Learning the Best Classroom Management Strategies

All teachers dream of that perfect classroom, where all students are on task, helping one another, participating and engaged with the lesson. We know that this is actually quite rare.


Some of us know of THAT TEACHER - you know who I'm talking about - the teacher with the ALWAYS perfect class, whose students are perfect, decorations are perfect, seating arrangements are perfect, even the linoleum floor seems to have a certain sparkle to it ... you just couldn't stand her (or him)!

Well, the year after "that teacher" in my building became an administrator, I asked her how she maintained such perfect classroom management with the same group of students I had, while I seemed to struggle with it day after day, year after year.

She told me that the tone a teacher sets is most important. For example, in her class students knew there was a set routine, with a beginning, middle and end of the block. They knew to get busy on the warm up as soon as they walked in, and that she would watch from the doorway, greeting students as they came in, and checking to see that the students in the room had already started working.

Upon everyone (or nearly everyone) finishing the warm up, no matter the lesson for the day, they would always share their thoughts or answer to the warm-up, then they would carry on with the days lesson. She would lead, the students would take notes or review notes, then it was up to them to perform in an exercise on the lesson just given. Her lessons weren't just pen and paper, often students would be up and moving around the room too, but without the chaos that I would've expected from ninth graders.

Instead, the students knew they had to get through the lesson because they would be assessed on their knowledge in the last minutes of the class. This teacher would do different things to check for learning to be sure the students understood not only the notes, but the purpose and objective of the main lesson as well.

This routine existed everyday, and the students knew what to expect. Any student that disrupted the tasks that needed to get done for that day would be removed from class, or isolated within the class (another neat trick - more on that later). This teacher took this routine seriously, to the point that the students began to take it seriously as well.

From my experience, students like and need consistency. When they already know what to expect from a certain teacher, he or she will rise to meet those expectations. I've worked with some of the toughest students in Boston, and they all respond well to an established routine. In fact, after I implemented this strategy and we would be interrupted for an assembly, fire drill, etc., students would be annoyed more with the disruption to the schedule than anything else.

Try to plan your day using the following structure:

1. Beginning - Have a warm-up or memory-jogging exercise written on the board. Something (like an open ended question, or reasonably easy equation) that could arouse discussion, or serve as a segue into your lessson

2. Middle - Execute your lesson, but first, give CLEAR directions, with an example or model if you can. Give students an amount of time to complete it. Or tell them to watch to clock and complete their activity by a certain time.

This puts the learning in their hands, AND holds them accountable for completing tasks within time and space parameters. Only add essential "teaching" comments when absolutely necessary. Show them you trust them to complete the work, and be a silent observer, naturally re-directing students individually as they veer off-track!

3. End - Now you bring the class back together as a group. Let them know they did well, even if perhaps they didn't all complete the task within the time given. Their effort is what's most important, especially in terms of classroom management. Have a few students perhaps casually share out-loud what they learned or thought was different or interesting.

Do NOT ask them if they liked the activity, reading or lesson. In a well-managed classroom, student preference for "fun" or entertainment is not the goal. Learning is the goal, and what's fun for one student might not be for another, so keep those questions to a minimum.

Wrap up by giving a small assessment. It could be a discussion, or, a worksheet styled as a quiz, or simply have the students list three new things they learned, or something they still have questions about. Only read these when you have time, and can offer feedback to each student. :)

The teacher who consistently stuck to this routine day after day had new teachers in her room to observe her classes. The new teachers commented that they only saw this teacher "do any teaching" for about 5-8 minutes of the whole 60 minute block! But they were amazed by how much the students got out of just one class, when they were trusted to perform as independent learners - occasionally asking one another for help to complete the tasks.

This classroom management technique worked so well, that teachers across the school started to implement it in their classes. Soon, the students could expect similar routines for each of their classes (obviously, routines would vary depending on the subject matter).

Class transitions in the high school went much more smoothly, there was less emphasis on getting students to go to class on-time, since they knew they would be missing valuable information, and we experienced a shift in the students sense of personal responsibility. Moreover, we saw many more students asking one another for help with in-class and out-of-class assignments, instead of always going to the teachers for help.

If you're having issues with classroom management, demonstrate to the students that in order to make the best use of THEIR time, there needs to be some consistency, and that you're starting a daily routine. Emphasize the fact that there is a lot of material to cover, and this is the best way to accomplish this. Remember, it's easier to start strict and become nicer, than it is to start nice and become strict. Don't just mention the routine and not implement it, try it for 30 straight days - enough to make it a habit, and see if your students' behavior doesn't change.

Oh, and one more thing... YOU have to BELIEVE in it. STICK to it, don't falter, or your students will see this as another lame attempt to get them to sit down and shut up. Trust that a routine is best for both you and them, and you will soon see the difference.

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