Over the past four years, I have worked with student-teachers from three universities in a variety of settings from kindergarten to high school. One of the key areas where I see student-teachers struggle is with classroom management. Classroom management begins with thoughtfully planning the environment, how you will develop relationships, structure lessons, implement structures, and clearly define limits from the first day in class.
Using the latest research and current trends, I offer my best advice for both teachers and student-teachers on what to consider when managing a classroom. How this advice is implemented will vary across grade levels and content areas, but the basic foundations need to be present to manage classroom behavior successfully.
- Personalize the classroom environment. Look around your classroom. Think: Is my classroom a place that invites students in? Does it make them feel comfortable? Will it make them want to return? Consider ways to soften the space—perhaps through flexible seating, standing tables, curtains, plants, current posters, quotes that inspire, or even an aquarium (the upkeep of which you can assign as a job for a hard-to-reach student).
- Focus on developing relationships. Relationships are key to creating a positive classroom environment. Consider: Do you greet students at the door and welcome them in? Do you walk the hallways and greet students? How can you grow in your knowledge of their interests and extracurricular activities in order to have relevant conversations about things besides your content?
- Plan, plan, plan your lessons. As teachers, it is important that we have a greater vision for where we want to lead students in their learning besides our daily lessons. That vision is reflected in how we explicitly plan lessons. Planning is more than jotting down the page number or activity. It is thoughtfully considering what you want them to learn, how they will express what they learned, and how you will assess what they have learned. Many out-of-control classrooms do not have explicit planning at their core.
- Provide a structured classroom. Clearly explain and model your classroom’s routines and structures for each new class of students. I recommend always posting a bell-ringer activity to give students something to do when they first enter the classroom. That could be an optical illusion to ponder, a puzzle or riddle to solve, lyrics to read and mark with margin notes as the song is playing, or a question to consider with a table partner. Clearly explain where to find the list of what the day’s work will be and what to do if they need classroom materials. Explain where to turn in work. Make the class agenda available to provide students with a vision of where you are taking them that day. Add your learning targets so the expectations are clear. The more routines and structures that are established, the safer students feel. There is comfort in routine.
- Know your limits. Consider what you will and won’t accept in a classroom when it comes to disruptive language and behaviors. You must clearly communicate to your students what your expectations are and be consistent in your follow through and consequences. When you respect your students, they will (usually) respect you. Make it clear that you highly value everyone’s learning in your classroom.
Make your classroom one where your students—and you—are excited to return every day, knowing that you are making a difference for all who enter.