Classroom management can be a challenge. In this post, I'll share twenty-two of my top tips and ideas that have helped me have an awesome classroom. While I won't claim to ever be perfect, I have learned so much over the last seventeen years. If this post helps some of you avoid the mistakes I learned early on, then it will accomplish its purpose!
Classroom Management Tip #1: Build a Partnership With Your Students
It’s true that you must relate before you can educate. It’s also true that you can’t always wait until you have that relationship to start teaching. Relationships take time. So I prefer to teach with methods that help build relationships as I teach.
The Advancement Courses spring sale is happening now. They are sponsoring this post, and since some of their most popular courses are on the topic of classroom management, they asked me to create a resource for helping teachers with classroom management.
How To Start The School Year By Building Relationships
Lesson Plan Idea: For example, I kick off the year in “Masterpiece Theater” (the name of my classroom) by having students create a masterpiece in Play-Doh representing something that’s essential to the masterpiece of their life.
The objective of this “The Masterpiece is You” assignment is actually fourfold:
- I want to make sure students know how to take a photograph and have a device that can do that.
- I want them to log into their school email account using the credentials they have been given.
- I want them to join Google classroom. and
- I want them to turn their photograph in as an assignment in Google Classroom.
However, although the functional teaching objectives of this lesson are to onboard students as quickly as possible into the software and systems they’ll be using, the relational teaching objective is to help me know at least one thing they love.
I copied this idea from a former student of mine who later taught my son. Several years ago on the first day of school, he came home excited about this one teacher. The others had covered rules and expectations but only Mrs. Elizabeth had ignited and excited him. When I asked what she’d done, he described how she had them draw their personal seal that would include some of the things they love. At the time, he loved Minecraft, and he told me, “I like Mrs. Elizabeth because she likes Minecraft and is interested in what I’m doing with it.”
The best lessons I teach not only cover teaching objectives but fulfill relational objectives between me and my students as we craft a partnership in learning.
Classroom Management Tip #2:
Harry and Rosemary Wong’s The First Days of School book helped me with workflow so very much! For example, I now share clearly how we enter and leave the room. As a result, my classroom is healthier and flows better at the start and end of class.
Additionally, as seen in the diagram below, I share what a professional desk looks like in our room.
I also share how the paperwork or assignments flow both in the physical and online classrooms. This technique of being super clear and very consistent on workflow helps the classroom function simply. Students have only a certain capacity for learning new, complex things, so the workflow must be super simple and crystal clear in their minds AND in how we actually do things. For example, here’s the paperwork flow in the physical classroom.
3. Use Tools Promoting Simple Accountability and Formative Feedback
As teachers, we need constant feedback on where student learning is and isn’t happening. This lets us adjust our teaching. I’ve often seen behavior problems result when students are struggling and just wish the lesson was over. When struggling students who don’t usually act out begin to do so, I see that as my cue to check whether they have been learning and spend more time with that student.
So I’ve begun to depend on some tools that give me feedback in different scenarios.
When I’m presenting, I like to use Nearpod. Nearpod lets students log in on the device of their choice. I can see if they’re participating, ask questions, and get feedback as I’m teaching. Later, I can go back to look at engagement and redesign the lesson based on where students had problems.
This approach is so much better than traditional PowerPoint or Prezi presentations because I am getting accurate feedback on what students really understand. Formative assessment is key.
Video-Based Instruction (Flipped or In-Flipped Learning)
My students receive in-class video instruction because I don’t like to give homework. We prefer to work problems out together, and I also like to see that they’re doing the work. So we use the “in-flip” method of teaching, which means that students are watching the videos in class.
However, during the last seven or eight years of using the in-flip method, I’ve found that students might claim to be done with an eight-minute video in two minutes! If students will ignore a teacher in class, how much easier is it to fast-forward their teacher?
Edpuzzle lets me turn off skipping. Additionally, I can ask questions throughout the video, and students can rewind to see essential content that they may have missed, which will help them successfully answer those questions. Edpuzzle adds formative assessment and shows us the percentage of the video watched by students.
