Effective classroom management is central to successful teaching and learning.
However, as a new Early Career Teacher, you should know that there’s no such thing as the perfect lesson, all the time.
There are going to be times when you need to throw the lesson plan out the window and change track.
In these situations, it is important to keep your cool, not get stressed out and definitely don’t let your emotions show.
Easier said than done, right? Well, this post will hopefully prepare you for those difficult situations and give you some ideas on how to deal with the event and help you get your lesson moving forward again.
Using the right strategy in a given situation will probably depend on a number of factors, especially the age of the students.
However, below you will find several classroom behaviour management strategies that will help ensure your classroom environment remains positive, at least for a large percentage of the time.
1. Don’t take classroom disruptions personally
First things first, don’t take a classroom disruption personally.
Even the very best teachers in the country have had to face a disrupted lesson more than once in their careers.
We all have. It’s part and parcel of being a teacher. The important thing is how you deal with those situations, so a little spark of disruption doesn’t turn into a raging inferno.
When you don’t take a disruption personally and instead expect this will happen, it is easier to keep a calm head.
Also, you’ll be able to deal with the situation more effectively.
2. Have a list of guidelines to improve classroom harmony
Often a straightforward way to avoid disruptions, and deal with them quickly when they do arise, is by having a set of guidelines for the students to follow.
This list will make it clear to all students what you expect from them. Your list doesn’t have to be all demands such as, “don’t do this, don’t do that”, but it can also highlight positive behaviour you welcome in the classroom.
In most cases, when an infraction with your rules does occur, you only need to point at the list you have strategically placed on the wall to remind the ‘guilty’ student of their mishap.
This helps the student to get back in line quickly, without you having to say anything, so your lesson keeps pace, and the flow isn’t disrupted.
In addition, this doesn’t embarrass the student in front of all their classmates, which could lead to fanning the flames of the situation even further.
3. Involve your students when formulating your guidelines
One of the best ways to ensure your students follow the guidelines is to give ownership to the students.
At the beginning of the term, create a discussion around formulating your guidelines. Talk about why you have guidelines and discuss their benefits for the students.
Then ask them to come up with ideas. Perhaps put the class in small groups, and ask them to come up with their lists to help all lessons run smoothly.
Once all groups have had enough time to come up with their lists, you can join back as a class, and create the master list together.
When the students ‘own’ the set of Classroom Guidelines, there is far more chance of them respecting and following them throughout the term.
4. Give your students a list of the guidelines
Once the master copy of the guidelines is finished, print a copy for each of your students.
If you are feeling a little creative, and depending on the class and the age group, you could print the rules up on good-quality parchment paper, with the goal of making the document look like the Constitution of the United States.
You could even go as far as giving a lesson on how the US Constitution was created and why it’s so important. Ask all the students to sign their ‘copy’ and have a small ceremony to celebrate the event.
If you put this much effort in, your students will surely respect the guidelines, and there is a very strong chance your term will go much smoother than if you never had any guidelines in the first place.
5. Don’t forget the effectiveness of non-verbal cues
As mentioned in no.2, simply pointing at your list of guidelines can quickly bring a distracted student back on task.
Using non-verbal cues like this to refocus a wayward student can be a very effective tool for teachers.
These cues are powerful because they can get the message across quickly without bringing unwanted and most likely embarrassing attention to the student in question and consequently disrupting the lesson's rhythm.
As you develop more experience as a teacher, you’ll develop a set of cues which work for you.
Cues as simple as smiling or a thumbs up can give positive reassurance quickly. While shaking your head or raising your eyebrows can help guide students veering off the path.
6. Pick your fights
Even though you have a list of guidelines and you will develop a list of expectations in your classroom as you become more experienced, you need to keep calm when disruptions do occur.
If you pull up every student, every time a guideline is broken, you will be in for some agonizing lessons and possible a whole term.
As you get more lessons under your belt, you’ll develop the ability to know which things to leave, and which disruption to focus on. In most cases, the whole lesson dynamic and the flow of the lesson is much more important than one student breaking one of your rules.
Think of this like ‘playing the advantage in football’. This is where the referee lets play continue when an indiscretion occurs to allow the flow of the game to continue.
And then, when a natural break in the game occurs, the referee will come back to the player concerned to talk with them. You can mimic this effective strategy by having a quiet word with the student later and reminding them of their behaviour.
Again, this prevents the student from being embarrassed, and you’ll stand a better chance of keeping their respect.
The student in question will also come to realise that there is nothing that slips your eye, and this should help them stick to the guidelines throughout the term.
7. Don’t be scared of sticking to your guns
Your guidelines are there to be followed. That means when the guidelines are broken you need to implement possible repercussions.
If you don’t, then there is a high chance your students will learn to disrespect your guidelines, thinking they aren’t necessary.
There’s also a chance they will begin to realise you don’t mean what you say. Often, it is just a case of reminding your students ‘why’ you have certain guidelines, and how they benefit all the students.
After all, the whole purpose of your guidelines is to help make your lessons more effective, rather than having rules for rules' sake.
8. Don’t be afraid to amend your rules
As you gain more experience as a teacher, there is a high chance the set of guidelines you came up with as a new ECT will change. In fact, I’d be very surprised if your guidelines don’t change as you gain more experience.
Remember, these are ‘guidelines’ for effective classroom behaviour management, so they are not set in stone for all eternity.
Be prepared to modify them, add new ones, and perhaps completely cull some of them.
Your goal should always be to roll with the punches, and not be afraid to amend any guideline which is not practical or has become obsolete.
9. Always be clear with your commands
It is always essential to give clear commands to your students.
Most children are very literal. Therefore, if you say, “Would you like to put your phone away?” they might simply say, “No.”
Consequently, it is best if you don’t phrase your commands as questions. A more precise instruction would be, “Put your phone in your bag, thank you.”
In addition, saying ‘thank you’ assumes compliance. In contrast, the student might regard ‘please’ as if you are asking and not expecting them to follow through with your instruction.
Also, use the student’s name when you’re giving them a command to make sure you have their full attention.
10. Don’t punish the whole class
If and when disruptions do occur, never punish the whole class. This could diminish your relationship with all the students following your instructions and working hard. Remember, no one likes being punished for things they haven’t done.
A better way is to call on the student or students concerned and ask if they need help or if they have a question. And then find the right time later to discuss the issue with them, to minimise class disruptions.
This will also help you keep a friendly disposition with the whole class while immediately acknowledging inappropriate behaviour.
11. Use praise to reinforce classroom values
When your students have performed well, don’t forget to praise them.
Praising students can improve academic and behavioural performance because praise inspires students to continue with good behaviour.
In addition, when other students see that you have given recognition for a job well done, this will motivate the rest of the class to act in a similar way.
Final thoughts on classroom behaviour management strategies
Your classroom behaviour management strategies do not mean you are ruling your students with an iron fist.
In fact, these strategies help your students know what is expected of them from the first day of term.
Often issues in the classroom arise when students don’t have clarity about what they can and can’t do.
By taking the time to set out what you expect, both positive and negative, from the first day of term, you’ll have a much smoother term and the students will get more from the whole experience with you.
In addition, having well-managed lessons makes it easier to see which students need more support from you while helping the stronger ones progress further.