Nailing down classroom management is extremely important for teachers. There is not an exact science to it, and several classroom management techniques may need to be tested before a teacher figures out what works best in their classroom. Testing out different techniques is by far the hardest part about classroom management. As much as you read and learn about it in college, there is no teacher like experience. Testing out strategies, refocusing, analyzing effects and testing again seems to be the tried and true way to achieving a managed classroom. What seems to work for one teacher may not work well for another. Most teachers even find themselves tweaking their management style from year to year to adapt to each year’s group of students.
While we much prefer proactive classroom management, there are times in every classroom when things can get just a bit out of hand. Knowing teachers continually search to improve their classrooms, and that the more classroom management tools you have in your toolbox, the better, here are seven classroom management tips any teacher can use.
- Bored Students = Trouble. Have an Engaging Lesson.
This may seem like a big fat “DUH”, but it should come to no surprise that creating or finding quality lessons can be difficult. Well-designed lesson plans take serious brain power to create and can eat up a lot of prep time; however, they will save you trouble in the long run. When students become bored, the potential for students to behave poorly increases.
Now, we know that you can only jazz up Algebra so many ways (no offense, Math teachers), but by using the rule of 20s, students are less likely to get so bored that they might become a problem. A veteran teacher taught me about the rule of 20; she said that students should not be doing the same thing for more than 20 minutes at a time. This does not mean that after 20 minutes of whole class lecture, or reading that students get to do whatever they want for 20 minutes. It means mix up the plans. After lecture, plan for small group activities, and then come back together for a wrap-up, or start the lesson with a short documentary, read a piece of literature, and then have students write about the thematic connections between the two. Whatever it is that you teach, take advantage of student work time, partner work, as well as different teaching tools like presentation, lecture, shoulder partner sharing, small group rotations, silent discussions, philosophical chairs, close reads, and other engaging lessons.
When you need a dose of inspiration, the internet is full of ideas for engaging lessons for every class. We have even created close reads and amazing lesson plans to go along with them for our Ingredients of Young Outliers book that can be seen on teacherspayteachers.com by clicking here. One big tip our teachers at Outliers Publishing have about creating lesson plans is to make sure you always over-plan. You will want to have things to do for if you still have spare time when your lesson is done. Maximize that learning time!
- Address Behavior Problems Wisely and In a Timely Matter.
Unfortunately, as prepared as you could possibly be, behavior problems are almost impossible to avoid, especially at the beginning of the school year. Students are unpredictable and go through many different stages of life that cause their behavior to vary. Power struggles, negative attitudes, and disruptive students all detract attention from student learning. Correctly choosing which battles to fight will be of great benefit to you.
When a conflict arises between you and a student, it is best to step away from your classroom to talk to the student in private. A very wise mentor of mine once told me that if you choose to engage in a power struggle with a student, you’ve already lost. When a student becomes disruptive, disobedient, or disrespectful in my classroom, I try to talk with that student one-on-one, first at his or her desk. If that did not work, I waited for the right moment in my lesson where students could work independently, and then asked the disruptive student to head outside of the classroom to chat with me for a minute. During that time I made sure to maintain a level of distance from the situation; it is imperative that you keep your emotions in check. Another option is to talk to the student in the doorway so you can still monitor your classroom, or ask the student to stay a bit after period.
Some of the worst situations I’ve gotten myself into in the classroom are when I tried to handle an out-of-control student in front of the class. When you talk to students, be mindful of your wording to make sure you come off as caring, but stern, letting the student know issues like these are unacceptable in your classroom.
Always keep your emotions in check. If you are finding your emotions are building because of a behavior problem in your classroom, sometimes it is better to wait and sleep on what happened before approaching the student. I always know the right approach when I have the chance to think about it.
Conflicts between students are just as important to address as ones they have with their teachers. When you notice students having problems, the teacher can act as a mediator to help the students resolve their problem, which could mitigate problems building throughout the year. It is also wise to inform administration and other teachers if the students are having a reoccurring problem or if you witness any type of bullying.
