A Crash Course in Classroom Management: 10 Basic Strategies

With the new school year around the corner, there are some great posts about developing inquiry-based learning environments:

Is this a habitat in which inquiry can thrive? 

10 Ways to Create a Culture of Thinking

Developing Independence and Inquiry

However, some of our first year teachers say that it can be quite difficult to master inquiry-based learning environments without having a solid grasp on basic classroom management first.

Here are 10 tips that I found helpful when I was in a classroom that allowed me to keep students safe and maximize time for learning:

1. Channel Mary Poppins.


Be equal parts firm and fun. When appropriate be silly, joke around, have fun, sing, dance and play games, but when needed be direct, firm and deliver the message that needs to be delivered to keep students safe and learning.

2. Say it straight, simple and with a smile. 


When those moments come when your students need redirection say what you need to say respectfully and directly. “Bader, eyes this way.” or “Min, please walk.” Never, ever, EVER yell. If you yell, you’ve already lost them and it will take a very long time to get them back.

3. It’s all about systems.


Coaching football is all about systems. Running a classroom is no different. The less students depend on you to know what to do, when to do it, and how to do it the better. Before the school year starts sit down and mentally go through a whole day. Think of each and every routine that is needed. How do you want your students to enter the class? What is their morning routine? What is the procedure for coming to the carpet? What is the system for going to the bathroom? Map out each procedure that is needed and the specific steps within each procedure. Then decide when and how to introduce the procedures. What systems do students need to know right away? Which ones can wait until the second day of school or later in the week? Once you know what routines you want and when you want to introduce them, remember the three magic words of developing procedures: Rehearse. Remind. Redo.

4. Managing a class is like driving a car – scan every 15 seconds.

driving mirrors

When you are learning to drive a car you are told to check your mirrors every 15 seconds. The same applies when managing a classroom full of students. Whether you are reading a story, having a one-on-one conference, working with a guided group or roaming around make sure you position your body in a way that allows you to see all your students and make a point every 15 seconds or so to look up and scan the entire room. This allows you to keep your finger on the pulse of the class and offer redirections as needed.

5. Collect before you direct.


Have a strategy for getting your students’ attention when you need to speak to them. Do not talk over them. Ensure you are giving them a clear signal that they need to be listening and make sure you are giving them enough time to wrap up their current conversation and transfer their attention over to you. Often the best ways to do so is with a different sound or frequency. Trying to get their attention by talking when they are all talking is tricky. But if you whisper, play simon says, ring a chime, play a short song, sing a direction, clap a rhythm or play an instrument it makes it easier for students to actually hear that you are trying to get their attention. It might take 2, 3, 4 or more tries, but stick with it until you have everyone ‘collected’.

6. Win over your ‘back pocket’ kids. 


Every class has one or two (or three… or four) students that you need to get on your side right away. These are the students who often need the most love and attention and can either end up being a teachers best ally or their biggest challenge. Identify these students as soon as possible and make sure you make a connection with them right away. Give them extra responsibilities. Ask for their help with something. Tell them all the wonderful things you have heard about them from their previous teacher. Put in the love and attention early on so their charisma and social influence becomes a productive force in your classroom.

7. Consistency and Follow Through


Mean what you say. Every single time. To every single student. It is very behaviourally confusing for students when they are redirected for something one day but not the next. And even more behaviourally confusing when some students receive redirections for doing the same thing that other students ‘get away with’. If you have classroom expectations, be consistent and follow through. Students need to know that when you say something you mean it. Every time. For everyone.

8. Time is hard. Music is easy. (and more fun!)


Conceptualizing and self-monitoring chunks of time is quite hard. “I’m going to give you 2 minutes to (get ready for PE, unpack your bag, tidy up the classroom)” is setting yourself up for disappointment. Choose a song that is 2 minutes long and have your students set the goal to have their task finished by the end of the song. The more you use the same song, the more the students will know when it is half over or almost done. Also, who doesn’t like a little music to make unpleasant jobs like tidying up the classroom more enjoyable!

9. Specific behaviour plans for specific students’ specific behaviours ONLY.

behavior chart

Whether it’s a clip chart, a sticker chart, a stop light or class dojo…there is no need for full class behaviour plans. If you have clear expectations, routines and procedures most students should be able to get through the day with the typical amount of help and assistance. There may be one or two (or three or four) students who after the first few weeks of school, seem to need something extra. Sit down with those students individually and come up with a plan together. Be specific, unpack the behaviour, have the student track the behaviour, and set goals and celebrations to help reduce the behaviour over time. (More about this coming soon!)

10. Build real relationships with your students – play with them.


This is the secret ingredient. The best piece of advice I can offer. If your students like you, feel comfortable around you and know that you genuinely like them, you will have a much easier time with classroom management. Take the time and make the effort to build real relationships with each and every student. Learn how to pronounce their name properly. Learn about their family. Ask them to teach you a few words of their language, or a few important tenets of their religion. Show your human side – talk about your family, be open with mistakes, model how you deal with emotions and frustrations. And most importantly, play with them. Go out for a recess that you are not on duty and play. Race against them, play tic-tac-toe, skip, shoot a basketball, colour a picture – you won’t regret it. The relationship that can be built with students through play is very different from a relationship that is only built inside the classroom. And it’s so worth it!

These are 10 basic tips for classroom management that have worked for me. What would you add to the list?

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