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Classroom Q&A

With Larry Ferlazzo

In this EdWeek blog, an experiment in knowledge-gathering, Ferlazzo will address readers’ questions on classroom management, ELL instruction, lesson planning, and other issues facing teachers. Send your questions to lferlazzo@epe.org. Read more from this blog.

Teaching Opinion

‘Classroom Management Is About Being Proactive’

By Larry Ferlazzo — October 02, 2019 26 min read
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(This is the last post in a four-part series. You can see Part One here, Part Two here, and Part Three here.)

The new question-of-the-week is:

What are your best classroom-management tips?

In Part One, suggestions came from Heather Wolpert-Gawron, Rita Platt, Gabriella Corales, Leticia Skae-Jackson, and Madeline Whitaker Good. You can listen to a 10-minute conversation I had with Rita, Heather, and Gabriella on my BAM! Radio Show. You can also find a list of, and links to, previous shows here.

In Part Two, Sheldon L. Eakins, Ph.D., Jenny Edwards, April Croy, Lori Jackson, Shauna Tominey, Megan McClelland, and Keisha Rembert shared their ideas.

In Part Three, Dr. Debbie Silver, Dr. PJ Caposey, Serena Pariser, Timothy Hilton, Dr. Beth Gotcher, Paula Mellom, Rebecca Hixon, and Jodi Weber to offered their commentaries.

Today’s contributors are Cindy Garcia, Gianna Cassetta, Amanda Koonlaba, Ed.S., Chelonnda Seroyer, Dennis Griffin Jr., Janice Wyatt-Ross, Barry Saide, and Dr. Vance Austin. I’ve also included comments from readers.

Response From Cindy Garcia

Cindy Garcia has been a bilingual educator for 14 years and is currently the district instructional specialist for PK-6 bilingual/ESL mathematics in the Pasadena Independent school district in Texas. She is active onTwitter @CindyGarciaTX and on her blog www.TeachingElementaryELs.weebly.com:

Developing classroom norms or a classroom contract with students is an effective way to start building a positive classroom culture. Students feel more inclined to follow these classroom norms or guidelines because they helped developed them. When a teacher simply posts rules, students might not feel a sense of ownership and a need to follow them. When students take part in the process, they are more likely to remind each other of the rules and encourage each other to follow them. Students tend to stay focused and not misbehave when there is a consistent and predictable schedule in place. If students know what is going to happen and when it will happen, they are more likely to feel calm and confident. They have less opportunity to get off task because they know what they should be doing.

Many times, misbehaviors happen during transition time. It can transition from whole-group instruction to small-group instruction and work stations or from partner work to cooperative work. Before students shift, it is important to remind them of the procedures for transition, give them a task to accomplish as they transition, put a timer on, and/or let them know what they should do as soon as they transition.

Students can also be disruptive when they don’t know what they are supposed to do and when it is acceptable to do it. If you are teaching a small group of students and a student needs to go to the restroom, should they come to the table, interrupt you, and ask permission? Put a system in place such as taking a restroom pass and setting the timer when they leave.

Students can misbehave when they are unsure of what it means to share their thinking during classroom discussions. Let them know your expectations. For example, wait to be called on, wait for your name to be generated on your phone, wait for you to share turn & talk, or wait until the prompt is read aloud.

Classroom management can also suffer when the teacher is trying to locate materials and therefore is unable to get started on the lesson. Make sure your materials are organized and labeled in an easy to locate manner. Have your materials easily accessible during your lessons. Working in groups is a great way to keep students engaged and learn from each other. However, random grouping or allowing students to choose their groups can lead to misbehavior because there are certain students that might not get along.

When lesson planning, take time to think about possible grouping structures and which students are likely to work well together. When students get bored, they are more likely to be disruptive. Think about how time during each lesson is dedicated to teacher talk time and think about if it reasonable to expect your students to be silent and sit still during that time. One suggestion is to cut down on the teacher talk by engaging students in the conversation. Have students think-pair-share to prompt or question based on information shared. Provide students the opportunity to participate by sharing their own ideas, creating sketch notes, or responding with technology tools such as Kahoot or Padlet.

Response From Gianna Cassetta

Gianna Cassetta has been a teacher, school leader, district leader, and is now a consultant. She is the co-author of three Heinemann books, Classroom Management Matters: The Social and Emotional Learning Approach That Children Deserve, No More Taking Away Recess and Other Problematic Discipline Practices, and The Caring Teacher: Strategies for Working Through Your Own Difficulties with Students:

Although it may never be our intention, whenever we aren’t totally clear with students about our expectations, we are setting them up for failure. Just as we need to make sure students understand our academic expectations, we also need to make sure they understand our behavioral expectations.

