The key to a well-run classroom isn’t magic, even when it looks like it is. Most of it lies in having good relationships with your students, but some of it must be learned. Reading about classroom management techniques, asking other teachers what they do, and even talking with your principal about what they have observed can help. Here’s what to consider in your quest for classroom management excellence—which, by the way, is a never-ending quest!
1. Build relationships with your students.
This is hands down the most effective classroom management technique. When students trust their teacher, they make more of an effort to follow the rules. When teachers make an effort to get to know each student on a more personal basis, they get more out of their teaching experience as well. Each class should feel more like a family. Be brave and take a deep dive into what you’re doing well and what you could work on. If you aren’t sure, invite someone into your class to look specifically for examples of teacher-student relationship building. This is an ongoing growth area for everyone, so start where you are and work on a few things each school year.
See more tips for building student relationships here.
2. Build a classroom that respects your relationships.
Ask students what they wish their classroom looked like and try to accommodate some of those requests. This isn’t an open call for new items or a redecoration. Instead, ask them to be specific: “We need spaces for small groups to work together” or “I need a spot where I can’t hear what everyone is chewing or doing.” When they see you are taking them into consideration, you’ll build on #1 above. Remind them regularly to share what other changes in the room might help learning. This regular review and restructure shows students that nothing is forever; we have to be flexible and observant.
3. Make positive phone calls to students’ families.
Another important classroom management technique is the positive phone call home. Many teachers fall into the trap of only calling home when there is an issue to report. While these calls are necessary and worthwhile, calls for celebration are equally, if not more, important. Every parent wants to hear positive news about their child, and this reinforcement almost always makes its way back to the student. Try to make one positive call to a different student’s home every single day, even if it’s simply to report on a nice comment a kid made in class. This means so much to parents and students and usually translates to positive classroom behavior as well.
Still not convinced? See seven reasons why positive parent calls work so well.
4. Celebrate your students’ hard work.
Show students that you value the work they put into learning. Identify milestones in the work everyone accomplishes each day. Once a week, choose one particularly hardworking team or student to share their story. Let the class ask them how they accomplished the work. What a valuable lesson kids learn when they hear peers talking about what hard work means to them. Kids who know their work will be celebrated instead of just their grades will pay more attention and stay focused.
5. Maintain authority in the classroom throughout the year.
You meant it when you started the year, but it’s easy to relax a bit as the year moves along. When you tell kids to stop talking and get back to work, but you don’t follow through, you are effectively telling them it doesn’t matter that much. This can lead to teachers raising their voices and saying things they regret. You don’t have to be mean; you just have to mean it. So make a list of rules that are effective and really matter to you and then share them with your students. Post them visibly and refer to them often.
6. Make sure that students understand the why and how behind your rules.
Just because you’ve stated, shared, and posted your classroom rules doesn’t mean students know what they mean. Your version of no talking might be different from theirs. Human beings talk for lots of reasons, so keep appropriate expectations. It might even be OK to joke around a bit as long as a student is staying focused on the task at hand. Some teachers find great success with acting out ways of talking that are effective.
7. Have an actual plan for behavior issues.
When you get your driver’s license, you are taught all the consequences of poor driving behavior. This helps put you in control of how things go down. Make a plan for what will happen if a student does something outside the norm or breaks a classroom rule. Try to come up with very specific things that might happen and what you will do. In the heat of the moment, it can be tough to hand out a consequence. Enforce the consequence without any emotion. “You did this, and the consequence is this.” This helps students see that the behavior is unacceptable, but the kid is still valuable.
8. Reevaluate all the parts of your classroom with an eye toward inclusivity.
Classroom management techniques should be inclusive. Make sure every one of your students is able to learn the standard or skill you are teaching. Think of ways to remind yourself to regularly review IEP and 504 plans. Take notes directly on one of your lesson plans to make sure you take recommendations into account. Share your fears and concerns with the special ed team. So many classroom management challenges can be averted by considering and planning for the needs in your classroom. Be transparent with each student who is accommodated so they know the plan. Lots of kids think their teachers don’t know they’re supposed to get extra time (or whatever they’re supposed to get). This reduces anxieties significantly. Encourage them to remind you of their accommodation so it’s a team effort. This has the added benefit of empowering kids to ask for what they need. Understanding procedures and consequences may be just what a child with a behavior problem needs in order to feel more in control of their impulses. Remember to design lessons that challenge everyone in the way they need to be challenged.
9. Be prepared for your teaching day.
Even if you aren’t required to submit lesson plans, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do them. There’s a lot to manage throughout the day, and not knowing what you are supposed to be teaching can easily destroy a good day. Develop plans that work for your teaching style, accommodate all learners, go along with curriculum standards, and pique the curiosity of your students. It may sound daunting, but the more you do it, the better you’ll get. A well-planned day can make the difference between tired and flat-out exhausted.
10. Notice the good things happening in your classroom.
Classroom management techniques that focus on positive reinforcement are very effective. All too often we spend our days telling students (and ourselves!) what went wrong. Just as it takes practice to notice things that aren’t going well in our classroom so that you can course-correct, you might need to work on noticing things that are going well. Why will this work? We don’t always need to be problem-solving. Instead, we can be building on the positives, which will then push out the negatives. For example, if you see kids working together to solve something, notice it out loud. “Nice teamwork, you two. Can you share why you decided to do this together instead of on your own?” This way you’ll get to hear their thinking, and other students will get to learn that it’s OK (and encouraged) to do things differently.
11. Keep track of what you know about your students.
Let’s end where we started. Building relationships with kids is necessary, but be realistic about how much information you can hold in your head. Keep a chart or notebook about things you learn from your students. Who swims on Wednesdays? Who lives with their grandmother? What kid loves to pick strawberries? Review this chart regularly before you meet with your students so you can ask them personal questions that show you care.
Want more classroom management techniques?
If you’re teaching elementary school, we’ve put together grade-level management and online teaching classroom management techniques that you will help you further prepare:
- Kindergarten: Classroom Management | Online Teaching Guide
- First Grade: Classroom Management | Online Teaching Guide
- Second Grade: Classroom Management | Online Teaching Guide
- Third Grade: Classroom Management | Online Teaching Guide
- Fourth Grade: Classroom Management | Online Teaching Guide
- Fifth Grade: Classroom Management | Online Teaching Guide
In order to really manage your classroom well, you need to know what you want it to feel like and look like when you’re successful. Write it down (and consider sharing it with your team) so you’ll know you’ve reached your goals. When kids feel your passion and know where the learning is headed, they’ll be pumped to rise to the occasion. Each year will be different, but they can all be unforgettably wonderful.