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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

‘Students Respect Teachers Who They Feel Respect Them’

By Larry Ferlazzo — September 24, 2019 20 min read
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(This is the second post in a four-part series. You can see Part One 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.

Today, Sheldon L. Eakins, Ph.D., Jenny Edwards, April Croy, Lori Jackson, Shauna Tominey, Megan McClelland, and Keisha Rembert share their ideas.

Response From Sheldon L. Eakins, Ph.D.

Sheldon L. Eakins, Ph.D., is the director of the Leading Equity Center and host of the Leading Equity Podcast. With over 11 years in education, he has served as a teacher, principal, and director of special education. Dr. Eakins has a passion for helping educators accomplish equitable practices in their schools:

What You Can Do with Just Five Minutes

Classroom management can be a struggle for teachers. Not just for new teachers, but veteran teachers may also face challenges with managing their classrooms as well. One major portion of managing a classroom is student discipline. When I talk to teachers about their classroom management, the conversation of dealing with student behavior typically comes up.

The reality is students respect teachers who they feel respect them. The more students respect you and believe that you have their best interest at heart, the easier it is to facilitate a culturally sustaining learning environment.

I have had conversations with teachers who are frustrated that their students do not respect them. They start with blaming students with comments like, “Kids these days are so disrespectful” or “My students come to class just to play and need to learn how to listen to instructions.” My question is always, “What have you done to earn your students’ trust and respect?”

If we haven’t done the work to build relationships with our students, we might find it difficult to manage our class.

Building relationships with students takes time. One way to develop relationships with students is by finding time within the classroom to make personal connections with them. I know that this is easier said than done in many cases as the minutes in a class period are so crucial in the learning process. I’m going to provide you with four ways you can use five minutes of class time to help you get to know your students.

  1. Incorporate circles in your classroom—This activity may be a little hard to do within five minutes; however, it is a great way to develop a community within your classroom. It is something that I do at my school and it has really helped with community building in our resource room.

  2. Schedule time for one-on-one engagement—As you begin to get to know your students, you will learn their normal behavior, and if something seems a little off, use those five minutes to see if they will open up to you by letting them know that you care. Then you can offer things like, “Let’s talk more during lunch or after school.” Gestures like these help to develop relationships.

  3. Find out what makes your students unique—You will quickly learn that your classroom is filled with various personalities all meshed into one class. Learning about the different personalities represented in your room will help you gain a better understanding of how students will interact with each other. Understanding personalities will help you when planning group assignments, de-escalating conflicts, and helping students with personal challenges.

  4. Make time to show students that you care about what is happening in their lives—I really want to highlight that this doesn’t pertain to just students who appear to be having a bad day. I am also talking about students who appear to be having a good day and those in between.

Don’t give up on any of your students. Get to know them as human beings, as individuals and not just another student. You might find yourself intrigued with all the amazing thoughts and talents that your students have. You may also notice a change in your classroom atmosphere as less instances of student behavior occurs.

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 Time to Teach: How do I get organized and work smarter? (ASCD), Inviting Students to Learn: 100 Tips for Talking Effectively with Your Students (ASCD), and Research on Habits of Mind (2014, Institute for Habits of Mind International):

My best tips for managing the classroom come from Michael Grinder (2019). He developed nonverbal methods for managing the classroom. Some of his techniques appear below.

Grinder (2019) recommends that teachers stand in the same place in the classroom, preferably in the front of the room, to get students’ attention. Students will know that when we are there, we will be asking for their attention. They will tend to get quiet as we are moving into place and they are anticipating that we will be calling them together. Grinder recommends asking for their attention when their voices are going down so that they will be more likely to turn and look at us.

As the students’ voices go down, we can raise our hand (B. Garmston, personal communication, June 5, 1997). They know this is the signal for them to also raise their hand, complete their sentence (not their paragraph), and turn toward the teacher. According to Garmston, it is a respectful way to ask for attention.

Grinder (2019) also talks about modulating students’ metabolism. When we are excitable and talking in a loud voice, our students will do the same. According to Grinder, we are raising their metabolism. On the other hand, when we slow our voice down and talk quietly, we can lower their metabolism. I learned this lesson when I was supervising an intern who was teaching 3rd grade. She moved around the room slowly and spoke in a quiet voice. I tend to move more quickly, so I started moving slowly and speaking softly when I entered her room. The change was almost magical.