- Use Non-verbal Cues that Allow You to Keep Teaching.
No teacher wants to feel like they are wasting a bunch of time on redirecting students’ behavior. After all, each minute a teacher spends stopping their lesson to deal with behavior issues is a minute the classroom loses on a learning opportunity.
Non-verbal cues can take time, patience and practice for your students to get used to this style. However, once they have the cues down and they know you mean business, it will be much easier to get the students back on track. There are several non-verbal cues teachers can use, but my favorites are the following:
- Raising your hand in the air until all your students’ hands are in the air. Once all hands are in the air, you can lower yours to talk. This works especially well with younger students. Keep in mind, this doesn’t work as well with high school students. Typically another cue like clapping works better.
- When the students are chatty, don’t talk. Wait for them to notice that you are standing there. This can take an abundance of patience as you resist the temptation to tell your class to quiet down. With this trick, be sure to maintain eye contact with the class and avoid doing other things (shuffling papers, writing on the board, flipping through work, etc.) They need to see that you are waiting for them, and nothing is more important to you than their attention.
- Turning the lights on and off to grab the attention of students. Some teachers also use this technique instead of a timer on the board to alert students that they have two or so minutes to finish the activity they are working on.
- Writing students names on the board who are chatting. This can tell the student that they are beginning to get off track and need to pay attention. Some teachers will then put tallies next to the student’s name and if that student gets three checks, they will have detention.
- Clapping hands is a way to get the younger ones back on track. You will need to decide how many times you want to clap to get their attention. Make sure you use the same number of claps each time so the students will know you want their attention. You can even have the students clap back to have the students signal that they are listening.
- For the older students, giving time parameters has always worked best for me. For example, if I asked students to share with a shoulder partner, I would say, “You have twenty-five seconds to share with your partner.” I would then say, “You have five seconds to finish. Two, one.” Once the students knew that I stuck to my time limits, they respected the time allowances, and avoided getting so chatty that I needed to resort to some of the other measures.
- Implementing the Buddy Room Concept.
Teachers typically have a seat in the back for the purpose to misbehaving students that are sent to them. At this seat, students will find paper that will have them think about what they were doing wrong, how their behavior is affecting themselves and others and how they could change their behavior. Sometimes teachers will leave the student for ten minutes, and sometimes teachers will leave the student for the rest of the period.
If you are not comfortable with sending your students to a different classroom, you can always have a desk on the side in your classroom that still has the think sheets. By keeping the student in the classroom, they are still able to listen and/or watch the lesson be completed.
- Establish Consequences, Follow Through with Your Discipline.
Teachers and parents alike are faced with deciding what discipline techniques work best for them. These decisions aren’t always easy ones. It is necessary to have consequences set at the beginning of the year so that students are aware of what will happen. Some teachers set the consequences with the rules and some teachers have the students vote on the consequences for breaking specific rule. This typically works for older students because they tend to take more ownership of the consequences when they took part in deciding what the discipline should be.
When determining consequences for your classroom, think about what would motivate students to not want to misbehave. Is it staying late after class, losing a seat they chose, or sitting out in the next sport activity?
Once the consequences are created, make sure you follow through. Have a sequence that allows the student to know when they will be facing consequences. This can be a simple as putting a name on a board and telling them that if they get two checks next to their name, they will have to serve after-school detention.
If you decide to not follow through with the discipline, students will push you more to the limits because they think you are weak and will give into them complaining that they don’t want the consequence. Stand your ground, show the students you mean business and they will take you seriously.
- Create a Code Word or Action for Students to Help them Relax and Refocus.