Because misbehavior is often due to unclear classroom expectations, one of the most important moves you can make to manage your classroom effectively is by establishing clear and predictable routines and procedures. These should be explicitly taught and practiced. When this is done, students demonstrate more on task behavior and exhibit less problematic behavior.

Nothing that happens in the classroom is too small or too insignificant for a carefully planned routine or procedure. Students should never have to guess how you want them to do something. Some routines and procedures I’ve often observed teachers neglect to be clear about include :

  • Morning entry routines
  • Getting materials
  • Moving from a carpet to seats
  • Going to the restroom
  • Walking in the halls
  • Independent work time
  • Coming back into the classroom after recess

Let’s take a a morning entry-routine. This begins with students entering the classroom and includes putting their belongings away and getting prepared for instruction to begin. One strategy I use to plan my teaching of a routine such as this is visualizing. As I visualize a routine or procedure from start to finish, I’m working through what things should look like, feel like, and sound like, for the students and for myself. Here are some questions I might consider if visualizing an entry routine:

  • How will students get to my classroom? What direction will they be coming from. Will they be coming at once or at different times?
  • Can they come in on their own or wait at the door?
  • Where should I position myself so I can see them coming but also keep an eye on them as they enter the room?
  • Are they allowed to talk, and if so, at what level and how long?
  • What do they do with their belongings, and how will they know what to get that they will need?
  • Where do they sit?
  • What do they do while they are waiting?
  • Is anyone allowed to get water or go to the restroom during this time, or exit the room for any reason?
  • How will they know how much time they have?
  • How will I indicate we are about to get started and that I need their attention?
  • What mood do I want to characterize this procedure, and how will I communicate that?

Once I’ve visualized my routine, I need to explicitly communicate it to students, step by step. As with any good teaching, I need to be clear with students about exactly what they are learning and why it is important. In order to support their understanding of my expectations, I can demonstrate exactly what I want students to do and how to do it, while narrating or thinking aloud about the procedure. Then I can have them try it, right there, so that I can assess their understanding, give on the spot feedback, and create additional opportunities for practice, as needed.

Always remember to reinforce positive behavior, or even approximations of that behavior. Positive reinforcement provides your students feedback about their behavior, which builds their feelings of competence. When students feel more competent about their abilities, they are more likely to continue to exhibit positive behavior.

Response From Amanda Koonlaba, Ed.S.

Amanda Koonlaba, Ed.S., is an educator with 15 years of classroom experience. She blogs at Party in the Art Room and serves as a content specialist with Education Closet. She is a sought-after consultant, speaker, and presenter for arts integration and STEAM. She was the Mississippi Elementary Art Educator of the Year in 2016:

Classroom management is one of my favorite things to talk about. A few years ago, I had the opportunity to create an online course called Managing the Arts Integrated Classroom for the Online Institute for Arts Integration and STEAM. I had known for a while before creating this course that I’d hit a real sweet spot with my classroom management. It had been such a struggle for several years when I first started teaching, but when things started clicking, my whole teaching game changed. Creating this online course gave me the opportunity to really reflect on that and pinpoint some very specific things that worked for me. I taught 1st grade and 3rd grade general education before becoming an elementary art teacher. So, I really had some diverse experiences in classroom management to work with. Anyway, it comes down to this: Classroom management should be a proactive element when working with students, not reactive.

I heard a teacher say once that she used “taking points” from her students as classroom management. I just cringe when I hear that. I believe we should be setting kids up for success, not reacting to their failures. Yes, we do have to handle behavior and discipline sometimes in our schools. However, if we have good classroom management, we have to do that much less.

Here are my suggestions:

  1. Manage your time: Think about ways you can incorporate routines that happen automatically. Routines are done without having to think about them. They can be done quickly.

  2. Manage your space: The way you have your classroom set up is important. Think about the flow of traffic and how to store materials. For example, it doesn’t make sense to have students sitting on one side of the room and traveling to the other side to get to the pencil sharpener. Proximity is an important consideration.

  3. Manage student behaviors: Building positive relationships with students and their families should be a priority. It is also important to establish and enforce what behaviors you expect while students are under your supervision. Don’t assume your students and their families already know something. Teach them with kindness.

  4. Manage instruction: It is important to find some go-to strategies that work for your classroom for managing whole-group instruction, small-group instruction, and independent learning. Give yourself time to really think about what you need each context to look like. Then, figure out how to make it happen.

