Good classroom management is a critical part of being an effective teacher.
But so many teachers burnout because they struggle with managing their students’ behavior.
Ultimately, the reason why teachers need good classroom management skills is so your students can learn, not just for your own sanity. Students thrive under the instruction of teachers who have good classroom management. But they struggle under the tutelage of someone who can’t control their class.
Classroom management is such a big deal to me because I have a hard time focusing when things are out of control so I know my students will, too.
However, this is probably the BIGGEST struggle new teachers have. It’s also one of the hardest to fix.
It takes a lot of time and energy to establish effective classroom management — but it’s totally, 100% worth it.
After 7 years of teaching, I have refined my strategies for running an effective classroom. Although I’ve changed many things along the way, the tips I’d like to share with you have stood the test of time.
Here are 10 tips you can start using TODAY to help you improve your classroom management.
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1. Clear expectations
On day 1, it’s important to lay out your rules clearly and explicitly. However, even if you’re on day 81, it’s not too late to hit the restart button.
Students like structure. If no structure is provided, they will create a system that works for them. It’ll probably be a system you don’t like so you really need to dictate what proper behavior looks like.
Remember, no one likes to guess at what is expected of them.
Now, when I say to set your expectations clearly and explicitly, you have to tell them exactly what you want them to do exactly when you want them to do it.
For example, you can’t just say, “Come to the floor and sit nicely.” You have to demonstrate and say specifically what you mean. “After you walk to the floor, find your spot and sit criss cross with your hands in your lap, voice off, and eyes on the speaker.”
Your definition of “sit nicely” may be different from their previous teacher’s definition of the same phrase.
The younger your students are, the more explicit your instructions will need to be.
You’ll also have to keep reminding them of the expectations. But over time, it’ll become so ingrained that most students won’t need reminders any more.
This is the timer I use in my classroom to help speed up transition time between activities.
2. Clear consequences
Laying out clear consequences goes hand-in-hand with teaching clear expectations.
In addition to knowing how to behave, students need to know what will happen if they do or don’t follow the rules.
The word “consequences” usually has a negative connotation but a consequence is just the result of action, good or bad.
Now, make sure you only set consequences that you’ll be willing to carry out. If you set consequences that are too steep, you won’t be willing to carry them out when it’s time. You’ll lose credibility with your students. This will only result in hurting your overall classroom management and you’ll have to double down your efforts to regain your hold on the class.
Natural consequences are the result of a child’s behavior (again, good or bad). They are easy to establish and remember. Here are some examples:
If you don’t complete your homework, you’ll have to stay in at recess.
Finish your work on time and you get to do the fun activity.
Turn in your permission form and you get to go on the field trip.
You can also set up consequences in addition to these natural consequences.Here are some examples:
Create a system where students can work towards a specific goal to earn different rewards.
- If your class struggles with settling down after recess, you may have to create a series of progressive consequences if their behavior doesn’t improve.
- For individual students who struggle more than their peers, you may have system of points used to recognize even the smallest improvement.
Here’s an example of a reward chart that can be used to monitor behavior and progress towards a set reward.
3. Carry out consequences
Remember when I said to only choose consequences that you’re willing to carry out?
The reason is because good classroom management only works if students know you say what you mean and mean what you say. This is true at all times.
If you do what you said you’ll do, you’ll earn the respect of your students. They’ll take your expectations more seriously. It also helps to build rapport with your students because you’ll prove yourself to be trustworthy.
But why is it necessary to “enforce the law” every single time?
Well, let’s think this through.
If you don’t carry out a consequence one day, your students will automatically begin to wonder if you’ll let the same behavior slide the next day.
They’ll start to learn that you don’t actually mean what you say. They won’t take you seriously. You’ll start to lose their trust. You’re words and opinion will become inconsequential and eventually they won’t pay you any attention.
I know this may sound extreme but believe me, I have seen this happen.
