Today’s classroom management strategies provide a framework for promoting positive behavior. We’ve all seen those old black & white class photos from the fifties: perfectly straight rows of desks filled with well-behaved, smiling children, each one sitting up straight with hands folded. The teachers stands near the chalkboard, holding the class at rapt attention. That was obviously a perfect school with zero disciplinary issues or behavior problems, right? In fact, it was an entire world completely devoid of frazzled teachers, disruptive students, schoolyard bullies or class clowns. NOT!
For as long as there have been classrooms, teachers have struggled with knowing how to keep order!
Classroom Management Strategies for Today’s Teachers
It goes without saying: Teachers today face new, more complex issues; yet we also have a wealth of additional support, knowledge and community available to us. We’ll never go back to the classrooms depicted in the old photograph I described; yet how can we ensure that our classrooms are calm and orderly places where students can learn and grow?
In my 23 years of teaching, I never encountered a perfect class, but I did learn some valuable lessons along the way. Now I’m happy to share with you a few of the classroom management strategies I’ve learned throughout my teaching career. There’s no magic wand we can wave to create a calm, organized classroom full of engaged, well-behaved learners; but there are a few tips, tricks and proven strategies that can help.
Philosophy of Classroom Management
My philosophy of classroom management involves a combination of structure and organization, clear rules, positive reinforcement, accountability and well-defined consequences. Best of all, it’s based on mutual respect.
Are you pinning your hopes on the possibility that next year you’ll be blessed with a classroom full of angelic cherubs that dropped down from heaven complete with shining halos? Not gonna happen, teacher peeps 😉 LOL
What I guarantee will happen is that you’ll get a classroom full of individual students with unique personalities, backgrounds and learning needs. If you’re intentional about setting up a classroom structure and behavioral management plan, you can be successful in helping each of these students learn and thrive in a healthy and stimulating learning environment.
Will there be bumps in the road? Of course. But let’s take a look at how we can level out those bumps and pave the way for meaningful learning to occur.
1. Streamline the Class Structure
Let me start by saying that I recognize that you have your own preferences with regard to teaching style and classroom set-up. The ideas I’ll share here are the things I’ve found made the most sense in my own classroom.
The physical structure of your classroom is dependent upon a number of things, including available resources, budget, school facilities and class size. There are variables over which you have no control. However, there are ways you can optimize the materials and resources you have in order to create a welcoming, safe learning environment for your students.
It’s obvious that the classroom environment can have a big impact on how students learn and perform. A chaotic, cluttered room sends a message to students from the moment they enter; however, a well-laid out classroom with clear structure and welcoming, inviting spaces will also send a message. Arrange your classroom environment to communicate the idea that this is a safe, fun place where discovery happens.
Don’t worry about breaking the bank to create elaborate themes. You can visit the dollar store (a.k.a., “The Teachers’ Mecca!) and get creative. Just be sure to fill the space with cheerful colors and attractive, fun images. Use shelving, bright rugs or pillows to delineate and clearly define areas for reading, reflection and independent work. Create defined areas to guide traffic patterns, and use color-coordinated labels to identify the contents of book bins and supplies. If you decide to spend some time on Pinterest to give you some ideas, great! However, avoid adding too much clutter or distraction, and don’t get sucked into the comparison trap. Remember: You and your students will spend multiple hours per week in this room, so fill it with things that please you and help you motivate and teach your students.
“If These Walls Could Speak”
Your classroom walls should serve to echo the things you teach your students. They should include space for class rules, anchor charts, word walls, and displays of student work. They should also send students the message that learning is fun and exciting. Again, here’s where a little creativity can go a long way!
Flexible Seating Areas
Arrange the existing seating in whatever way makes the best sense for you and your students. If your classroom has individual desks and you want to line them up in straight rows, go for it. Your classroom layout should support you in accomplishing your teaching goals. Keep in mind, though, that it’s important to include comfortable areas with flexible seating for independent reading and common areas where children can interact and work in pairs or clusters. In addition to flexible seating, your classroom needs a flexible teacher. Be willing to make small changes as needed if your original seating plan is not working.