While it pulls in the video from Youtube, I will never go back to just sharing YouTube videos. Students don’t watch them, so I end up doing one-on-one instructions as if I’d never created the lesson plan. In-flip was very difficult before using Edpuzzle. And while some students will still struggle, this method lets you help students who need it while more students use and retain the information.
As you teach and find new tools, adopt classroom management strategies that help you hold students accountable, keep them engaged, and personalize learning for them. It will help.
4. Work the Room
Rare is the person who can drive a car from the back seat. I wouldn’t want to be in the car with them when they did it! Likewise, rare is the teacher who can keep the class making forward progress from their desk chair.
When I have students in my room, I “work the room” and go from desk to desk and speak to and engage students. Some won’t ask questions unless you’re nearby, while others will attempt to have you do so much for them that they don’t have to think and learn. Working the room is a balance.
I’m experimenting with a small metal device that lets me elevate my computer so that I’m already standing and less likely to get engrossed in grading in Google Classroom or answering email. When students are in the room, they are my job!
When I notice that classroom behavior is a problem, it is typically when I’m not as engaged as I need to be.
5. Offer Ways to Earn More Than 100 Points
While you don’t necessarily have to give “bonus” points, gifted students may need other incentives besides a grade. For example, a “hall of fame” for different projects is a way that I reward student excellence and share their best work from previous projects.
Competitions, external “judging” or feedback from classroom guests, and opportunities to greet and meet VIP guests and share their work are all ways to reward excellence and encourage students to go above and beyond the rubric.
Students need things for their transcript that represent a pursuit of excellence in the area that interests them. But sometimes, it’s as simple as giving “Paper Plate Awards” when evaluating student projects or sharing classwork. I’ve found that my students often keep these paper plates when they‘ve been recognized by their peers for something excellent — as well as a source of laughter and fun as we complete difficult projects.
6. Provide Activities for Early Finishers
When personalizing learning and allowing students to move at their own pace, I typically have several students who complete the work rapidly. I have two primary ways to provide activities for early finishers.
As the first choice, I like to encourage students to work on something “cool” where the class needs a breakthrough. For example, I encouraged some of my eighth-grade students to find a 3D modeling program. They’re designing a 3D printer project, and the class will vote on what is to be printed next. Now my other students are wanting to get their regular classwork done early so they can join the excitement.
As the second choice, I like to discuss student personal interests and design a special passion project that the student can work on when they finish early.
7. Cultivate a Positive Parent Partnership
Positive parent relationships start before the first day of class.
First, I work hard on social media to share my attitude and love toward the students I teach. Parents observe and notice teachers who enjoy teaching and are constantly learning. While it would be nice to think that social media is just for personal use, this is the only communication that some parents may read from their child’s teacher. And while you’re not mentioning specific students, your attitude will determine how people evaluate you.
Second, the first communication with parents matters. Communicate simply and directly your expectations and what will be happening in your classroom. When you notice something positive about a child, make sure to share that with parents. Set up a communication medium, such as email or a messaging system, and let parents know what to expect.
Finally, if I do have a behavior issue and feel that it’s necessary to send a child to an administrator, I call the parent. I’m sad to admit that I often sent students to the office in my earlier years of teaching, but now it’s a rarity. I like to call the parent first to let them know what happened and make sure that we’re on the same page.
This has saved me (and my administrators!) so much headache.
Here’s why I’ve found this necessary. Unfortunately, many parents speak negatively about their child’s teachers in front of the child. So when a child is upset or knows that their parent doesn’t care for a particular teacher — or if the child is trying to avoid trouble at home — they will go home (or text mom and dad) telling their own side of the story. While I wish parents would realize that there are at least two sides, many immediately get angry and head for the front office instead of talking with me, the teacher.
Knowing that this is how most homes operate these days, I’ve found it easier to call parents right away to let them know there was an issue and what I’m doing to help behavior improve. While it doesn’t always work and there have been times my principal was involved, I’ve found that the parents I work with are rational and want to do a good job raising their children. It just works so much better when I talk to parents as partners and fellow participants in helping shape a child’s life. We all want respect — students, parents, and teachers. I’ve found that my phone calls help show parents the respect I have for them.
