For a classroom teacher, everything begins and ends with classroom management. Effectively managing classroom behavior can be the difference between having a bad lesson and a great lesson. For many teachers, it can be the difference between enjoying their job and hating their job. There is tons of research out there, yet classroom management is consistently one of the biggest struggles teachers have.
So, how can you improve your classroom management?
1. Seating charts and arrangements
The first task a new teacher needs to accomplish is creating a seating arrangement that is conducive to limiting classroom disruptions. If possible, have your desks organized in a way where students are facing the front and not each other. Many people come up with “cool” and “inventive” ways to organize and group students, but if you can’t manage behavior in that arrangement then it is not good for your classroom.
Also, ensure students are not sitting with their friends. It may take you a while to figure out which groups don’t work. If you need help figuring this out observe your students at lunch. As a general rule of thumb: don’t allow students to sit next to the same people they do at lunch in class.
2. Make lessons engaging
If you have a class of easily distracted students, standing in the front of your class and lecturing will lead to classroom management issues. This will definitely be true if you are not a naturally engaging speaker.
It’s a lot easier to manage classrooms during lessons if there is a way for students to engage with the content. This can be as simple as using guided notes or doing turn and talks. Either way, sitting silently and listening is a recipe for disaster.
3. Build relationships
Managing the behavior of difficult students does not start when the lesson begins. It begins before they even walk into the room. While the phrase, “You don’t have to like me, but you will respect me” sounds good in theory… it’s significantly easier if students do like you. You don’t have to be your students’ best friend, but building a relationship goes a long way towards generating buy-in for class.
If building relationships is something that doesn’t come naturally to you, then try using the 4:1 ratio. The idea is that for every one negative comment you make, you give four positive or reinforcement comments. It’s not easy for difficult students, particularly ones you see only once throughout the day, but it is a proven technique.
4. Ignore inconsequential behavior
Teachers need to pick their battles. Not every classroom behavior requires a redirection. Figuring out which ones do and don’t is half the battle. An inconsequential behavior is any behavior that does not significantly impact the learning environment and behaviors that are likely to go away in a few seconds.
For example, a student in the first row is tapping a pencil. This may be slightly annoying, but it also probably doesn’t impact anybody negatively and will likely stop in a matter of seconds. You could redirect the student but that would likely be a bigger redirection than the actual behavior itself, especially if it triggers a back and forth argument between the teacher and the student.
Is that student leaning backward in his or her chair off and on really worth stopping your train of thought or lesson delivery? Probably not.
5. Find your personal style
Often times well-meaning principals will tell new teachers to watch another teacher in order to get better. This is a good idea; however, it’s important to realize that not every teacher will have the same management style. Everything doesn’t work for every teacher.
In general, it’s not a good idea to yell at students, but you will likely see one or two teachers who are able to do it effectively, particularly teachers who live in that community or coach at the school…but that doesn’t mean yelling would work for you.
You have to find your style and what works for you. This will require trial and error. But if you are intentional about learning what works and what doesn’t, over time you will get better. The secret is actually adjusting your teaching based on your observations of what worked and didn’t work. If you stay the same the whole year, don’t be surprised if your students do not change too.
It would be great if students always walked into your classroom ready to learn. It would be even better if they did what you asked simply because you asked. In most schools, this is not the case. Therefore, you need to use effective classroom management strategies to get your class or classes to where you want them to be.