Small-Group Seating Areas
A kidney-shaped table is ideal for your Guided Reading or Math small-group. Make sure to have an area set-aside to keep your teaching tools nearby and accessible within arms’ reach. They say that for every minute spent organizing, you earn an hour; so be sure to invest the time to set things up in an orderly, convenient way.
Organized Work Areas
Want to keep your classroom organized? Then remember that it’s important to practice what you preach! Just as you ask your students to put things back as they were, adopt that same motto for yourself. Your grandmother was right: “A place for everything, and everything in it’s place!” Spend a couple of minutes every afternoon to set your desk in order and put away files and teaching tools. You can even enlist students to help with this, giving them the “privilege” of helping the teacher with clean-up! Although it’s a simple practice, staying organized is one of the most important items on the list of classroom management strategies. Building the habit of good organization will maximize your time. It will also pay off on a daily basis by ensuring an effective workplace for you and more focused, prepared lessons for your students.
My Guided Reading That Works professional development workshop includes an entire lesson on how to organize materials near your teacher table and around the classroom. I also share a list of the teaching and organization tools you’ll need for Guided Reading instruction. Click here to sign up for Guided Reading That Works!
2. Organize the Class Schedule
This mantra applies to so many areas of teaching: Consistency is key! It’s especially important when it comes to the classroom schedule you put in place from the beginning of the school year.
Again, here’s where Guided Reading That Works can be a lifesaver! I have an entire module dedicated to organizing and optimizing your time, where I cover nuts-and-bolts- scheduling issues such as how to implement literacy stations and how to set up your Guided Reading rotation schedule.
Where your classroom schedule is concerned, remember this one important point: The more consistent you are with your daily and weekly classroom procedures, the more effective your teaching will be. Sure, there will be fire drills, standardized testing days and school assemblies, but your general, day-to-day schedule will be predictable for your students. Be clear about this schedule, display it prominently, and familiarize your students with it from the outset. Use daily schedule charts as well as timers, push lights or chimes to give students predictable, consistent cues that facilitate smooth transitions.
Make expectations clear with regard to independent reading time, restroom breaks, sharpening pencils and linking up for lunch or recess. Again, clarity and consistency are key!
3. Clearly Communicate Class Rules
Even the most effective classroom management strategies will fall flat if the students don’t know the rules. It’s a given: The kiddos in your class should understand the rules and know what is expected of them. More importantly, those guidelines should be established and communicated early-on. Within the first couple of days of class, you should guide the group in creating a list of class rules. Rather that giving them a pre-set list of rules, allow your students plenty of input in the process. In fact, I recommend you begin by opening up the floor and letting them brainstorm a list of appropriate and inappropriate classroom behaviors. Next, guide them in narrowing these down into a few general categories. Finally, help them come up with a short list of clearly worded class rules.
4. Consistently Enforce Class Rules
Fair, consistent enforcement of class rules is key to an effective classroom management strategy. Every good teacher knows that fair, consistent enforcement of the rules builds a sense of security in your classroom. Consistency and fairness in disciplinary issues will improve your relationships with your students and their parents. If you involve students in the creation of the rules and establishing of consequences, they’ll understand from the beginning what is expected.
5. Maintain Order Without Yelling
It is not necessary to yell at your students in order to correct behavior or regain control of the classroom. This is not an impossible goal! If you make it clear from the beginning that you will never yell at a student, they will feel secure and safe. We’ve all had times when noise level rose so high it seemed necessary to bellow; but resist the temptation. Instead, speak firmly and then wait quietly until the students’ attention is regained, or establish a signal such as a short clap or raised hand.
I can honestly say that this “no yell” behavior management strategy works. In my 23 years of teaching, I never once yelled at my students. I made this promise to my class at the beginning of each year, and I backed it up with the promise of 10 minutes extra recess if I broke my own rule. Did my kiddos ever get that extra 10 minutes? The answer is no. I hope you’ll incorporate this rule into your own list of classroom management strategies. It’s a game changer!
6. Address Unacceptable Behavior As Quickly As Possible
While positive reinforcement is an effective way to promote cooperation and appropriate behavior, we all know there’s a flip side. Negative behavior will inevitably occur, and when it does, it should be addressed promptly, Give warnings when possible, but avoid repeated warnings without follow-through. With some students. a stern look or a quick warning glance is all it takes to stop minor misbehavior. For others who ignore your initial warning, you may need to walk quietly to the behavior chart and remove a reward token.
