Leadership Symposium Early Bird Deadline Is Today | Join K-12 leaders nationwide for three days of empowering strategies, networking, and inspiration! Discounted pricing ends today, Feb. 23. Register now.
Opinion Blog

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

Response: Detour ‘Around the Danger Zones’ of Classroom Management

By Larry Ferlazzo — January 20, 2016 13 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

(This is last post in a two-part series. You can see Part One here.)

This week’s question is:

What are your suggestions for effective classroom management strategies?

In Part One, Karen Baptiste, Gianna Cassetta, Harry Wong, Rosemary Wong, and Julia Thompson contributed their responses. You can listen to a ten-minute conversation I had with Karen and Gianna on my BAM! Radio Show. You can also find a list of, and links to, previous shows here.

Today, Marcia Tate, Jenny Edwards, Patty O’Grady, Ric Murry share their thoughts. I’ve also included comments from readers.

Response From Marcia Tate

Marcia Tate is an international educational consultant and bestselling author who has 41 years of experience as a classroom teacher, reading specialist, language arts coordinator and professional development executive director. She is the author of the Worksheets Don’t Grow Dendrites series regarding classroom management and instructional strategies for teaching the student and adult brain:

Shouting Won’t Grow Dendrites: 5 Detours Around the Danger Zones

In a small town, there is a highway that drops over a cliff. There is no notice that the cliff is even there. In an effort to decrease the number of injuries, an ambulance is stationed at the bottom of the cliff so that when cars fall off, passengers can be rushed to the hospital immediately. Reactive classroom managers also wait until students fall off of proverbial cliffs, put them in the ambulance, and rush them to the principal’s office or in-school suspension. Proactive classroom managers put up detour signs all along the highway of instruction so that many students never approach the edge of the cliff in the first place. Five research-based detour signs that every teacher should employ are as follows:

  1. Develop a relationship with each one of your students.

When students arrive, be at the classroom door to greet them. Learn something personal about each student and call them by name. Students do not care what you think or how you feel about their behavior unless you cultivate a strong personal relationship with them.

  1. Create a physical environment conducive to learning.

Manipulate the color, music, lighting, aroma, and seating in your classroom to calm the brains of your students. Colors of nature (light blue, green, pastels, or earth tone colors) calm the brain. Reds and oranges can be used for emphasis. Classical, jazz, Celtic, New Age, Native American music and nature sounds align musical beats with the beat of the heart and soothe the brain. Salsa, rhythm and blues, rock and roll, and fast-paced country music energize and motivate students. Fluorescent lights can be detrimental while natural light beneficial. Lavender, vanilla, and jasmine are calming while citrus, cinnamon, and peppermint are energizing. Seating should be flexible with students having opportunities to sit, stand, and move around the classroom for instructional purposes.

  1. Engage the brains of your students.

A teacher’s best defense against behavior problems is an engaging lesson. Use 20 brain-compatible strategies to engage students’ brains. These include the following: cooperative learning, humor, movement, music, project-based learning, role play, storytelling, visuals, and visualization.

  1. Develop a proactive management plan.

Manage an engaging classroom with a management plan which includes specific routines and procedures which have been determined, taught, and practiced until they have become habits; celebrations which include praise of effort, not ability, and affirmations; and consequences which may be necessary but do not permanently change behavior for most students.

  1. Deal with chronic behavior disorders.

Even if the first four detour signs are implemented, there may still be students who make it to the edge of the cliff and fall. However, at the base of the cliff there is not an ambulance, there is a team of professionals (including the student’s teacher, administrator, counselor, special education teacher, and parent/guardian) who are planning together to put the student back on the road to recovery.

Response From Jenny Edwards

Jenny Edwards teaches doctoral students in the School of Educational Leadership and Change at Fielding Graduate University in Santa Barbara, Calif. Edwards is the author of the ASCD books Time to Teach: How do I get organized and work smarter? and Inviting Students to Learn: 100 Tips for Talking Effectively with Your Students:

Managing the Classroom Nonverbally

When I first started teaching, I would have loved to have known about the importance of teachers’ nonverbal communication. When I went into teaching, I wanted my students to be excited about learning. As a result, I taught with a lot of excitement and enthusiasm. I didn’t know that the more excitable I was, the more excitable my students would be.

