Effective Classroom Management is one of the most important, but crucially, most neglected parts of Teacher Training. Even though millions of teachers are desperate to learn how to handle their classes, desperate to be in control of their students, and desperate not to feel that sense of anxiety when going to school each day.
The lack of classroom management is the main reason that most teachers leave the profession, and nobody out there shows them how to control their classes.
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Common Classroom Management Advice
As a teacher, I have made it my life’s mission to make content that helps teachers. In this article, I want to share the best classroom management tips and one secret idea that nobody out there is telling you about. I believe that this one piece of advice will take your understanding of classroom dynamics and classroom control to the next level. You will understand exactly why students misbehave and how to deal with it, giving you ultimate confidence when teaching your classes.
First – I will go through the most common classroom management advice given to teachers. Following that, I will share what I believe to be the fundamental key that separates teachers that struggle with discipline in the classroom, from teachers with good classroom management skills.
Forming a bond
Building relationships is the first and most common piece of advice that most teachers receive. Ask your students questions about their lives and activities. The theory is that if students know you are interested in who they are and create a connection with them, they will come to like and respect you for caring about their lives, and will be less likely to misbehave.
Sure—forming a bond with your students is a great idea, but this approach does not stop some students from acting out and misbehaving in class. Many teachers have tried to make friends, only to find that the students misbehave and challenge them, showing no remorse. You try to be nice and kind, and they still misbehave and treat you like you are nothing. The ‘friendship theory’ also doesn’t explain why other teachers have complete control over their classes, despite never forming a personal connection with their students.
You know the ones; they are strict and only focus on the work at hand. They don’t care about their students yet still maintain discipline and get work done, with no questions about feelings.
Rules and Procedures
One of the leaders in classroom management, Harry Wong, stresses in his work the need for teachers to set up class rules and exact procedures for students to follow. That way, students know what is expected of them and clearly understand what to do and how to behave in class. I 100% agree that you should set up rules for your students to follow, they should understand the consequences of their actions, i.e. punishment, and be given thorough procedures so that everyone knows how to act in class.
Proven advice for new teachers:
Many teachers believe students should take part in creating classroom rules, but while it may be a nice class exercise, is no guarantee of whether the students will stick to those rules long term. You will get the same results by creating thorough rules, explaining them, and having the students accept those rules and you don’t have to waste time making the students “come up” with classroom procedures.
- Don’t make too many rules.
- Place them on a wall for students to see.
- Send the rules home in a letter to parents to sign and return.
- Explain the punishments and make sure the students agree.
- Regularly review the rules and roleplay the procedures in the first few weeks.
- Procedures should include how they enter class, start lessons, take notes, take part in activities, classroom behavior, moving around, working in groups, cleaning up and leaving class.
New teachers often share rules, but the rules soon get challenged, and conflict becomes more common. The teachers get challenged by students with strong personalities and a month later find themselves in classes that are unbearably out of control.
Their rules and procedures simply got stretched until it broke and their classroom management is left in shambles.
Modeling Ideal Behavior
Learners notice way more than we think. How you act in class will most likely be copied by the learners as they see what you do and how you act. But, let me make it abundantly clear, strong-minded students don’t care what a weak teacher says or thinks. They will actively do things to trigger you instead of modeling your good behavior. Be strong, kind and helpful in class because that is what good people should do. But don’t be disillusioned, the fact that if you act like a saint does not mean that they will follow. Unless you come from a place of power, they will not follow where you try to lead.
Consistency and Fairness
Human beings are keenly aware of fairness in social situations. Nothing quite gets us as upset as when we are treated unfairly and therefore teachers need to be consistent in the way that they apply the rules. When punishing students, make sure they understand it is not you versus them, it is them versus the rules—they have behaved in a way that broke the rules and thus receive the previously agreed-to punishment.
Also, never make it a you-versus-them argument. They should never see you as the enemy; you are merely the arbiter of justice. To do this, make sure to tell them that you are punishing the undesired behavior. You like them, but you want them to behave appropriately in class and change the unwanted actions that got them into trouble in the first place.
Crafty students will try to play on your emotions—they will attempt to sway you by saying things like, “Sir, it was only this once. / You are being unfair, you would never punish Betty like this./ Why do you pick on me? / It wasn’t even that bad.” They may try to manipulate you by swearing that they will never do it again. Next, they will fake anger and claim injustice at their treatment. Do not waver—they really don’t care about these things. Those are lies to manipulate and sway your judgment. So, if you are inconsistent, you will definitely lose control of your class.