Classroom management is about being proactive, solving problems, and reflecting. My biggest piece of advice is to put a lot of thought into your classroom management upfront. Then, if something isn’t working, spend a lot of time reflecting on what you tweak. When you make changes, teach your students about those changes!

Response From Chelonnda Seroyer

Chelonnda Seroyer is a former high school English teacher who has worked with Drs. Harry and Rosemary Wong for over 14 years. Her DVD is featured in the 4th edition of The First Days of School, and she is a contributing author to Dr. Wong’s THE Classroom Management Book. She currently travels the world helping teachers become more effective by improving their classroom-management skills. (CSeroyer@HarryWong.com):

What many teachers do not realize is that although we spend 95 percent of our professional-development energy on content, the instructional effectiveness cannot be maximized without excellent classroom-management skills in place.

I would like to start by clearing up some commonly confused and misused terms.

Classroom Management vs. Behavior Management

Classroom management and behavior management are NOT the same and are actually polar opposites. Unfortunately, educators often use these terms synonymously, and it causes confusion.

Classroom management addresses the organization, procedures, and structure that the TEACHER puts in place to ensure that instruction can take place.

Behavior management addresses how to address specific student behaviors such as anger, physical aggression, insubordination, etc.

Management vs. Discipline

Management is the PROACTIVE procedures that you put in place to promote structure and organization.

Discipline is a REACTIVE way to respond to students not following rules.

Procedures vs. Rules

Procedures teach students how to ACCOMPLISH various tasks. They are instructions for the successful completion of a task.

Rules have positive/negative consequences associated with them. These are non-negotiable boundaries that are put in place to ensure that the classroom remains safe and respectful.

Example: “Raise your hand before you speak” is a PROCEDURE and not a RULE. It is something that is in place to maintain order. However, students will not receive a consequence for not doing so.

Best Classroom-Management Tips:

  1. Have students sign out (and set a timer) when they leave the classroom for any reason. Even if they are young, you can have them move a clothes pin or something to indicate where they are. This includes when adults remove the student from the room for various reasons (minus the timer). File for documentation purposes.
  2. Use an accountability sheet for students to complete when they do not complete their assignments. File it for documentation purposes. Have them explain why they chose not to complete the assignment.
  3. Identify an attention-getting signal to use consistently so that you will be able to gain the attention of the class very quickly.
  4. Place a small trash can in all four corners of the classroom. This prevents students from taking a “tour of the classroom” all in the name of throwing something in the trash.
  5. Number your students according to how they fall in the gradebook. Have them line up in numerical order when they exit the building for fire drills, use them to distribute technology devices and other supplies, use them to place papers in numerical order, etc.
  6. Develop hand signals for students to use that will communicate their needs during class discussion. Example: Crossed fingers = Need to use the restroom; 3 fingers - Have a question; 1 finger - Have a comment, etc.
  7. Have bell work/warm-up assignments that do not introduce new material (as they will have questions) or require lots of supplies (as this will cause students to wander the room).
  8. Assign classroom jobs that give students a sense of accountability and pride. Examples: Math tutor, AV specialist, greeter, supply manager, etc. Be creative! Find jobs for some of your most challenging students.
  9. Develop a consistent way for students to access make-up work after absences. If this is internet-based, ensure that you also offer a noninternet based method as a backup as all students/parents may not have consistent access to the internet.
  10. Teach your students the substitute-teacher procedure. Practice the class expectations so that the students are clear about what they are to accomplish during your absence. This will be very helpful for the substitute teacher, and they will want to sub for you again! Include items like seating charts with phonetic spellings of student names, a list of helpful students, etc.

Classroom-management plans should constantly grow as teachers find new and innovative ways to ensure that their classrooms are well-oiled learning machines!

Response From Dennis Griffin Jr.

Dennis Griffin Jr. serves as the principal of Brown Deer Elementary School in Wisconsin. He has seven years of experience as a middle school educator and is entering his sixth year as an administrator. He is currently pursuing his doctoral studies in educational leadership at Cardinal Stritch University. Dennis believes all students will be successful in school when they develop relationships with educators that value their gift, cultures, and individuality:

Have you ever had anyone try to manage a relationship with you? How did that relationship turn out? I asked you to reflect upon this concept because when we speak to classroom management, it is often counterproductive to our desire to form authentic relationships with our students.

I realized that classroom management was not the tool that would allow me to connect with my students. When you try to manage a situation, that means that you are trying to contain it until the point when you can no longer control it. Guess what happens then??? I looked to ensure that my students could see and feel my commitment to their academic, social, and emotional growth each and every day. I wanted them to know that we were engaged in a reciprocal relationship that allowed for each of us to expect a little bit more out of one another each and every day.