In the early years of teaching, I wondered why I had difficulty managing the students’ behavior. Little did I know that my own excitability was raising their metabolism and causing them to be excitable. When I served as a mentor teacher for other teachers, I had a teacher who was extremely soft-spoken. She moved around the classroom slowly, and she spoke in a quiet voice. As a result, the students moved around the classroom slowly, and they spoke quietly. I realized that teachers can either raise or lower students’ metabolism by the way they talk and move.

I also wish that I had known strategies that Michael Grinder shares for managing the classroom nonverbally. He suggests that the teacher get students’ attention from one spot in the room by freezing his/her body rather than walking around. Students watch teachers’ nonverbal language. When a teacher is moving around the room and saying, “Stop,” the words are saying “Stop,” while the body is saying, “Go.” Thus, students will tend to continue moving.

In addition to freezing the body to get students’ attention, Michael suggests using “Above (Pause) Whisper.” Students tend to talk at one volume. He suggests that the teacher wait for a lull in the student volume. At that time, the teacher says something just slightly louder than the students. As a result, the teacher will be more likely to get the students’ attention. On the other hand, if the teacher tries to get students’ attention when the students are getting louder, the students will tend to talk even louder to be able to hear each other over the teacher’s voice. Michael calls it “Listen for the lull.”

Two other strategies that Michael suggests are called Go Visual and Most Important Twenty Seconds. Teachers can use these strategies when moving from the teaching phase to the seatwork phrase of instruction. When teachers give directions verbally, students may or may not be listening. Then, they will ask, “Huh? What did you say? Please say that again.” The teacher might tend to get exasperated. By writing directions on the board--by “going visual,” the directions will be there for the students. If the students happened to not be paying attention when the teacher gave instructions, the teacher can just point to the board.

After giving visual directions, the teacher can use the “Most Important Twenty Seconds” (MITS) nonverbal strategy. The teacher froze his/her body when getting students’ attention at the beginning of the lesson, and the teacher can freeze his/her body when transitioning into seatwork. Before I knew this strategy, I would give the students directions for seatwork, ask if they had any questions, and then immediately start going from student to student to help them. This tended to distract the whole class and cause them not to go on task. By saying, “You may begin” in a soft, slow, draggy voice and freezing the body for 20 seconds, the teacher can lower students’ metabolism so that all of them will go on task. Thus, the teacher is creating a calm working environment for the students. After 20 seconds, the teacher can move to talk with any student who has a hand raised to ask for assistance.

For more information, please see:

Grinder, M. (2013). ENVoY: Your personal guide to classroom management (13th ed.). Battle Ground, WA: Michael Grinder and Associates.

Response From Patty O’Grady

Patty O’Grady’s work in the field of education and psychology spans 30 years and has included classroom teaching in both K-12 general and special education, as well as higher education, where she is currently on the faculty at the University of Tampa. She writes a blog about positive psychology in education for Psychology Today; she is also the author of numerous articles and a popular trainer and presenter. She earned her PhD in education and psychology from the University of Maryland, College Park. She is author of Positive Psychology in the Elementary School Classroom (W. W. Norton; 2013):

To begin, teachers might reframe classroom management strategies as student motivation strategies. This is more than a semantic distinction because using the language student motivation strategies helps teachers focus the conversation on the student.

Teachers can intrinsically motivate learners using neuroscience motivational principles, understanding that cognitive and emotional learning cannot be separated and must be skillfully blended.

Emotional learning identifies and activates the signature strengths and interests needed to create the relationships and find the purpose that predicts accomplishment. When cognitive activity and academic tasks are connected to student emotions, learning flows.