But that still isn’t the magic cure to classroom management—Why? You have seen teachers that cannot be bargained with. They are strict and have no time for squabbles. Their word is law, and even if they are unjust, students don’t dare criticize them. In this view, we know that consistency is not the sole panacea for classroom control.
Practical Classroom Management Advice
The following aspects are what I believe to be the fundamental practices that separates teachers that struggle with discipline in the classroom, from teachers with good classroom management skills.
Display strong Body Language
The best teachers are unafraid to express themselves in their body language. We can see them as confident and decisive, the kind of body language that leaders use to show that they are serious and not to be pushed around.
Stand upright. Take up space, especially in the front of the class. Keep eye contact with your students until they look away. Slow down your movements, broaden your stance and shoulders. Weak teachers appear jittery and move too quickly. Confidence is slow and methodical.
Speak slowly and clearly. Vary intonation and speed of your voice. Do not be reactive—don’t immediately spin in the direction of someone asking you a question, take your time… Your time is precious, make them wait for you. Students interpret this as a sign of a strong leader.
Let students follow you whenever you walk outside. Don’t be afraid to get into their personal space to show your leadership, but don’t scare and intimidate shy students. Bend down to speak to small children so that they don’t feel dominated.
Wait for silence before you speak to show that your words are important and keep your instructions clear and simple.
These body language tips will help you become a more confident person and a better teacher. But it is still not the greatest tool in classroom management. Why? Because even after learning body language tips, teachers still run into difficult classes. Why does classroom management remain such an issue after they’ve learned and started implemented stronger body language?
Because it is the mindset behind the body language that is important, not the body language itself. Until they have gained real confidence, such new teachers will continue to struggle when it comes to classroom management.
Use every minute
Plan your classes and structure them completely. Most classes won’t have any issues if you offer a valuable educational experience. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Every minute in class should be used wisely. Have additional activities ready in case the ones you have don’t work or activities are completed quicker than expected.
Have backup tasks and plan ahead for any probabilities. Create fun interactive lessons where students feel like they are receiving a significant amount of value by being there. Keep instruction active, activities interactive, content related to the students and their interests. A lot of unwanted behavior occurs because students don’t understand what to do.
Keep things simple, make sure everyone understands exactly what you want and how to do it, then get them started before walking around and checking on each individual or group. Gamify the classroom to keep things fun and active. Students should always have something to do, once they finish their work they should know exactly what to do next so that they are always occupied.
They should not be in a rush to finish and once they do, let them do the next work on their own. Have extra worksheets and readers available for students that finish early. Also set procedures for students that were absent to collect work from the class captain so that they don’t depend on you to be informed and use being absent as an excuse not to do the work. Teachers have to automate their classes; that frees them to focus on other priorities.
Being prepared shows the students that you are serious about the classes and the fact that they are constantly occupied with challenging, but interesting work will keep them too busy to cause a nuisance. Idle hands are devil’s play and all that. But, the truth is that even the best-planned classes will not work unless you can get the students to buy in and do the work.
If you have all these valuable materials, activities, and lectures planned, but no one is willing to sit still and listen, then it is utterly pointless. Unless you can manage your classroom effectively, students won’t be able to fully experience the great education you have planned for them.
Controlling the ebb and flow of student energy inside a classroom is rarely mentioned. This is something that is used with younger students in kindergarten and elementary school. Teachers use energizers and settlers to stay in control of their classes. To get rid of excess energy, teachers play energetic games or do chants—they get the kids moving and active to spend that pent-up energy, then calm them down and give them time to rest by reading a story or another calming activity.
It is impossible to only do fun activities that create energy—students become exhausted and get into fights. On the other hand, no classroom with young kids can only do relaxing activities such as drawing and story-time for every class. Even though students have different energy levels and preferences, teachers still motivate kids to take part in both types of activities. That way, they stay in control and have better classroom management than teachers that don’t understand classroom energy.
The manipulation of energy in the classroom extends to all age levels. If you control the way students spend their energy, you control the class. Manage classroom energy by doing energizing activities at one point, and relaxing activities at the next. By managing the flow of energy, you can direct them to the task at hand and help them release energy when it becomes pent up.