My goal was to engage my students to such a degree that each day they would want to run home and tell their parents what they learned that day. My advice focuses more on your ability to learn about who your students are versus trying to manage them.

Response From Janice Wyatt-Ross

Janice Wyatt-Ross is the program director for a dropout-prevention/re-engagement center in Lexington, Ky. She and her husband of 23 years are the parents of two daughters:

You should plan activities that follow this formula.

  1. Introduce the lesson with something that the students can relate too.
  2. Create questions ahead of time to gauge the readiness level of the students. These questions will assist you in preassessing:
    * Which students already have knowledge of the concept
    * Which students have no knowledge of the concept
  3. Model the concept and show students what they will be learning and why they need to learn it.
  4. Work through a problem or question with the students using the think-aloud strategy to help them understand what their thought processes should be when completing the task. Think aloud will also help students problem solve when they encounter problems answering the question or knowing what the next step should be in the process.
  5. If possible, provide students with a video or listening activity on the topic you are discussing.
  6. When you change activities, always provide students with your expectations for their behavior. If they will work together in groups, be sure you tell them, as part of your directions, that they will work in groups that you have identified or they self-identify, they will work cooperatively, everybody will participate, they will remain on task, and they will use inside voices.
  7. Have students work alone or with a partner on a specific problem or question and then you give them immediate feedback on their work.
  8. Assign another 1-5 questions or problems for the students to practice at home (homework does not have to be a specified length of time). You will know when you grade the work if the students grasped the concept.
  9. Be prepared to provide review material for students who need additional practice or enrichment for students who mastered the concept and are ready to move on to more complex problems or assignments.

You should also change activities every 15-20 minutes per class period. To further engage students and to strengthen your relationship with them, spend some time with your students outside of the classroom. You can attend athletic events or academic competitions that they participate in and on the weekends spend some time where you know your students and their parents will be like the grocery store, department store, or the mall. The more time you spend with your students, the more you will uncover what is meaningful to them and you will discover how to incorporate them into your lesson planning.

Response From Barry Saide

Barry Saide is the proud principal of Roosevelt School, in Manville, N.J. Prior to becoming principal, Barry was a director of curriculum & instruction, supervisor of curriculum & instruction, and elementary classroom teacher. This is his 20th year in education:

I always had a mixture of student personalities and ability levels in my classroom. Additionally, I had a knack for defusing concerned parents. My classroom was often called “Ellis Island” by my principal. She knew I accepted all students and families, as they made me a better educator, just as I tried to make them better as people and learners.

Being better started at the door. Regardless of what was happening in my own life, it was important for me to model consistency, positivity, and enthusiasm by meeting students at the entrance with a smile, an anecdote, or a kind word. I knew I set the tone for them, and that tone would form the beginning of the daily climate in the classroom.

When students entered, the expectations on the board were clear: There was always something to do. The Do Now on the board always related to prior learning and formed the anticipatory set for what we were going to do that day. Students knew that completing the task—whether it was an entry ticket, writing a word on an index card, asking a peer a question—would somehow form the basis for the future learning that would occur.

Students needed to come in, unpack, and get to work. Once the final student entered the room, I did, too. Circulating and assisting, checking for understanding, with a timer on the board counting down how many minutes until we began the lesson, it was clear to all we were here to work.

I didn’t expect that students knew how to enter a room, unpack, read, accomplish what was on the board, and settle in to work as a timer counted down toward reviewing an anticipatory set. We role-played each piece of our classroom expectations: how we enter a room, how we unpack, how we get ourselves ready to read and accomplish a Do Now task, and how we complete a timed task. We would pause during the middle of our learning and evaluate ourselves from 1-4 (the higher the number, the better) regularly during the course of the year. Surveyed students would explain why they chose the number they did to evaluate how we were performing as a classroom community. If we needed to role-play a situation because we weren’t functioning properly as a community, we did that. We knew we needed to function as a team and be able to depend on our peers in order for each of us to be successful as learners.

Students knew the format of our lessons. Expectations were clear. I used the gradual release of responsibility model: I did - we did - and you did. As such, students knew the expectations of their role (and mine) in each stage of the learning process. Knowing the norms and expectations during each stage of the lesson enabled us to reinforce the learning tone we set when I met students at the door.

The classroom was the student’s space. Not mine. They needed to own it if we were going to do our best work. As such, students and I worked collaboratively to create the classroom rules and expectations. This took weeks and a winnowing down of initial rules brainstorming sessions where students would share any and all rules they knew about classroom behavior. From these hundreds of potential rules, we would categorize, classify, group, eliminate, and debate until we had 3-5 total, overarching rules. Once we had our 3-5, we would all sign our rules poster; students would share the rules at home with their parents so we all shared a common language and could all hold one another accountable. In the end, being proactive, positive, and clear in our expectations enabled us to function with limited distractions and maintain the focus on teaching and learning.