Grinder (2019) identified two types of voices: the approachable voice and the credible voice. When we use the credible voice, our chin goes up and down, and our palms tend to be up. We bob our head. This is the friendly voice. Teachers of younger students will naturally use more approachable voices than teachers of older students.

When we use the credible voice, the chin stays flat and goes down at the end of what we are saying, and palms are facing down (Grinder, 2019). This is the voice of authority, and our students know we mean what we say. They also know we know what we are talking about.

According to Grinder (personal communication, Sept. 8, 1995), it is important for us to be breathing when we use these voices. If we are upset or holding our breath, the approachable voice can come across as whining. We can come across as being angry when we use the credible if we are holding our breath.

If we can get our students’ attention by using the approachable voice, it is great (Grinder, 2019). We may be able to get their attention with an approachable voice in the morning, while we may need to use the credible voice later in the day. The day before a holiday, we definitely need to use a credible voice.

Grinder (2019) recommended that teachers “go visual.” This means that when we give instructions, we always have them written so that if students have questions, they can look at the board, on the PowerPoint, on the chart paper, or on a piece of paper we give them. He recommended that teachers look at the visual while giving instructions so that students will look there, as well. When a student has a question about the assignment, we can point to the written instructions and look at it. This also helps students to become more independent.

More information about nonverbal classroom strategies can be found at www.michaelgrinder.com.


Grinder, M. G. (2019). ENVoY: Your personal guide to classroom management (16th ed.). Battle Ground, WA: Michael Grinder and Associates.

Response From April Croy

April Croy is a lifelong lover of reading and literacy. Formerly a high school English and special education teacher, district K-8 literacy director, and curriculum writer for various publishers, April now works as an editor at Scholastic, creating professional learning content to help support teachers on their own journeys of literacy instruction:

Each classroom has its own identity and culture, one that is developed throughout the year by the teacher and students. These are a few ways to help create an environment where all learners can thrive.

Be clear and consistent

Our brains can only process a certain amount of new content at any one time. During class, we want our students focusing as much on learning new content as possible. We want the flow and function of the classroom to become “muscle memory,” so that students don’t even need to think about what is expected of them and how to behave. To accomplish this, we must set clear expectations so that the rules and procedures fade into the background and become a routine part of engaging in learning.

General best practice recommends three to six classroom rules or procedures, framed in positive language (e.g., “Treat our room with respect” rather than “Don’t be disruptive”). Students should have these rules and procedures available to them visibly at all times. They should also know that your procedures will be implemented all day, every day. Spending time at the beginning of the year teaching, modeling, and practicing examples and nonexamples will help set and maintain behavioral habits throughout the year.

Make every minute matter

A healthy learning environment is often a busy, bustling place, with students moving from one activity to the next. Each time there is a transition between activities, students need to be ready to transition so that they can move from one activity to the next in under a minute. It can be done! Start the school year by practicing transition routines, such as moving from one location to the next in the classroom, handing in papers, or getting materials. Make it a game for students to see how quickly they can complete the transition. Have a visible timer and set the goal for a one-minute (or 30-second!) transition. Some educators find it helpful to use energetic music to get the students moving with efficiency. Flight of the Bumblebee is a popular choice.

Praise the positive

When students are given a task to accomplish, rather than calling out students who are not following procedures, flip your focus and instead verbally recognize students who are correctly following instructions. “I like the way Zane is getting out his book without talking,” or “Shanice is doing an excellent job putting away her writing materials” accomplishes two goals at once: It gives praise to students who are following instructions AND it is a small verbal cue for others to follow suit.

Use nonverbal communication (silent signals)

Teachers are fantastic at multitasking! We have to keep our eye on 25 or more wiggly students at any given time, while still keeping our feet moving in teaching our lessons. To increase the efficiency of your multitasking, incorporate the use of nonverbal communication, both from you and from your students. For students who are struggling to follow instructions, sometimes merely standing next to them or placing a hand on their desk is enough to redirect behavior. A quick nod or shake of the head accompanied by direct eye contact with the student is another way to communicate quickly and effectively. You and your students can also create a system of nonverbal hand signals--asking to go to the bathroom, for a pencil, a tissue, or even signals to thank or show gratitude.