The most important student motivation strategy is to create flow in the classroom. How does the teacher create flow when there are so many constraints in education that hinder the flow of learning? I offer a few suggestions based on the promise of positive psychology, and perhaps you can add some of your favorites, too:

  • Infuse every academic subject and lesson with emotional learning as a priority. Connect every subject to students’ emotional processing and responses. Identify emotional themes in the content or the strengths needed for successful execution of the task. Every lesson plan should include: cognitive, academic, and emotional learning objectives. (Positive Emotional Strength)

  • Use emotionality to leverage momentum, facilitate it, and don’t interrupt it. A student’s absorption in an academic task occurs most often because a positive emotional interest in the task is generated or he is working with others with whom he has a positive emotional connection. Every lesson plan should facilitate relationships and help the student glean the usefulness of the task for himself. (Positive Relationships and Meaning)

  • Provide differentiated choices so the student is able to showcase what is of emotional value to her in the academic task. Differentiated choices ensure that a sense of personal accomplishment is fostered, acknowledged, and validated as a part of the lesson. Students should demonstrate, record, and catalog personal accomplishments. Every lesson plan should include a means of exhibiting or sharing the learning. (Positive Accomplishment)

Students who are in a state of flow are attentive, productive, and engrossed in the task. When a teacher stimulates flow, learning escapes its boundaries and sets the imagination free.

Response From Ric Murry

Ric Murry is an 21-year teaching veteran of ELLs. He has taught Middle Grades Social Studies, Computer Applications, and is currently one of the teachers for the Newcomer Academy of Dalton Public Schools in Dalton, GA. The Newcomer Academy serves students who are new to the country, primarily from Central America, and many of the students are refugees fleeing violence in their home countries:

If ever my classroom needs “managed” it is usually because of student fatigue or something that happened outside of my room to become a distraction, worry, or concern. It is easy to identify, because the students won’t settle, focus, or participate (and it is usually at the beginning of class).

I ask them to do these things:

Raise your right hand.
Raise your left hand.
Put your right hand on your left elbow.
Put your left hand on your right elbow.
Put you arms on your desk.
Put your forehead on your arms.
Keep your head down, and stay quiet for 5 consecutive minutes.

It has taken as much as 15 minutes for the noise to stop while their heads are down (but is usually less than 2 minutes). Once the noise (and peeks to see what everyone else is doing) subsides, the 5 minutes starts.

At the end of 5 minutes but before they raise their heads, in a whisper, I acknowledge that there are issues that are bothering them, that we can discuss it properly for 5 minutes, or we can get to work. I ask the to keep their heads down, but raise their hands when they are ready to begin. I give them instructions, still whispering, of what I expect them to do next.

I have done this with very young children, middle school, high school, college students, and adults. It has never failed. The “lost time” was actually regained from the focused work that occurred for the remaining class time. I even did it during an administrator’s observation.

This works for me, because it is in accordance with my personality, which I think is what every teacher will need to determine on their own.

Responses From Readers


Have a great lesson. “The best defense is a great lesson.” Treat students with respect.

Amber Johnson:

I constantly look to find classroom management techniques. I found my best classroom management technique has been to greet my students at the door. I stand at the door and make sure to greet all my students. It helps me see their mannerisms and pick up on if a student might be having a bad day. It has really helped with my connection with the students. I actually got this tip from here. Their other blog also gave me my other favorite tip. This is establishing protocols for anxious students. I teach math and I frequently have students who are anxious. For example, one thing I do is have students who are having a hard time with a question put a start or some symbol next to it. This then easily allows me to see how my students are doing. I got this tip from this resource.

Thanks to Marcia, Jenny, Patty, and Ric, and to readers, for their contributions!

Please feel free to leave a comment with your reactions to the topic or directly to anything that has been said in this post.

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at lferlazzo@epe.org.When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo.

Anyone whose question is selected for weekly column can choose one free book from a number of education publishers.

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

Just a reminder -- you can subscribe and receive updates from this blog via email or RSS Reader... And,if you missed any of the highlights from the first four years of this blog, you can see a categorized list below. They don’t include ones from this current year, but you can find them by clicking on the “answers” category found in the sidebar.

Classroom Management

Student Motivation

Implementing The Common Core

The Best Ways To Begin & End The School Year

Teaching Social Studies

Project-Based Learning

Brain-Based Learning

Using Tech In The Classroom

Parent Engagement In Schools

Teaching English Language Learners

Student Assessment

Teaching Reading & Writing

Education Policy Issues

Differentiating Instruction

Author Interviews

Teaching Math & Science

Professional Development

Teacher & Administrator Leadership

Relationships In Schools

Instructional Strategies

This Year’s Most Popular Q & A Posts!

Look for the next “question-of-the-week” in a few days.....

Related Tags:

The opinions expressed in Classroom Q&A With Larry Ferlazzo are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.