Some students have trouble focusing the entire period or get overwhelmed easy and need a break. It doesn’t necessarily mean that they are not trying, but some students, like students with autism, ADHD, or anger or anxiety issues, need to walk away from what they are doing for a bit in order to regain their focus or composure. You can create a code word, phrase or action that particular students can use let you now they are having difficulties. These code words should be created in a meeting with the students. The teacher and student need to discuss the use of the word and options the student has when they signal to the teacher that they need a break. Our favorite brain break ideas for individuals or the whole class are as follow:
Activities for One Student
- Allow the student to take a short walk around the hall to decompress and refocus
- Allow the student to draw for three minutes.
- Ask the student to perform a quick errand like taking the attendance sheet to the front office.
- Allow the student to pick up a book from the back of the classroom to flip through for a bit.
- If a student is seriously having issues (depressed, lethargic, not able to focus, etc.) consider sending them up to their counselor for a chat.
Class wide Activities:
- Have students stand up and stretch.
- Turn on some music for a one minute classroom dance party.
- Ask two students to volunteer for a thumb war with the whole class spectating.
- Watch a funny clip as a class.
- Establish Protocols with Anxious Students
In addition, some students are embarrassed to raise their hand to ask a question. This can cause students to start to behave poorly because they are stuck and won’t verbalize it. One way to avoid this downward spiral is to tell the students at the beginning of the year that they can put a star next to questions they don’t understand and need help with. Therefore, when students are working on an activity, the teacher will be able to easily spot out students who need help because they will have a star next to a question.
Other students are just as anxious about answering questions in front of the class. One thing that can work very well is to discuss a plan with anxious students privately. Let them know that you will not call on them unless you are standing right next to their desk, or rest a hand on their desk. The other students will not know about this private understanding, but once you stand in front of that particular student’s desk, she/he will know that the next question is coming their way. This not only allows that student to participate, but it also allows them to focus on the content being discussed while they are not up next to answer a question as opposed to their crippling anxiety regarding how and when they will be called upon in class.
- Promote Responsibility, Not Just Obedience.
Teachers are equipping students to eventually be successful in their future educational pursuits and careers. Therefore, it is important to give the students the tools to work on correcting their disruptive behavior. Students need to take ownership of their learning, including focusing in class, completing their homework, and studying; this needs to come from within the student. While teachers work on promoting responsibility within their students, they need to be careful of the words that they use. Using positive language will help mold students into more successful human beings. Words have a significant impact on how students perceive themselves and the expectations teachers have of their students. Therefore, it is important to find the positives of every student, use a warm tone, and highlight progress. Teachers shape the minds of students and they need to make sure they empower their students to help them learn new skills and grow personally.
In addition to using powerful language to empower students, reflective questions are another tool that teachers use to help foster responsibility and intrinsic motivation. Here are some quick examples of reflective questions:
- What are some things you struggled with today?
- Did your behavior help or hinder those around you?
- What behavior disrupted the classroom environment?
- How can I improve my behavior?
- How can the teacher help me stay focused?
- Be Passionate about Your Material
When I think back to some of the most influential teachers I had, they all seemed to spark a desire within me to learn. I wanted to understand the material and grow from it because of how excited that teacher was about the content. I wanted to maximize my time in class because I never knew what amazing things I was going to learn next, and I wanted to go out and learn even more because the teacher’s enthusiasm. Becoming a masterful teacher is not an easy pursuit, but it is an honorable one. It will take extra time and effort, but with dedication, time, and grit, it’s absolutely possible.
Some of the most powerful learning happens when teachers learn from other teachers. That was part of the inspiration behind our book Outliers in Education. This book is like a six segment mentorship session with seasoned educators of various backgrounds ranging from elementary to Ivy League featured in each chapter. The practical tips and tricks found in this book are sure to help any teacher out there.
Thank you for pouring yourself into your profession. Here at Outliers Publishing, we recognize that teachers have one of the most difficult jobs in the world. We thank you, and applaud you on your efforts to continually grow.
We would love to hear from you! Are there specific challenges you have in your classroom? Do you have a favorite technique? What is one classroom management tip you wish you had when you started teaching? Comment below and share with your friends on social media!