Check for understanding

After giving a set of instructions, it’s a good idea to check to ensure that students correctly heard and understood what is expected. Begin your instructions by letting students know you’re about to explain a process, then will have them repeat it back to you. Share the steps of your process, then call on a student to repeat the expectations and instructions. Ask others in the class to agree or add to what they heard. If students can’t correctly repeat what’s expected of them, it’s time to go back and explain in a different way.

Structure classroom discussions

A trusting, respectful classroom is a two-way street. Set aside time at the end of a week, or twice a month, to gather feedback from students. What’s working for them in the classroom? What areas could be improved? Allow students to self-reflect and evaluate where they can strengthen their participation, then talk about what structures and procedures will best support that effort. For classrooms new to this experience, you may wish to have students complete an independent survey first, to build a sense of safety and security that their answers will be respected and appreciated.

Response From Lori Jackson

Lori Jackson is an educational psychologist who has been working with students and their families for more than 15 years. She is co-founder of The Connections Model, an SEL-focused education technology company whose KidConnect app and curriculum teach kids the fundamentals of emotional regulation, the necessary foundation for all learning. Lori believes that all children have the capacity to succeed in school and the right to a quality education:

A recent Primary Source (2012) survey indicated that 62 percent of teachers said behaviors are interfering with their ability to teach. Wow! That number clearly shows that we are in need of new ways to help support student engagement and overall behavior. When we hear “classroom management,” we often think the educators are the managers. Teachers and related service providers find new techniques and ideas to help kids stay on task. This often involves whole-class behavior-modification programs and different reinforcers to support positive behaviors. For some students, this may mean individualized behavior plans and programs which need to be managed throughout the day. As we know, these often get stale so a great deal of time is given to changing and updating our various modification programs so kids don’t get bored with them. But is this really the best way?

We like to look at the whole concept of classroom behavior from a slightly different vantage point. To do this, we need to change the way we look at behavior in our students. Let’s make the students the classroom managers and teach them how to manage their own behaviors. Here is a three-step plan to student-driven classroom management.

  1. Emotions Drive Behaviors

    ―Teach students about their emotions. When you can’t identify, understand, or manage your own emotions, you are unable to manage your behavior. We make the assumption that students know their emotions. Many don’t or have a limited understanding of them. Explicitly teaching different emotions and giving them context helps kids not only understand how they feel but why.

  2. Connect Emotions to Behaviors

    ―Once kids have identified how they feel, they are able to look at how that emotion connects to how they behave. Emotions aren’t always connected to negative behaviors. A student who is excited and unable to focus on a math worksheet can be helped to understand that the feeling of emotion is driving the off-task behavior.

  3. Teach Strategies (replacement behaviors) to Manage Emotions―Once students understand the connection between emotions and behaviors, we can begin to teach them to use different behaviors to manage the emotions that they feel. An anxious student can be taught to get a drink of water instead of wandering around the classroom or climbing under their desk. A frustrated student can be taught to do three jumping jacks when faced with a difficult math problem instead of crumpling her paper and refusing to work.

Using this process, we aren’t teaching kids to manage their behaviors―we are teaching them how to regulate their emotions. In turn, we are giving them the tools to manage themselves in the classroom. That’s classroom management for real. What? You’re suggesting this will take too much time to teach and there is so much else on the plate of our teachers that this isn’t possible? With these strategies, it can be done efficiently, and its importance is undeniable: 62 percent of teachers are saying that behavior is interfering with their ability to teach.

We are already spending time managing behavior, and it isn’t really helping with classroom management. There is a positive impact on everyone when we help kids to help themselves. Student-led classroom management takes the same amount of time as a whole-class-management system initially, and then actually takes less time as students learn to manage themselves. It’s time to put the keys to management in the hands of our students.

Response From Shauna Tominey & Megan McClelland

Shauna Tominey, Ph.D, is an assistant professor of practice and parenting education specialist at Oregon State University. She is the principal investigator for the Oregon Parenting Education Collaborative, an initiative to provide high-quality parenting education to families. Previously, Shauna served as the director of early-childhood programming and teacher education at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence.

Megan McClelland, Ph.D., is the Katherine E. Smith Professor of Healthy Children and Families at Oregon State University (OSU) where she serves as endowed director at the Hallie E. Ford Center for Healthy Children and Families. Her research focuses on optimizing children’s development, especially as it relates to children’s self-regulation, early learning, and school success.