I’ve even spoken with a teacher who would call the parent and put the child on the phone to let them explain what happened. While I haven’t tried this idea, I think it could be helpful for younger children.
8. Leave Comments on Report Cards and Progress Reports
My most treasured report card is from fifth grade. My teacher Mrs. Ginger Collins took the time to write some special comments that were unique to me. Not just “good job” or “great student,” she captured my little fifth-grade self on that report card.
I don’t have the same feeling about those report cards where I just received a number. While I’m happy about the grades, those numbers don’t mean as much to me because I prefer to think of myself as a person, not a number.
That’s why I always work hard to type personal comments on progress reports and report cards, even when this is not required. Parents will read and cherish these. However, if I don’t have anything good to say, I typically won’t write anything. Each comment should represent that child and be the truth. Children will not trust you if you lie. Neither will parents.
This is a part of classroom management because it helps parents and students see that I view each child not as a number but as a precious masterpiece (another reason why my classroom is named Masterpiece Theater).
9. Build Partnerships with Colleagues; Discuss Behavior Issues with Other Teachers
When struggling with a student, I find that it is best to get off the island and connect with other teachers and administrators. This isn’t a Survivor contest between me and my students. We don’t need to vote someone off the island, and it isn’t a “them or me” scenario. We have to peacefully cooperate and learn together.
Most importantly, there may be a problem in the child’s life that’s an underlying reason for the behavior. If it’s appropriate and if I’m able to relate to the child on that issue, that understanding can help improve the behavior.
However, when a behavior problem is happening across several classes, sometimes the other teacher hasn’t let administrators know. Sometimes, though, the other teacher has noticed the behavior and has determined a solution or cause that I can implement and benefit!
10. Make Sure Discipline Is Restorative to Your Relationship
A student skipped my class. I caught them and we had to handle the situation. However, we also had to rebuild trust between us. The student had to help me understand why they skipped, and we needed to move forward.
While it takes time to rebuild trust, there needs to be a pathway to restoration. So when discipline issues happen, depending on the incident, I work hard to lay out a pathway toward rebuilding trust and restoring the relationship. If I realize that there was no relationship to restore, then I work to build one.
Listen to Restorative Justice and Consequences That Actually Improve Behavior, or see the course Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports for Successful Classrooms from Advancement Courses.
11. Be Engaged When Unexpected Problems Happen
When students misbehave, think twice and engage with them.
The turning point in my own journey to successful classroom management happened about 14 years ago when I didn’t give a student what she deserved. On that day, we began class and I gave the assignment. A student who’d never given me a problem blurted out a string of profanity at me. I was shocked, but as I started taking her to the office, something made me pause. She had never behaved that way before. So instead, I took her to a private place outside my classroom door.
I looked at her and said something like, “I don’t know who that was that said that in my classroom just now, but that’s not the <name removed> I know. What did you do with the usual <hame removed> who comes to my classroom each day and gets to work and has never given me any disrespect? Help me understand what is going on and what happened to her.”
Immediately, she started crying and told me that her parents were getting divorced. She had just found out that morning! She was angry and needed someone to talk to, and she was glad I asked. After we took a moment, I sent her to the bathroom to get herself back together.
I told her that it was rare for me to let such things slide, but that if her regular self would keep coming to class, then we would move on. However, if she repeated that kind of behavior, it would be double punishment.
The grace and love built our relationship to a safe, encouraging space. While I recall that she didn’t do much for me that day (understandably), she continued to be a very strong student in my class, and we had a great relationship and mentorship. And this was all because I cared and backed up when shocking behavior happened.
This has happened so many times in my 17-year teaching career. I’m so glad I paused that day.
