teachers should “invest time in getting to know your students individually,” she advises. “Understanding their backgrounds, interests, and learning styles can significantly improve classroom dynamics. This personalized approach aids in pre-emptively addressing behavioural issues and fostering a positive learning environment.”

#6: Be Clear about the Rules

A school psychologist in private practice, Nancy Taylor of Taylor Educational Advocacy encourages teachers to post classroom rules and model them consistently. “Clear expectations are beneficial for students,” she says.

“Posting a short and positively-worded list of rules will set expectations, and allow you a reference to refer to when students are not following them,” she explains. “It is also important to model what you expect of your students. If you have a rule to listen when others are talking, students are more likely to follow the rule when they see you following it consistently as well.”

#7: Treat Students with Respect…

…regardless of how they treat you. “When I started working as a school psychologist, I was surprised to see how disrespectfully some teachers treated their students,” Taylor says. “These teachers had more behavioural issues and blamed their students for the problems.”

As educators, “we have a responsibility to lead and be supportive,” she notes. “Respect is a great way to set a positive tone and reduce behaviours before they start. I was always treated well when I worked in a school for children with behaviour issues. Why? You guessed it: I treated all of my students with respect, regardless of the troubles they had with their academics or emotional regulation.”

#8: Loop in the Parents

“In my experience, fostering a strong school-home connection is key to managing classroom behaviour,” says Dr. Kara Stern, who is the head of education solutions at the company SchoolStatus, and a former teacher, middle school principal, and head of school.

“Regular communication with parents not only allows teachers to share insights, discuss strategies, and work together to create a positive learning environment, but also builds a foundation of trust,” she says. “When parents trust educators in the room, they are more likely to actively support teachers’ goals and initiatives, creating a collaborative and harmonious partnership that enhances the overall classroom experience for students.”

#9: Collaborate on the Rules

At the Birch Wathen Lenox School, an independent K–12 school in Manhattan, eighth-grade English teacher and assistant director of the middle school, James Walter, says that it makes sense to have students take an active role in setting up the rules they will be expected to follow in the classroom throughout the year.

“Actively involve students when establishing classroom norms at the beginning of the year,” he recommends. Teachers should give them “the opportunity to share what they need to make their classroom a safe and productive learning environment. Revisiting these norms with your students throughout the year will help foster a strong classroom community.”

#10: Build Routines for Common Disruptions

Gaestel has noticed that some interruptions are more common than others. Someone’s always breaking a pencil point; papers constantly need to be handed out and collected. To keep things flowing smoothly, he has routines in place for these events.

“If your pencil breaks, I don’t need to know about it. You can walk up to one of the pencil stations and trade in your broken pencil for a newly sharpened one,” he says. “[For] things like passing out papers or collecting papers: I have very specific routines on how we do that. And I take the whole class to the bathroom. We line up against our lockers, we’re silent in the hallways, we go right towards the restroom. They know they have three minutes and then I’m going to be timing them. And if you don’t have to use the restroom, you still come with us.”

* * *

In the big picture, variety can also serve as an everyday fix to many common behavioural issues. Maybe it’s just unrealistic to ask young people to sit quietly at their desks for so many hours at a time.

“No one likes doing the same thing all day every day,” says Chase Nordengren, PhD, the principal research lead for Effective Instructional Strategies at NWEA, a not-for-profit organization that is committed to helping school districts throughout the United States improve learning for all students. He is also the author of Step into Student Goal Setting: A Path to Growth, Motivation, and Agency.

“Find individual and small-group activities,” says Nordengren. Having a wide variety of activities “not only helps meet students’ individual needs, but also gives them a chance to activate a different and potentially more engaging context in which to learn.”

Walter, too, emphasizes the need to mix things up a bit throughout the day, to keep kids engaged and attentive. “Utilize a variety of pedagogical strategies to help students learn and engage in a way that leads to a greater understanding of the material,” he advises.

By looking for the teaching styles that meet individual students’ needs, an educator can “ensure a high level of engagement and curiosity,” notes Walter. That engagement in turn can help to minimize disruptions, enabling the teacher to keep the whole class moving forward.

Adam Stone is a seasoned journalist with 20+ years’ experience. He covers education, technology, government and the military, along with diverse other topics.

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