Megan and Shauna are co-authors of Stop, Think, Act: Integrating Self-Regulation in the Early Childhood Classroom available from Routledge and Amazon:

When we think about classroom-management tips, we often think about the role of transitions. Most teachers name transitions as the most challenging part of the day. There are countless transitions across a typical school day, particularly in the early grades, and smoothly navigating transitions is an essential part of effective classroom management.

Teachers and children both play a role in classroom management. Effective teachers help children regulate their behavior by preparing children for transitions and orienting them to where they are going (“Remember when we talked about ...? We’re going to do an activity about... next.”).

For children, an important developmental task is practicing self-regulation so they can effectively manage their emotions and behaviors. Children with strong self-regulation are more successful in school compared with peers who struggle with these skills. Strong self-regulation relates to positive outcomes like better academic achievement, college completion, and stable employment.

There are many ways that educators help children practice these skills while also helping their classrooms run more smoothly. Here are a few of our favorite classroom-management strategies:

  • Create and maintain a consistent classroom schedule.

    Children thrive on routine, and having a consistent pattern from one day to the next helps children know what is coming, supporting their ability to self-regulate. As you plan your schedule, carefully choose activities that match children’s energy levels at different times of day.

  • Use cues throughout the day to guide children.

    Post your classroom schedule where children can see it (include pictures for younger children). Refer to the schedule regularly. In addition, use oral and visual cues to let children know that a transition is coming and explain what is coming next. Dim the lights and turn on soft music before a quiet activity. Turn up the lights and get children moving before outdoor time to help them use their energy outdoors.

  • Set up your classroom to support success.

    Be sure to explain to children what to do (not just what not to do) so that they learn the rules of the classroom and why these rules are important. Place pictures and descriptions around the classroom to help children self-regulate and to remind them of classroom rules and guidelines. Make sure children can reach supplies that they need and keep supplies that they should not have out of reach (e.g., teacher scissors).

  • Teach self-regulation skills in fun and engaging ways.

    Traditional classroom games, such as the Freeze Game (dancing when music plays and freezing when it stops), can be made more complex with a simple twist—dance quickly to fast music, slowly to slow music, and then try doing the opposite! Teach children songs or games that they can sing and play while transitioning or waiting.

  • Give children support to manage their emotions, not just their behaviors.

    Children and adults alike have different emotions throughout the day. These feelings can help children feel safe, supported, and ready to learn or make it hard to focus. Check in with your class as well as with individual children. Ask children how they are feeling, help them name their emotions, and brainstorm strategies to manage different feelings (e.g., “What could you do to help a friend who is feeling sad?”).

  • Offer supportive feedback and help children view one another as learners.

    Self-regulation is a set of skills that needs to be practiced. If children have a breakdown in self-regulation, talk about it outside of emotionally charged moments (e.g., “It seems like you had a hard time when we had to put materials away. What could we do differently next time that would be helpful?”). Foster supportive relationships by helping children view one another as learners (e.g., “I didn’t like that he pushed you, either. It’s not OK to do that. He is still learning, just like we all are.”).

  • Model your own self-regulation skills. Look for ways that you can model self-regulation throughout the day. As you do, explain what you are doing and why (e.g., “I’m going to stand in line just like you and wait for a turn to wash my hands.”).

These classroom-management strategies can be embedded into any classroom setting to support better classroom management and ultimately strengthen children’s self-regulation.

Response From Keisha Rembert

Keisha Rembert is an 8th grade English and U.S. history teacher at Clifford Crone Middle School in Naperville, Ill. Keisha feeds her love of learning by continually refining her craft and has been the recipient of several grants affording her the opportunity to take courses at some of the world’s most renowned universities. She has recently been named Illinois’ History Teacher of the Year for 2019:

I remember being told that I should not smile the first two weeks of school or the students would eat me alive or something. That’s not who I am. I am relational by nature and I love to laugh and smile. I find students respond more to my smile and laughter than any stern look. I try to praise in public and offer constructive feedback in private. It has worked well for me. Students need and deserve respect, and often once given they reciprocate.

Thanks to Sheldon, Jenny, April, Lori, Shauna, Megan, and Keisha 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.

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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This Year’s Most Popular Q&A Posts

Race & Gender Challenges

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Best Ways to Begin The School Year

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I am also creating a Twitter list including all contributors to this column.

Look for Part Three in a few days.

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