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Top 12 Classroom Management Dos and Don’ts

John G. Gabriel

Classroom Management TipsDoes this sound familiar?

You labored all night creating a thoughtful, engaging lesson. You were confident that your students would enjoy it, only to have your excitement—and theirs—dashed by the antics of a handful of students.

You spent all your time writing names on the board, calling out troublemakers’ names, and “ssshh-ing” them. You’re exhausted, irritated—both with them and yourself—and dispirited because you didn’t get through everything you needed to. Crushed, you don’t even want to think about planning for the next day, let alone doing it all again in your next class.

Learning simply cannot occur alongside misbehavior, so instruction hinges upon classroom management. Effective teachers are effective classroom managers. It’s essential that you handle disruptions in a non-confrontational manner, reinforcing rather than undermining your authority.

Instead of pulling your hair out in frustration, give these Classroom Management “Dos” and “Don’ts” a try:

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Classroom Management Dos

1. Establish Rapport
Rapport with students reduces misbehavior because students want to please you. By greeting students at the door with a simple “hello” and a “goodbye” after class, you demonstrate care. Nurture relationships by taking an interest in students’ lives.

Talk with them about their likes, dislikes, hobbies and interests, and then find appropriate ways to share in them. Providing positive recognition and calling on a range of students can also help build rapport and minimize disruptions.

2. Achieve Consensus on Rules
Developing rules with students also creates rapport. It expresses that you value them as partners in the classroom while also establishing expectations. By facilitating a discussion about what constitutes acceptable behavior and why it is needed, you give students a sense of ownership. Limit rules to 3-5 and be sure they are specific and visible.

3. Utilize Proximity
When students engage in off-task behavior, simply moving in their direction or standing near them sends a message that you are aware of what they are doing and don’t condone it. Proximity preserves instruction and students’ dignity while helping you monitor what students are doing.

4. Use Mobility
Many teachers are attached to the blackboard. While students in the front might be engaged, a larger majority are free to tune out. Instructing from different places in the room throughout class keeps students on-task and discourages off-task behavior. Some teachers configure their room in a way that makes mobility impossible, so be sure to have a room arrangement that encourages movement to all areas.

5. Try Non-verbals
If you can’t move toward a misbehaving student, try some nonverbal cues. Sometimes a well-practiced “look” can redirect him. Holding eye contact with him is another simple way without calling attention to him. In other instances, a well-placed pause in your instruction or directions can refocus students because there is a noticeable break in what was occurring. Hand signals and gestures work too.

6. Create Structure
A classroom lacking organization encourages off-task behavior. The more structure you introduce, the more likely your students will exhibit positive behavior. Additionally, the more familiar your students are with routines, the less likely they are to find “down time” to engage in misbehavior.

7. Offer Rewards
Many teachers experience success by implementing reward systems in their class. You could reward individuals or the entire class with small tokens, prizes, or privileges for exhibiting positive behavior or staying on task.

8. Call Early, Call Often
Don’t delay calling home. The behavior will not eventually correct itself. You only invite more trouble by postponing calls. Communicating early and often increases the chance of eliminating misbehavior and fostering parent relationships. When you call, invite parents’ help by saying something like, “Susan has been talking a lot in class; can you help me by discussing with her why this is inappropriate?"

Classroom Management Don’ts

9. Refer Every Infraction
Disciplinary referrals should be the exception, not the rule. Reserve them for major infractions, not minor ones like side-talking, off-task behavior, or being unprepared for class. When you refer students for these kinds of infractions, you convey the message:  “I don’t know how to deal with you, so I need someone to do it for me.” In essence, you hand over control of your classroom.

10. Redirect Students with Questions
Avoid calling on a student to answer a question when he is off-task. Instructional questioning is to assess learning, but redirection through questioning embarrasses the student and calls attention to him in a negative way. If you need to redirect a student, consider “reminding” the student by saying:  “We’re on question 5 right now,” “I need you to respect everyone’s right to learn,” or another statement that reinforces your expectations.

11. Publicly Discipline
Many believe that giving consequences in front of the class “sets an example.” The example you are setting, though, is that you are willing to embarrass a child. While you might feel a sense of control by publicly disciplining a student, he loses dignity in the process. Although you might win a small battle, you unconsciously create a larger struggle: he’ll want to save face, leading to more off-task behavior or direct provocations. Instead, talk with him quietly at his desk once everyone is working or motion him outside for a conference.

12. Lose Control
The moment you lose control of your emotions, you lose control of the class. You’ve unwittingly shown students what buttons to push. Losing control takes a variety of forms, including insisting on having the last word, saying something regrettable, or crying. Instead, learn to take a deep breath and emotionally detach yourself from the behavior or words, making sure your emotions don’t register on your face.

Classroom management challenges all educators. Observing colleagues for additional tips and techniques will certainly help you hone your craft. Remember: consistency and firmness—always balanced by fairness—will ultimately cause your students to respect you and their learning environment.

Further Classroom Management Reading

The Educator’s Guide to Preventing and Solving Discipline Problems by Boynton, Mark and Christine Boynton
Discipline with Dignity by Curwin, R. L. and Mendler, A. N.

How to Help Your School Thrive Without Breaking the Bank by Gabriel, John G. and Farmer, Paul C.

Tools for Teaching by Jones, Fred

Classroom Instruction that Works: Research-based Strategies for Every Teacher by Marzano, Robert J

Share your classroom management do's & don'ts in the comments section!