12. Seek Advice
When I’ve struggled in my teaching career, I’ve sought out “the pros.” Perhaps a teacher, as I stated earlier, has had success with a particular student. Or maybe the teacher is just amazing at what they do and I can turn to them. Once I even asked a teacher to come in and observe my class to help me understand. A seat change with one student made all the difference!
I don’t seek out the kind of teacher who knows they’re amazing and wants to look better than every other teacher. Instead, I look for the kind who loves both students and teachers. They’re out there and they can change your life. I want to be that kind of teacher as well.
13. Film Yourself Teaching
There have been times I was my own consultant. When I’m having a problem, I would rather discover it than have someone else find it. So it helps to set up a camera or phone on a tripod to film the class and watch myself later. While watching oneself can feel painful, it’s helpful as well.
14. Learn From Classroom Management Experts
Taking courses can also help:
15. Bring Your Personal Passions to Classroom (And Let Your Students Bring Theirs)
As a judge of the Global Teacher Prize from the Varkey Foundation, I am astounded each year to note that the top teachers in the world each bring their own passions and excitement to the classroom. It really hit me in 2017 when I noticed Raymond Chambers, who dances in his classroom. Then I started thinking of the many teachers I’ve interviewed on my various podcasts since 2014. Zombies, Jazz, Fairies, Super Mario and just about anything that teachers love is being used to teach.For me, my PLN and social networks bring experts and other classrooms to the forefront of learning.
Having interests is part of being interesting. Now, I’m not saying that you drone on an on about your collection of drones — unless you can tie that part of you to a lesson. However, when you share your interests, your passion comes through, and that can make students more likely to share their own passions with you.
Every student should have a reason to want to come to school. Don’t you want it to be your class?
16. Fight Monotony
A frustrated IT Director once told me that she would teach a new app or tool each month and then EVERYONE would start using it. She was so frustrated because after the second week of the “new” tool, the new was worn off and kids complained of being bored. This is a big reason why I advocate “Innovating Like a Turtle.”
In this approach, we encourage teachers to find a unique tool that will help them teach. Then, they share it with other teachers.
Teachers can also innovate by letting students find tools and bring them to class. I also love the Iron Chef model or Quizziz approaches to use cooperative or jigsaw learning to help kids engage as they learn. Sometimes I intentionally look for boredom and work to be surprising.
17. Set Expectations
Early in my teaching career, I would invite behavior problems simply by setting expectations the wrong way. When introducing a unit, I used to say, “This is going to be fun” or “You’re going to love this.”
Wrong. When kids didn’t think it was fun or didn’t love it, they used that as an excuse to act out. Now if I have students say something about a difficult task, I work hard to set expectations for my class and for life. Note that my class is often fun and we do laugh a lot. However, I’m not here to entertain them, I’m here to teach. If we entertain or amuse ourselves by learning, then all the better.
Of course, we all get bored in life sometimes. Some things are hard. None of us are going to love everything. But someone will love something about most any lesson. That’s how life works out.
Whatever you love or don’t love in the classroom, do your best and pursue the task with excellence. When one comes up against a difficult task and learns to persist and find joy in the journey, it’s practice for joyfully meeting difficulties later in life.
There! I’ve just given you some of the expectations that I set for students. I also set expectations that we will be “World-Class and God-Honoring” in my classroom. That’s because a person could be a World-Class liar, gambler, or something else not necessarily honorable. World-Class is defined by what you’re doing, not whether you’re doing it well or not.
The expectation speeches that you give your students become part of your classroom culture. If they can understand why you do what you do and why you’re leading them in a certain way, they will be better participants in the learning journey.
18. Relate Classwork to Real-World Work
When a student is deciding if they are going to “tune out” a certain subject, they’ll usually begin with, “How am I going to use this in real life?” This is an honest and fair question and one that deserves an honest and fair answer.
Yes, we have to relate before we educate — as a person.
But when we relate a subject to real life, we improve our ability to educate all of our students. Face it, some students are motivated by grades. Others — often those who view themselves as realists — see school as just a wall they have to get around on their way to real life. When you show them that education is gasoline to fire their engine and help them become turbo charged in the race of life, they are more likely to tackle your subject with rev.
