The cornerstone of teaching, is not just the ability to teach, but foremost, the ability to manage a class effectively so one can teach! A class that is not managed well, is not favorable for teaching and consequently not conducive to learning.
In spite of the fact that schools rules and behavior expectations are somewhat universal, varying slightly based on the communities they serve, teacher’s classroom management styles differ greatly based on teachers’ personalities, values, and experience, along with the teacher's perspectives on different behavioral frameworks and philosophies. Throughout my many years of teaching at the same school, I have been presented with several approaches to student behavior and classroom management. Although with new names and varied strategies, they all suggest the same foundational classroom management principles, such as being proactive by establishing a well-grounded structure for your class, setting high expectations, focusing on the behavior, not the child, avoiding high emotions and treating students with dignity.
With these premises in mind, I want to share some tips that have helped me establish a sound classroom management approach. Something I am very thankful for, as it has made my work routine much more enjoyable than my first years of teaching, when the sole thought of going back to the classroom made my stomach cringe! I suggest you consider these recommendations to help you figure out your own classroom management style.
Establishing a Sound Class Structure
Nowadays, many schools implement school-wide instructional frameworks that can help guide your lesson design. The following recommendations will most likely align to your district or school’s instructional guidelines, as they are based on universal lesson planning schemas.
- Know what you are teaching! Plan your lesson thoroughly and be prepared with all necessary materials, at least day-to-day! This is undeniably essential. If you are not prepared enough, your class management will reflect it.
- You must have a beginning of class routine, a task that students can do on their own, without your guidance, as they enter the classroom and wait for your to start the lesson. This is extremely important, as it sets the tone for the rest of the class. Some teachers use journal entries, math drills, spelling practices, daily language activities, riddles, reading, etc.
A recommended instructional practice to follow the starter activity, is to share with students the learning objective for the lesson and the respective learning tasks, in the form of a “class agenda”. When students understand the “what” and the “why” of your lesson, they are more likely to engage in learning.
Establish routines. Think about how you want your students to behave when transitioning from one learning task to another, or for different situations that could (will) arise. You can start one day at a time. Look at your lesson plan and figure out learning tasks where students have to move, and possible moments of misunderstanding or with the potential for chaos. If you can’t visualize what could possibly happen, it’s okay. By the end of your first lesson, your students will have already shown you, and you can adjust from there. However, there are certain situations that you can plan for, such as:
Seating assignments. You will most likely need to plan for this, especially if you teach middle school! However, on the first couple days of school, I would suggest to allow your students to sit wherever they please. This has a twofold purpose. For one, sitting by their friends lowers the stress level a new school year brings, and secondly, it can unmistakably show you where the issues will be. Then, you can plan accordingly.
Class jobs. I suggest you compile a list of “jobs” based on the recurring tasks required in your class, from passing certain materials, to helping new students, etc. Share with students the expectation of choosing at least one of the class jobs listed. For those reluctant to help, assign them a job that is not very demanding. Below is an example of some of the job assignments listed in my class.
Have an organized enough classroom. Nothing is more stressful than not finding what you need when you need it! And the key to keeping your teacher life organized, is very simple. First of all, designate a place for your classroom supplies. Make sure every container is labeled, easily visible and accessible to students. Secondly, make sure you label trays or folders for filing student work and the never ending school paperwork! As you are given any paper, decide on a place for it and all the others papers alike you will receive throughout the year. The more organized you stay, the less stress you will feel.
Setting Behavior Expectations
Although there is an overlap between the concept of rules and expectations, starting with expectations instead of rules, sets a more positive tone for guiding student behavior. Similarly, you don’t want to bombard your students with a never-ending lecture on your expectations. It is a lot more effective to teach them as the respective situations arise. Additionally, as with instructional frameworks, many districts and schools implement a uniform system for managing discipline. Before setting classroom “rules” or behavior expectations, familiarize yourself with the school’s rules, the protocol for referring discipline incidents, and the corresponding consequences established by admin. To set classroom behavior expectations that are adequate to your school’s discipline decision tree, you could refer to your school’s online tool for documenting student behavior. Most likely, it categorizes incidents by level of severity, which will help you understand your school’s discipline philosophy. With this in mind, you should:
Make a list of common student behaviors or situations that could lead to an office referral based on the types of incidents listed in your school’s discipline management system. If you have years of teaching experience, you could think back of recurring behavior issues in your past classes. If you are a new teacher, don’t worry, you will quickly be able to make this list within a few days of school!
Think of ways you can help avoid these incidents. What specific expectations could you set? Some teachers like to post a list of rules, while other teachers don’t post rules at all. Instead, they teach each expectation as a related situation arises. They use inadequate behaviors as teachable moments. They also identify the expectation they want to normalize, and reinforce it with praise, instead of focusing on negative behaviors, while establishing a safe learning environment for all.
Create some type of behavior reward system within your class. Some teachers have candies, prizes, or if lucky, their school has their own “currency” for rewarding student behavior. Some teachers post a class behavior chart, to grant positive or negative points based on specific students’ behaviors they want to promote or avoid. In My elLiteracy TpT store, you will find a free lesson plan and resources for a system I developed based on typical behavior issues I encounter in my ESL classes. In the lesson I use the analogy of a soccer game, for students to understand the purpose of “rules” in any context, the role of the “ref” and behaviors that can be disruptive of the our common goal, whether it is a soccer game or a class. You can use it as it is or tweak it to fit your class dynamics.
Despite your whole hearted efforts to avoid discipline issues, you should know that you will still have them! So how do you address undesirable behavi
Look at the list you made of common student behaviors that will not be tolerated in your class. Categorize them by the level of severity, making sure this aligns to your school's protocols and decision tree, so that the consequences you deliver are also a match to your school’s discipline plan. You can find an example of my list in the same free TpT lesson mentioned above. My elLiteracy TpT Store
As you address behavior incidents, remember to be stern while treating your students with dignity. You can accomplish this by focusing on the behavior, not the child. Start by practicing the use “I” statements whenever you can.
Avoid high emotions, don’t take things personal! Remember, often times, you don’t need to deliver a consequence right there and then. You can take a deep breath, remove yourself from the situation, and let the student know you will deal with the consequences later.
Embrace the dualities of being a “warm demander”, strict but understanding. Consistent, but flexible when needed. Remember equality does not always mean fair.
Be mindful of your words and actions. Although your students may forget what you taught them, they will never forget what you said or what you did, and how that made them feel in your class. Whether positive or negative, just one brief interaction can leave a lasting scar on a student’s memory. Think about how you want your students to remember you as they grow up? If you were to encounter them in the future, what feelings would you rather elicit? What will be your legacy?
Everybody in education talks about the importance of building rapport with students, but it is not explicitly described what it takes to get it done! In my next blog, I will be addressing this topic in a lot more depth. For now, it is important to note that all of the recommendations listed here are based on the assumption of having established a good rapport with students. And although, none of these strategies will be thoroughly effective if that is not the case, they can definitely help you get started in the process of creating a safe learning environment in your classes! These recommendations will help you mitigate chronic behavior issues and high levels of stress. However, you need to be advised that you will still be challenged with difficult behaviors and class dynamics that you must restore. Just remember that in teaching, every day is a new day. No matter how “bad” it has been in your class, you can always reclaim your classroom and start from scratch, over and over again. And even when you think you are doing it all wrong, there is a high chance you are not. Great teachers crave improvement and they are often the most critical of themselves. You need to affirm to yourself that you are good enough, because you are. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have chosen to be a teacher!