Too many good teachers become frustrated with their classroom management because they’re not consistent in this area. Then when their patience is finally spent, they wind up yelling at their students which doesn’t actually get results.
Don’t be the teacher kids think they can walk all over.
Unfortunately, the hard truth is that many of our students face home lives that are far less than ideal. I have found that my most difficult students are the kids who benefit most from consistency.
It may seem like tough love, but when you hold firm to your expectations and don’t let anything slide, it actually sets up your classroom as a safe, stable place for them.
If students know exactly how you’ll respond, they don’t need to be afraid to confide in you.
Being consistent with your classroom management shows all students that you’re being fair and not just picking on them.
If you’d like more information on this topic, I wrote a blog post with tips on How to Help Your Difficult Students.
Keep yourself accountable
Part of being consistent includes being accountable to your students.
If you want them to adhere to your expectations, hold yourself to the same level of responsibility.
Somewhere in your classroom, post both the goal they’re working on and the reward their working towards.
If for some reason you can’t keep your end of the bargain, own up to it and seek out a quick way to make it up to them.
This is a visual way to provide consistency and accountability.
5. Constant vigilance
Okay, this is the hardest part of classroom management.
During the first week (month, maybe) of school, I am constantly talking. I am constantly pointing out both good behavior and fixing bad behavior.
Even now, the 5th month of the school year, I still hold a high expectation of how my students sit, walk, interact with peers, etc.
I will continue to hold high expectations for the remainder of the year. You must, as well.
You cannot let up.
As soon as you do, they’ll start to push the boundaries.
Remember that old idiome, give them an inch, they’ll take a mile?
Your constant vigilance shows that you’re aware of everything that’s happening within your classroom. (Even if you actually have eyes on the back of your head.)
Also, part of making such an effort to point out everything you’re seeing helps to eliminate moments of awkward silence that would otherwise be quickly filled by less desirable sounds.
I say this is the hardest part of classroom management because it’s the most exhausting.
Bring a thermos with hot water to sooth your sore throat.
6. Positive reinforcement
I cannot emphasize enough how important positive reinforcement is to successful classroom management!
Students thrive in situations where they know the expectations and where their efforts to do what is expected are recognized.
I love to watch the whole demeanor of the class begin to change as I start to point out good behavior.
It’s important to really amp it up and make it a big deal.
Wow! Look at Jen, she really knows how to walk nicely in line.
Oh, you should look just like Sam, he’s pointing to the words while he’s reading.
Ellie is doing such a good job looking her neighbor in the eye while she’s talking!
The key to positive reinforcement is to be specific with the feedback so students know what they need to fix in themselves.
Pointing out the good behaviors helps other students fix their behavior on their ow. Before you even need to reprimand them.
Establishing positive reinforcement as a part of your classroom management will also change the overall demeanor of your students.
Your classroom will be a place where they want to be.
Wouldn’t you want to be a in a place where your efforts are recognized?
7. Reflect with your students
Your aim in having good classroom management should be to help your students manage their behavior so they can learn.
A powerful way to help students take more ownership of their behavior is to help them reflect on it.
At the end of the day, I like to lead my students through a “plus/delta” reflection.
Pluses are things that they thought they did well.
I make sure to praise their efforts from the pluses that they point out – they’ll want to keep doing those things!
A delta is anything that they need to work on.
We choose 1 or 2 of those to set class goals. We also map out specific steps on how to reach those goals.
If they can specifically point out what they’re doing well or what they need to fix, I know they really get what is expected of them.
This is also a good time to do a quick review of all the expectations and consequences you’ve set up.
They may not point out the specific things you’ve noticed so now’s a good time to bring it to their attention.
As I mentioned in tip #4, be sure to keep yourself and your students accountable by writing it down and posting it in your room.
Work smarter, not harder
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8. Teach your students to look for good behavior in each other
I don’t know how many times parents have told me that their child loves to play “teacher” at home.
Students love when you give them opportunities in the classroom to be a mini-teacher.
