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Classroom Management Tips for Using Proximity Control

Jordan Catapano

The essence of good classroom management consists of a balance between a firm expectation of behavior and a relaxed, relationship-oriented bond with students. The teacher with effective classroom management finds the appropriate balance between being strict enough to extract the best possible outcomes from their students while still maintaining a positive relational bond that ensures students know they are cared about and not pushed to an extreme.

There are a number of tools and techniques teachers can employ to help them strike this balance. One particular technique that has proven simple and effective is the use of proximity control – the idea that simply being physically near students improves their behavior and focus.

Why Proximity Control Works as Classroom Management

Some people falsely put more emphasis on the word “control” and shy away from using this connotation in their classroom. The active ingredient in this term, however, is “proximity.” Often, all it takes for students to self-correct their behavior, improve their focus, actively engage on a task, or enhance their outcome is their teacher to be physically close to them.

One of the main reasons why proximity control works is because students become hyperaware of the teacher’s presence and the implicit standard that presence demands of them. When the teacher is at the front of the classroom talking to all students, then no particular individual or group feels “singled out.” If instead the teacher stands close to a few students, those students feel that slightly more specific attention is directed towards them, and adjust their behaviors in a way that better fits the teacher’s expectations.

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Fortunately, it takes very little training to use proximity control, and it is an easy, passive way of targeting specific students for a few moments. Just apply a few of these tips to best use this proximity control technique in your classroom.

Ways To Use Proximity Control Effectively

Stand Close, But Don’t Hover: When using proximity control, stand close enough to students so they are aware of your presence. Make your presence known, but don’t be so intrusive or prolonged that you make students uncomfortable. This is not about “getting in their face” so much as about giving a physical reminder of what on-task behavior ought to be. Also, you don’t have to single out individuals by solely targeting them. Let yourself be present near certain individuals, but wander throughout the room so that they don’t begin to think of the teacher as intrusive or unwelcome.

Stay on Your Feet: During periods of instruction when it is necessary to ensure students remain focused on particular elements, keep yourself mobile. This enables you to identify a student or group that needs mild redirection and quickly relocate yourself to their vicinity. This also enables you to quickly get to another area of the classroom when a different individual may require redirection.

Make Yourself Available: Proximity control isn’t just about turning a negative behavior into a positive one. It’s about turning good behaviors into great ones, too. Students are more likely to ask questions, seek feedback, or even just focus harder when their teacher is nearby. So use proximity control to your advantage by making yourself available to students who might not go that extra step were the teacher further away.

Set the Expectation Early: Proximity control works because the teacher’s physical presence is a reminder of on-task behavior or the expected standard of conduct. If there has not been an established expectation, then the teacher’s presence would have little effect. Expectations for students should be set early on in the school year and verbally reinforced during instruction – this way when the teacher shows up next to a student’s desk, that student already knows how they ought to behave and what the teacher’s redirection means for them.

Avoid Using Words: Words are great, but if your class is already talking about something else, then stopping the conversation to address one specific student’s behavior may be more counteractive than beneficial. Let your presence do the talking, and add words only if it becomes entirely necessary to do so.

The Benefits of Proximity Control

Not only is using proximity control free and easy, but it helps sustain some important components in your classroom.

  • It preserves student’s dignity and confidence. When you stop class to “call out” a student in front of their peers, this is a stressful and embarrassing experience to undergo as a student.
  • It redirects students in a respectful and effective way. This method reinforces fairness and respect for students, adjusting their behavior with a positive sense of presence rather than a negative use of words.
  • It maintains your flow of work or instruction. Instead of hitting the pause button and momentarily distracting the class with a reprimand, proximity control redirects individual students without disrupting the current focus of the class.
  • It helps you know what’s going on. Not only does being close to students redirect them, but you can acquire a firsthand over-the-shoulder view of what students are engaged with throughout your room.
  • It reinforces the standards of your classroom. Similar to when drivers start braking their cars when a cop passes by, all students within the sphere of your proximity commit a quick self-assessment to determine how their current behavior aligns with the stated expectations.

Considering how easy and effective good proximity control can be, it’s almost a given that the effective teacher will employ this simple technique in their classroom. So as you look for ways to respectfully redirect student attention and subtly reinforce your high standards, get on your feet and make yourself physical present around your students!

How and when do you use proximity control in your classroom?

Jordan Catapano is a high school English teacher in a Chicago suburb. In addition to being National Board Certificated and head of his school’s Instructional Development Committee, he also has worked with the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and has experience as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish.

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