Start viewing your classes as an energy line. Begin your class with tons of positive energy, have a fun activity to start, or tell an interesting story to pique their attention. Once the warmup is over, you move on to instruction now that their energy is spent and it is easier for them to focus on what is being said.
Then challenge them with another engaging activity to re-engage their attention. Once that is done, do a calm review of what they have learned and finally, end the class with a fun class-ending game or discussion to make them leave on a high note and look forward to the next class. Energy control is very important but not well understood.
Many teachers prefer having a quiet, low-key class where work is done in silence, which is almost impossible to engage all your learners. Unless the content is riveting, some will rebel by misbehaving or acting out. Understand the needs of your classes, because although energy manipulation is very important, it is not the key to classroom management.
Positive reinforcement plays a crucial part in getting students to behave properly in class. By praising them when they do something well, you are communicating that you expect to see more of that behavior. When students misbehave they are punished with words of disappointment and are thus motivated to do better in the future. Some teachers also have extrinsic motivators such as candy, starts and negative ones like demerits to get students to fall in line.
That is all well and nice, but we all know that treats and kind words are only temporary. If a child wants to act out, they will. Treats become mandatory instead of a reward, causing them to act out if they are spoiled. If you do not firmly communicate the rules, boundaries and expectations of classroom behavior, students will pounce and behave poorly in class.
Set High Expectations
I have very high and positive expectations of ALL my students. I believe that they are hardworking and capable of reaching their goals. I treat them with that expectation and also instill in them the belief that they are fundamentally good students that behave well and treat me and their classmates with respect.
They want to live up to that ideal and act in a way to validate my belief in them. But before we can make someone believe in something, we’ve got to believe it ourselves. We need to be friendly, without becoming a people pleaser, and strict without turning into rigid disciplinarians.
The best classes in the world are those where there is a sense of community. The camaraderie between classmates motivates them to work together and accomplish common goals. Everyone knows what to do in those classes and actively work together to preserve peace in the class and pursue success. When this happens in a classroom, it is pure magic, a teacher can sit back and allow the students to do all the heavy lifting.
This is very rare, but when it happens, teaching is truly a blessing. Question is, how can we achieve this? It’s not easy, but students need to find a common purpose, understand the rules, and benefit by succeeding in their studies. As the teacher, you can assist this process by brainwashing students with daily mantras like respect, consideration, group unity, inclusivity and focus. Every day you remind them what you want in class and direct them to pursue positive outcomes. They self-regulate and bad apples are pushed aside until they become compliant.
This is the holy grail of teaching a class and many variables have to go right for it to work. The biggest requirement is that the leaders in class have to be good kids to guide the majority Unfortunately, the reality of the world is that disruptive kids often stand out because they crave attention, and even if they were confronted by good students, they would remain outcasts and interrupters, to gain the validation they desire.
Setting expectations can only get you so far.
Be the Strong Leaders of the Class
Nothing in a class is as important as classroom management. If you cannot control your class, they will not learn. You will hate teaching those classes and students will hardly ever finish or try to perform well in class. They are preoccupied with acting out, and challenging you. That class is like a zoo and they are acting accordingly.
No child wants to be in that situation. No child likes the feeling of chaos—They want to learn, they want to be in a safe, positive environment. Unfortunately, you are the reason they are acting out. Your inexperience, attitude, and misguided teacher training are the reasons causing your students to misbehave and now I will share the information; the secret to controlling your classes.
The secret to classroom management is this: You have to be the king of the kingdom. The absolute authority, a giant tower of strength. You cannot control a class only by techniques and tricks. You cannot guilt them into obeying you. The only way is by developing yourself and using a boss mentality built around classroom management principles.
Your classes will never succeed unless you become the strongest possible leader in your class. Students look to you for leadership and you are letting them down if you do not give them the strongest version of you. You are a failure as a teacher until you accept that you need to be a ruthless dictator when the situation calls for it, or a kind caretaker when your subjects need it. Your strength and leadership as an individual determine your classroom management.
People are constantly looking for a cheap way out, a magic bullet or cure-all to give them control of their class. There is no such thing. Accept the responsibility, toughen up, and be prepared to grow through adversity.