One way to do that is to train them to look for good behavior in their peers.
Students love to be the one in charge of enforcing classroom expectations. But it doesn’t work so well when they try to scold one another.
However, it works very well when they are able to point out the good behaviors of their classmates (remember positive reinforcement from tip #6?).
After setting up clear expectations, I like to introduce “scouts.”
A scout is a student who is behaving properly or is exhibiting a particular goal you’re working on.
That scout is then charged to look for another student who is displaying those same behaviors.
When students begin to get a little loose, I love to remind them that the next scout needs to be found. This usually snaps them back into form.
I also like to point out potential scouts as a form of positive reinforcement.
Wow, Daniel really looks like he wants to be chosen as a scout because he’s focusing on the lesson.
I see Sophie getting straight to work, that’s exactly what a scout would do.
The system of scouts is a great way to have students take ownership of their behavior.
It’s so powerful for your more difficult students to be recognized by their peers for good behavior. It’s one thing for you to notice their progress. It’s a totally different thing when their classmates notice.
Year after year, my kids always come through in choosing that struggling student to be a scout (when appropriate) without me needing to prompt them to do so.
Just like your other forms of positive reinforcement, be sure to amp up the position of scout by providing good incentives.
My students LOVE earning smelly stickers. It’s amazing how motivated they become when a sticker is on the line.
9. Change focus behavior and rewards
Okay, so you have your classroom management systems in place.
You set clear expectations and consequences.
You’re consistent in both carrying out consequences and providing positive reinforcement.
You’ve trained your students to recognize their own behaviors and point out the good in others.
But, what about the students who are just angels and have reached the pinnacle of the classroom management hierarchy?
How do you keep them from getting bored and feeling like they don’t have to put in as much effort?
Change it up!
By taking the time to set up your classroom management systems, you’ve earned the freedom to be flexible!
In my class, I use a behavior chart system. Every day, they record the color they ended on – purple being the highest color a student can earn. When we return from winter break, I introduce a new top tier for them to work towards.
I also use a marble jar to recognize good behavior. Each time they fill the jar, they reach a new tier of rewards.
My school uses a “Caught Ya” system where any staff member can give a student a slip of paper to say they “Caught Ya” doing something good. This system also has different tiers of rewards. It also can be tied in with a specific goal your class is working on.
10. Raise your expectations as their behavior improves, give them more freedom
Finally, tip #10!
As students become better at managing their own behavior, you can set the bar higher.
You’ll start to see that your students are better able to manage their own behavior, you’ll be able to step back and not have to monitor as much.
You’ll also be able to give them more freedom.
You guys have gotten so good at staying on task while working with a partner, today, you can choose your who you’re going to work with. But remember, choose someone who’s going to help you learn, not someone who’s going to get you off task.
It’s so magical to watch your students both make a good choice in who they work with but also work hard to make sure they’re being a good partner, too!
In having good classroom management, you’re teaching them life skills that they’ll take with them when they leave you!
Even if they need to be motivated by extrinsic rewards, eventually their intrinsic motivation will take over and they won’t need reminders or rewards from you.
When you’re students make big improvements in their behavior, make sure to celebrate their achievements!
Things to remember
- Establishing good classroom management takes time.
- You have to find what works for you, that may change from year to year or even month to month.
- If something’s not working, change it!
- Something that worked for years may not resonate with your current class.
- When you get stuck, ask your colleagues for ideas.
- You probably won’t see drastic behavior changes overnight so don’t feel bad if you don’t get the results you want right away.
- Finally, never give up! Keep at it and you’ll start to see the fruit of your labor.
Are there any classroom management tips that you’d like to share? Leave me a comment, I’d love to hear from you!
If there’s anything you like more clarification on or anything you’d like more info about, feel free to let me know 🙂
Thanks for taking the time to read my blog!
Work smarter, not harder
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Words to Live By
And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you. Psalm 9:10