“Good classroom management has much more to do with class than it does with management.” Todd Whitaker
For several years, I traveled around the country, consulting in middle and elementary schools in more than twenty states. It seemed that wherever I went, I would hear at least some teachers talking—and complaining—about student behavior. However, whenever I visited their classrooms, I rarely saw any examples of overt student misbehavior. Most schools I visited were filled with students who were extremely well mannered and well behaved. Moreover, these schools were staffed by teachers who were masters in terms of managing the learning environment. Still, it is worth revisiting the topic of student behavior and classroom management periodically to monitor our practices, reflecting on what is working as well as what can be improved.
Too often, we hear the words “classroom management” and think solely about issues related to student behavior. In truth, classroom management encompasses much more, as the phrase itself implies: managing the classroom. Of course, a well-managed classroom results in little or no student misbehavior. A poorly managed classroom will, on the other hand, encourage student misbehavior.
Obviously, we will never completely eliminate student behavior indiscretions at any school; that is why we are teachers. Much like we need to teach our students how to read and perform complex math calculations, we also need to teach them how to act in a variety of situations and settings. While we must insist that all students adhere to clearly communicated conduct expectations each and every day, we must also act in ways designed to ensure that they will want to do so.
Let’s all keep in mind some classroom management basics as we move beyond the beginning of the year and into the “meat” of the school year. Like most dedicated teachers, I firmly believe that engaging and challenging instruction is the best deterrent to misbehavior. Even our students will tell us that they do not misbehave when the work provided is challenging and interesting. Students also behave better when there are classroom routines that everyone follows consistently. A well-planned, well-paced lesson will provide students little time for disruptive behavior. Plan activities in smaller blocks of time. Set clear limits for your students. Decide what constitutes unacceptable behavior and adhere to these expectations firmly, fairly, and in a friendly manner. Be consistent in enforcing consequences and communicate regularly with parents regarding their child’s behavior. Avoid reacting with anger to student misbehavior. Remember Todd Whitaker’s advice to never argue, never yell, and never use sarcasm in dealing with any student.
Remember that student misbehavior generally has some underlying reason. Try to identify and address the cause for the behavior. This lets students know you care for them and gives them a chance to explain and improve their actions. No one--including students themselves--likes classrooms that are characterized by disruptive behavior.
In sharing the following survey regarding classroom management teacher practices, I noticed that only half or so of the items related directly to what we do as teachers to “enforce” behavior expectations. Instead, most truly do refer to how we “manage our classroom environment.” If we manage the classroom according to the guidelines suggested, student discipline is for the most part a non-issue. Take a moment and reflect on how often you act in the following ways:
- I am friendly but firm with my students.
- I treat each student with kindness and respect.
- When a student or students act inappropriately, I remain calm and composed.
- I display enthusiasm and a sense of humor with my students.
- During each passing period between classes, I am at the doorway to greet and chat with students.
- I insist that students treat me with dignity and respect.
- I interact with all students, not just a few.
- I give my students a pleasing greeting each day and wish them a pleasant weekend.
- During each passing period between classes, I am at the doorway so I can supervise both the hallway and my classroom.
- So that I know what is going on in my classroom, I generally spend my class time on my feet.
- I expect students to listen attentively when another student or I am talking.
- When I correct student misbehavior, I communicate in a private, positive, and respectful manner.
- I admit that at times student misbehavior is a result of something that was my fault.
- I am able to motivate my students, including the reluctant learner.
- I carefully plan each lesson so that there is no “dead time.”
- I provide guided or independent practice during which I move about the room offering individual or small-group assistance.
- During each class period, I provide a variety of learning activities. Rarely do I use an entire period for a single activity, as students need a change of pace.
- I adjust my daily lesson planning to take into account my students’ span of attention.
- I think through discipline decisions before acting.
- I make only those discipline decisions that I can enforce.
- I make discipline decisions after the “heat of the moment” has passed.
- While I take attendance or perform other necessary tasks, often at the outset of each class session, my students are working independently perhaps on a brief assignment or problem on the overhead or board.
- I establish time-saving routines for collecting papers and distributing materials or supplies.
- My directions for a learning activity are brief and concise.
- I give directions one step at a time. I avoid long and detailed directions.
- I show sincere enthusiasm for the subjects I teach.
- I provide a neat classroom that gives students the idea of orderliness.
- I insist that my students maintain high standards in their work and behavior. In both areas, my standards are realistic and attainable.
- My homework assignments have a purpose, are instructional, and are regulated as to the time it will take a student to complete the assignment.
- During each class session, I summarize, or have students summarize, the day’s learning.
- I use pretests or procedures to ascertain what students already know.
This list of intentional behaviors relating to a smoothly operating classroom is worth reflecting on from time to time. Are there others you would add? Are there any that you think are not important or not really related to student behavior? Thank you for taking the time to informally self-assess your practices that directly or indirectly affect student behavior. The way we behave has a powerful impact on how our students behave. Thanks for managing your learning environment with class!
As I have mentioned previously, O’Connor devotes a chapter each to 15 “broken” grading practices, offering a “fix” for each problem. This week, we look at the sixth problem, along with his fix:
Grades are broken when they include group scores from work done in cooperative learning groups. The fix is to ensure that all evidence used to determine grades comes from individual evidence of achievement. Group score may not accurately reflect the achievement of each group member and would, therefore, be unfair and inaccurate for some members of the group. Recognize that cooperative learning is a learning activity, not an assessment tool.