Whatever the case, address the issue briefly, clearly and as immediately as possible. Hold students accountable, and issue fair, logical consequences that are in line with the degree of misbehavior. Be sure the child understands why the behavior is unacceptable, then follow-up with the negative consequence as appropriate. Make sure the student knows that although you are unhappy with his or her behavior, you are still rooting for him or her to succeed and make better choices next time.
Add a Reflection Station to Encourage Kiddos to T-H-I-N-K About Their Behavior
A Reflection Station was one of my most effective ways of dealing with unacceptable behaviors in my own classroom. At this station, a small table held a basket and a sign with the “T-H-I-N-K” acronym to help the students reflect on their behavior. As they thought and reflected, they were asked to consider the following question: As I Think about my action or behavior, is it…
Say, for example, I was working with a Guided Reading small group and was interrupted during the reading block. When I had to remind a student that they weren’t doing what they were supposed to, I started by asking, “What are you supposed to be doing right now, Johnny?” I’d listen to their answer and then go back to what I was doing.
If I had to give that same child a second reminder, I’d say something like, “You’re not doing what you’re supposed to be doing” (or “you’re not making a good choice” or “you’re not working at your station correctly” — to address whatever the issue was). I’d say, “Please go over to our Reflection Station and reflect on what you were just doing. Think about what you were supposed to be doing instead. And while you’re reflecting, I’d like you to write two or three sentences about what you were doing at the time.”
This was a place designed to help them reflect on their behavior and THINK: What was I doing? Was it helpful, inspiring, necessary, kind and true? I asked them to examine their action, consider how it didn’t line up with the expected behavior, and write about what they would do the next day to make better choices.
Inform Parents of Behavioral Issues
The best part of this approach was the reflection station sheet that went home with the student that night. Their parent was asked to sign the sheet and send it back to school. Consider using a reflection station in your classroom, and consider having a related sheet that goes home to parents. This is a simple and effective way to keep communication channels open with parents. In this way you can help them see how you’re encouraging students to reflect on and take ownership of their behavior.
6. Incorporate Positive Reinforcement into Classroom Behavioral Management Strategies
This well known behavioral management strategy bears repeating: Reward your students for positive behavior! Call it bribery if you like, but positive reinforcement works. Catch your students in the act of good behavior and provide a reward for it, and they’ll want to repeat it. There are a number of systems you can use to implement this strategy with your kiddos, and most are low-prep and low-cost. Tailor the rewards to what you know your students value.
My positive reinforcement system was known as the “Digilio Dollar Store.” Early in the year I posted a behavior management chart with each student’s name; and each week, I awarded students $3 in play money as a reward for positive behaviors. Things like sharing, doing an act of kindness, paying attention, raising their hand or working hard paid off and earned big dividends!
Reward Positive Behavior – Make it Worth Their While!
By the end of the week, if a student’s behavior had been positive, they kept their $3. I even added an extra $3 to it! If a student was caught misbehaving or not listening, however, I would first give them a warning. Then if the behavior persisted, I would quietly walk over to the behavior chart and remove $1.
At the end of the term I opened up the “Digilio Dollar Store” and allowed the kiddos to go shopping! Each student had to add up the total for the things they wanted to purchase (great math exercise!). Then they could choose from things such as pencils, erasers, bookmarks, etc.. The most popular item was “Lunch with the Teacher!” This was a powerful motivator and an easy, low-cost way to reward great behavior.
There are plenty more positive reinforcement ideas you can incorporate within your classroom. Whether it’s tokens, tickets, marbles or stars, find a method of rewarding good behavior and implement it with your students. Much more than just a way of maintaining order, it will help your students see the value and reward of building good habits and doing acts of kindness.
Support Your Fellow Teachers!
I love sharing this knowledge with you; and I love our community of dedicated, creative professionals who want to improve their teaching skills. We can learn so much from each other when it comes to the topic of classroom management strategies! I’d love to hear about some ideas that have worked for you. Use the comments section at the end of this post to share your suggestions with other teacher peeps!