Enhance Your Classroom Management Skills

Check out these techniques used by fellow educators to make your whole school year more successful.

Happy elementary school teacher talking to a student in her classroom

by NEA Member Benefits

Lisa Mims doesn’t make a big show when an unruly student disrupts her fifth-grade class. She simply hands the student a pre-set timer and sends him or her across the hall to a buddy teacher for a no-frills time-out. “There’s no embarrassment in there. When the timer goes off, they get back and we get back (to work),” says Mims, who teaches at Pleasantville Elementary School in New Castle, Delaware.

Mims’ behavior management strategy worked because she established it at the start of the school year and used it consistently. The new school year brings new opportunities to sharpen your classroom management strategies, and whether you are a new educator or a veteran facing a challenging class, these tips will start you down the path to a positive year.

Establish relationships

Larry Ferlazzo asks his students at Luther Burbank High School in Sacramento, California, to complete a one-page survey, answering simple questions such as what they look forward to for the year and what they want to do after graduation. The survey acts as a kick-off to short conversations with students, helping him get to know them and vice versa. “Everyone wants to be cared for and recognized. They’re not just bodies in a desk,” Ferlazzo says. “It all comes back to relationships.” This also helps with classroom engagement because he can take what he knows about his students’ lives and connect that to his lessons.

Primary educators can ask students to draw a picture of how they feel that day or what they did on summer vacation, and older elementary students can respond to a writing prompt. Elementary educators could also establish Monday morning meetings, asking students to recap their weekends in a group discussion. Secondary educators might follow Ferlazzo’s lead, encouraging students to write about positive experiences in and out of school throughout the week, and then share them with their classmates.

Avoid a power struggle

As the head of your classroom, you want to stay on top, but so does a student who is acting out. Instead of acting on impulse, take a few deep breaths. “Screaming and yelling is definitely a no-no,” Mims says. “It’s not a win-win situation.” One of her strategies is to keep a chair next to her desk so she can bring a student over to discuss a behavior issue, rather than handling it in front of the class. Ferlazzo’s tip for secondary educators is to use a free period to talk one-on-one with students who posed a problem in class.

For persistent behavior problems, try to determine the root cause, Mims and Ferlazzo say. “If we look at (a student) as a behavior problem, then that’s what they become,” Mims says. Educators can speak with caregivers about what is happening at home, as well as talk to a child’s past educators to get hints to bad behavior triggers. You can also use your established relationship-building efforts to learn more about how to manage them.

If you do lose your cool, don’t hesitate to say you’re sorry, Ferlazzo advises. “We are human and we often make mistakes. It’s good modeling,” he says.

Get students involved

Chances are, your school has rules that students learn at the start of the year. But you can still give students a say. At the start of the year, have students help make the class rules – it gives them ownership and they will be more likely to follow them. Mims advises educators to keep rules phrased as positives, not negatives. “I don’t let them use the words ‘don’t’ or ‘no,’” Mims says. To find ideas for classroom rules, see the article “Set Up Rules and Routines.”

Ferlazzo also advises that educators find ways to give students power. If an educator needs to move a student’s seat, for example, ask the student where they would like to move. Younger students can be given the opportunity to move themselves if they think they won’t be able to manage sitting in a certain spot. It’s also a good idea to identify who is most likely to challenge you in class, and give them the most responsibility, Ferlazzo advises. “They tend to cooperate with you more,” he says.

If you get off to rough start and nothing seems to be working, try different strategies, Mims and Ferlazzo say. “As any educator knows, every class is different,” Ferlazzo says. “You just have to have a lot of tools in your toolbox.”

Take advantage of all your resources

Stay up-to-date. Looking to brush up on your classroom management skills or learn new techniques? Get tools and tips about classroom management at nea.org.

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