The tribe testing leadership
Let me explain:
Humans come from a tribal society. For thousands of years, people lived in small communities where survival depended on the leadership of a chief. Be it a patriarch or matriarch – the strength of the leader decided where to go, what to do, how to get food, avoid danger – in fact survive. If they weren’t strong, the tribe would most likely die out.
To make sure that the best person was chosen as the leader, members of the tribe would constantly test the leader in small ways. It wouldn’t be outright challenges, but small tests to determine the strength, character and resolve of the leader. For every test that the leader failed, other members would become wary and apply more pressure until the situation became so bad, that a new leader took over. That way, the strongest leader was in charge, giving the tribe the best chance of survival.
In today’s world, we don’t have tribes anymore. Teachers are placed in charge of a young tribe without having to earn it. Young students who aren’t yet fully developed and unable to rationalize their behavior, but instinctively have a tribalistic need to follow a powerful leader, so they test teachers to make sure that teacher is fit to lead them.
This is even more evident in difficult communities or students with tough past experiences. If they were without strong role models while growing up, they are even more likely to distrust those around them. To make sure that you are the best possible teacher for them, they will test and revolt absolutely. To win their trust, you have to show them that you are a strong leader that will bring value to their lives.
That is why students from so-called good families are usually much easier to teach. They come from a safe environment that has taught them that by listening to authority figures, they will be okay. On the flip side, students from bad backgrounds distrust the people meant to protect them, so they have to do it themselves.
What has this got to do with teaching? See, the problem is that most teachers are by nature good students. Most teachers aren’t trendsetters, they weren’t natural leaders while growing up and didn’t rock the boat when they were young. They were probably good at school, loved teachers themselves and obeyed authority. But now that they are placed in a position of power where they have to lead a class… They fail.
They have never been a leader, they have never learned the skills to be in control of a group of people and now have to figure it out. And it is possible, that is why it takes experience to control people, perhaps by using some of the ideas I have previously described, but most likely out of trail and error. Through all the years of obstacles they have overcome and the classes they have taught, good teachers have become powerful leaders. But unfortunately, they are unable to explain why they are better teachers in classroom management.
So how can you take this information and apply it in the classroom to control your students? Simple—you’ve got to work on your mindset to become the boss in class. You are the king and the class is your domain.
You don’t need to put fear in their hearts, but you need the strength to guide them.
Imagine yourself as the king of your kingdom. Your people will follow you when they are assured that you can protect them, to bring them value.
Have a king mentality. Be a leader—be kind, but firm. This is your land. You want your subjects to succeed and live in a happy environment. If they don’t live by your rules, they will be treated more severely—they need to trust you that you can take care of them. That is why they test you, to make sure that you are the one to take care of them.
But Eric, you might say, “They should blindly follow me because I am the teacher. Why should I get tested by my students?”
Here is why—You need to change your mindset. Stop seeing it as a negative when students test you, see it as a positive. “I love to get tested by kids in my classrooms!”
Because every time a student tests you by misbehaving and you pass it by acting like the classroom boss, you are getting stronger and gaining more authority in their eyes. Don’t intentionally push them to get tested, but embrace it with a smile.
A summary of the fundamentals
Let’s look at all the other tips mentioned before, to understand the fundamental reason they work:
- A king who loves is loved. Care for your subordinates and they will care for you.
- All kingdoms have rules. The people that live in them have to obey. If they don’t, the king will punish them.
- Model ideal behavior—The king is the hardest worker in the kingdom. Set an example for your students to aspire towards.
- Be consistent—A fair king is a respected king. By applying the rules justly, your students will grow in admiration for you.
- Royalty moves in a way that shows that they have authority. Use your voice and body language to communicate what words can’t.
- Be prepared—A king is only as good as the value he provides the people in his care. Prepare for your lessons and provide a great learning experience for your students.
- Classroom energy—A king must understand the spirit of his people. Control the way they feel by providing them fun when needed, and calmness at other times.
- Praise and reward your subjects when they do something right.
- Give your people a common purpose to strive for. You don’t need to put fear into their hearts, but give them hope to win their hearts and minds.
- Create a collective that studies together.
These words mean nothing unless you put them into action. Be prepared to be tested by your students, and aim to be the most powerful leader you can possibly be.
It will be tough, but if you apply these principles and never give up, you will succeed and eventually become the best teacher you were meant to be.
I hope this provides you with some value when thinking about classroom management.
Please consider sharing this with other teachers who might benefit from it.