Response From Dr. Vance Austin

Dr. Vance Austin is a professor and co-chair of a department of special education and also consults for schools and organizations that serve students with emotional and behavioral disorders. He has formerly worked full time as a special education teacher in both public and private schools, where he accumulated over 30 years of teaching experience. He has written many articles and book chapters and presented at national and international conferences on the topics of effective teaching and behavior management and co-authored two textbooks on the subject, most recently with Dan Sciarra, Difficult Students and Disruptive Behavior in the Classroom: Teacher Responses that Work (2016). New York, W. W. Norton & Co:

Classroom and Behavior Management for the Students of Generation Z: New Generation New Rules

When I am teaching my graduate students about effective classroom-management techniques, I begin with the notion of Belongingness (Baumeister & Leary, 1995).* I remind them that every student they teach “belongs” in their classroom. Sending troublesome and troubled students to the office or out of their classroom is both nontherapeutic and unprofessional and contravenes the notion of classroom as “community” (Kohn, 1996).** The alternative to keeping students in the classroom is sometimes the untenable alternative of the juvenile-justice system, which is neither rehabilitative nor educational.

I then introduce the notions of Civility, Civil Discourse, Citizenship, and Respect. I ask them to define these terms, based on their own perceptions and to give behavioral examples of each. I remind them that students who present the most challenging behaviors in our classrooms need to learn and acquire these important behavioral tenets through explicit instruction—they are not acquired by osmosis!

I share with them that teaching these foundational behavior skills are essential first steps in crafting a viable classroom-management plan and, despite what some veteran teacher colleagues might contend, for good teachers, to quote an old maxim, “The Buck Stops Here.” Many of their most difficult students will be unlikely to acquire these principles of character at home, so their teachers need to employ explicit instruction to ensure that they have been learned and internalized.

Two critical skills that teachers must model for today’s student are negotiation and compromise. In the current political climate, surrounded by bad actors and poor role models, these skills are sadly wanting. However, to be successful adults in the 21st century, the ability to negotiate and compromise with competitors and colleagues will increase employment opportunities as well as ensure advancement. As the lyrics to an old Rolling Stones song wisely observe, “You can’t always get what you want...but if you try, sometimes, you just might find you get what you need!”

Similarly, I think it is important to establish a couple of grounded truths related to managing expectations; namely, that you likely cannot be whatever you want to be, but you can be all you can be!” Begin to discover what that might be in school. Next, and most importantly, we were made to serve others, not be served by them. We all need to have something purposeful to do with our lives, and engagement in meaningful learning and work helps provide a sense of purpose and thus prevent misbehavior. Ultimately, I tell my students, your success in life is your responsibility—begin to take responsibility for your life and actions.

Help your students become empowered by learning about and participating in democratic activities, such as in the development of class rules, rewards, and consequences. Have faith in your students’ ability to engage, responsibly, in the democratic process:

OUR Rules.

OUR Classroom.

OUR Community.

OUR Classroom IS a Community!

What should you do when rules are broken, and misbehavior happens, despite your best preventative efforts? I recommend and use Redl’s (1966)*** Life Space Interview (LSI), which suggests asking yourself four questions:

  1. What am I feeling now?
  2. What does my student feel, need, want?
  3. How is the environment affecting the student?
  4. How do I best respond?

Then conduct a “Life Space Interview” employing the acronym, “I-ESCAPE,” which represents the following action steps:

I = Isolate the conversation

E = Explore student point of view

S = Summarize feelings and content

C = Connect behavior to feelings

A = Alternative behaviors discussed

P = Plan developed and practiced

E = Enter student back into the program

I hope these suggestions help you and your students create a classroom in which everyone is a valued and respected member, where civil discourse is encouraged and supported, and in which true learning is a shared value.

*Baumeister, R. F., & Leary, M. R. (1995). The need to belong: Desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 117(3), 497-529. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.117.3.49

**Kohn, A. (1996). Beyond discipline: From compliance to community. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

***Redl, F. (1966) When We Deal with Children. New York: Free Press.

Responses From Readers

Thanks to Cindy, Gianna, Amanda, Chelonnda, Dennis, Janice, Barry, and Vance for their contributions.

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Education Week has published a collection of posts from this blog, along with new material, in an e-book form. It’s titled Classroom Management Q&As: Expert Strategies for Teaching.

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