19. Have Fun and Laugh
A day in the classroom without a good belly laugh is a missed opportunity. While humor is something that you have to use carefully (jokes making fun of individuals, groups, or those with disabilities just aren’t funny), humor can make a difference in your classroom.
I find that laughing at myself frees us up to get more creative. Sometimes I add humor to the quiz questions that are part of my class presentations or show memes in the presentation. I also load funny memes into their Quizziz deck of questions. When I find something funny or have something funny happen, I’ll tell those stories. I also like to tell funny stories and encourage students to do so as well because storytelling is an important part of the digital film classes that I teach.
We use humor to diffuse difficult situations. For example, I had a rough day in digital film and was a bit cranky on a film set. The next day, I had to apologize but asked, “When someone is cranky or fussy, what can we do to help the situation improve?”
One of my students said he would be right back and returned with a memory-foam pink unicorn. He said, “We can just give this to the person, and they can squeeze it until they feel better.”
And another student added, “Yes, it can be our unicorn of unity.”
We laughed hilariously. Now, when someone is having a challenging day, they’ll come into the room and ask for the unicorn, and we all laugh. Or if a person is a bit of a challenge on a film shoot, another student may offer to go get it. This little silly squishy unicorn has added an element of laughter to what could become tense and challenging situations.
20. Stay in Tune With Student Moods
Each day when students enter the classroom, I speak to each one using their name. I also address the empty chair and ask about students who are absent. I ask students to message each other and to let the person who is out know that I missed him/her and that I hope he/she is OK.
I’m so glad that I do this. I had a class come in one day, and I could sense stress but they didn’t say what was wrong, so we got started and I greeted each student. When I asked about an empty chair, a pale, quivering student blurted out, “She had a wreck on the way to school and she’s on the way to the hospital! They just told us and sent us to your class”
So, we stopped for a moment and talked about it. Then I changed the graphic design lesson to give students the option to make cards for their friend. Others just needed a moment to decompress. I was so much closer to this class and the situation because of staying in tune with their moods. Connecting with every student and asking how they are doing is one of my most indispensable techniques for classroom management.
21. Pay Special Attention to Those Who Struggle
Some students really struggle, particularly those who learn differently. (Note that I abhor the term “learning disability” and choose “learning differences” as the way I discuss how children learn. My mentor Grace Adkins, a pioneer in helping kids with special needs, taught me this and has drilled it into my vocabulary.)
As I notice students who struggle, I work to expose them to a variety of software, tools, self-regulation techniques, and tactics to help them learn and improve. Sometimes behavior is a signal to me that they need to take a walk or run an errand. As I learn about my students, I start recognizing behavior before it becomes a problem. For example, I have a boy who stands up abruptly when he reaches his limit. If I send him to get a drink of water (just once or twice a week), he returns and is ready to go.
As a mom of three, including two who learn differently, I appreciate those teachers who learn how to “read” children who struggle and not push at them when they need a moment to let off steam.
22. Always Be Open to Learning Something New
Recently, I listened to an episode of the Harvard Business Review Podcast called “Avoiding the Expertise Trap.” In the show, researcher Sydney Finkelstein shared the traps of being knowledgeable, including thinking you know it all and no longer being curious, and also thinking that expertise in one area means you know everything about another area.
In my experience, I have found “know-it-alls” to struggle with either their students or colleagues or sometimes both. Unfortunately, I’ve fallen into this trap before only to have my students behave in such a way to humble me to my core.
“Because I said so,” is not a classroom management strategy that has worked very well for me in the past. While there is a place for authority, there is a place for being humble and open-minded to learn new things.
And there I’ll leave you with classroom management.
Classroom management is a valuable skill for teachers without which it is difficult to teach. Classroom management can be the Holy Grail that transforms everyone’s classroom experience — your students’ and your own — from one of confusion and frustration to one of joy and excitement when combined with excellent content knowledge and passion.
You can do it! And I hope that I’ve given you some ideas to get there.