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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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7 Tips for Better Classroom Management

In my mind, the first and most basic obligation of a teacher is to see the beauty that exists within every student. Every child is infinitely precious. Period.

When we start from this vantage point, classroom management -- and its flip side, student engagement -- comes more easily. It's an outgrowth of students feeling loved and respected.

This video, shot in the first few days of my classroom in 2010, and the seven tips below will show how I try to put these ideas into practice.

1. Love your Students

Love them -- and stand firmly against behavior that doesn't meet your expectations or reflect their inner greatness. Too many students have internalized a profound sense of their own inadequacy, and it is incumbent upon us to remind them of their infinite value and counteract the many messages that they receive to the contrary. By loving our students unconditionally, we remind them of their true worth.

Our students know how we feel about them. If we don't like them -- or if we see them as a behavior problem -- they know it. Even if we don't say it, they will know it. And then that student is justified in resenting us, for we have failed to see the beauty that exists within that child. Maya Angelou said, "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."

2. Assume the Best in Your Students

If a student chose not to meet one of my classroom expectations, they needed to know that I loved them but not their misbehavior. They needed to know that I cared for them and would not accept their poor choice because it would ultimately hurt them and didn't reflect how wonderful they truly are.

For instance, a minute and a half into the first day, I gave one student a verbal warning for whispering to another student as he was searching for his seat. Assuming the best in this young man, I told him, “I know you were probably talking about your seat, but you can't even talk about that, so that's your verbal warning. Go back to your seat and silently start your work." By assuming that he was trying to do the right thing -- find his assigned seat -- I affirmed that he wanted to meet the expectations. And yet I was firm with him that his choice to whisper after he had been told to silently begin his work was not OK. Similarly, at the end of class, I kept behind a student who was sighing to herself over the course of the period. By letting her know that I wouldn’t accept her subtle expressions of boredom or frustration, I also let her know that I thought she was great and her expressions of negativity wouldn't fly because they'd hurt our collective learning environment -- and because they didn’t square with the wonderful person I knew her to be.

3. Praise What and When You Can

Call attention to the things your students are doing that meet your expectations. The power of this is stunning for a number of reasons. Here are two:

  • It enables you to restate and reinforce the expectations for student behavior in a non-negative way. By narrating on-task behavior, you enable students who may have misheard you the first time to hear exactly what you expect of them. It's easier for students to meet your expectations when it's amply clear what those expectations are.
  • It shows your students that you're with it, that you're very aware of what's happening in the classroom. When they see and hear that you see and hear pretty much everything, they know that you mean business and that even their smallest actions matter.

4. Do Sweat the Small Stuff

In those first few minutes, hours and days in the classroom, you are essentially creating a world. And you want a world in which students do things that will keep them or put them on a path to a life replete with meaningful opportunities. Behaviors or actions that will detract from that world should be nipped in the bud. If you only "sweat" major misbehaviors, students will get the sense that minor misbehaviors are OK. If, on the other hand, you lovingly confront even the smallest misbehaviors, then it will be clear to students that, inside the four walls of your classroom, things that detract from what you're trying to achieve – even in small ways – just don’t fly.

5. Identify Yourself

Tell your students about who you are and why you're there. A classroom where each student deeply trusts the teacher has the potential to be a great environment for learning. To build that trust, tell your students who you are and why you chose to be a teacher. Tell them about your background, what you did when you were their age, and why you want to be their teacher. The more your students know about you and your intentions, the more they'll trust you to lead them.

6. Forge a Class Identity

Begin the year by forging a positive, collective identity as a class. During the first few days, I often complimented my classes as a collective. For instance, I'd say something like, "Period 3, everyone I’m looking at is meeting expectations." In many instances, I praised the entire class so that they began to feel they were part of something special in that room. They began feeling a sense of pride at being members of Period 3.

Conversely, I often chose to redirect individual students rather than the whole class. Instead of saying, “Period 3, I'm tired of hearing you talking when you shouldn’t be" -- which would introduce an oppositional tone, creating a divide between teacher and students -- I found more success correcting students individually.

7. Have a Plan

Your lesson plans need to be crystal clear. You need to begin each day with clarity about what students should know and be able to do by the end of the class period, and every second of your day should be purposefully moving you toward that end.

In addition to clarity about student knowledge and achievement, you should have a clear sense of the behavior you expect at each point in the class period. When you see them making the choice to behave as you expect them to, narrate it. And when you don't see it, confront those misbehaviors clearly, directly and with love.

I'm glad to know that the videos of my first few days in the classroom have been helpful. I'm also hyper aware that my lessons and my execution of them are far from perfect. I look forward to hearing how others create a strong classroom culture. Please share in the comments area below.

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Rebekah's picture

I loved this blog. I loved the beauty of the idea of a teacher that really cares. If you do not believe, have trust in, or care about your students why would they care about you. There is so much simplicity in this blog and I love everything about it. The classroom is such a beautiful safe place. Where students can come alive. By following these little easy steps it can become a beautiful community of love. Great blog Tyler

Hadassah Weissman's picture
Hadassah Weissman
9th Grade Biology Class

I really enjoyed reading this blog. I am in full agreement that it is crucial for teachers to find the best in their students and to learn to really love their students as a whole and as individuals. I truly believe that students (and people in general) will live up to the expectations that you have of them, If they are high expectations, they will try hard to make you proud. If they are low expectations, natural laziness will take over. Finally, I also agree with the idea of having a clear goal for each and every class. Thank you again for your article!

Austin's picture

It's really clear you're a kind teacher, and a kind person, with a great philosophy. You're very enthusiastic about your work, calm and confident. You also have chosen some interesting topics for students to discuss on the first day.

We just have very different styles... the level of control you're exerting over students is a bit much for me - my experience teaches me that if you allow students to help shape the processes in the classroom, that they are very capable of making workable decisions.

I don't like to be the center of attention and I don't want to be the focus of their curiosity. My ego is out of the picture and I don't claim to be superior to them; my job is to help their voice and their interests emerge, through our class assignments and projects. One focus in my room is my students' voice - they are speaking and presenting within the first two days. The primary focus of course is the subject matter and I aim to start with a project that captures their attention and engages them in student-centered work in the subject, on the first day.

I wonder what would happen, and I would encourage you to experiment with, allowing students more breathing room in your classes... trusting them more and being more comfortable with a little uncertainty.

I give you lots of credit for posting here and sharing your video and comments. Although I look at things from a different perspective, I picked up some very good ideas from what I saw here, and thank you for sharing your tips and approach.

Crystal Underwood's picture
Crystal Underwood
6th Grade Mathematics Teacher from Knoxville, Tennessee

I really enjoyed reading this blog. Thank you for sharing your experiences. I have picked up on a few things that I can try in class.

Hilary's picture
Hilary
Student Teacher

It is so wonderful to see a class controlled in such a gentle manner! These kids are definitely going to have a great year. I really love your ideas, thank you for sharing!!!

www.shonschaffran.com's picture

Some great ideas! It is so important to show the students that you are there for them and not against them. Happy teaching.

shiri's picture

I don't know...Tyler comes off as rather arrogant and dictatorial. I don't think this would fly in a typical inner city classroom with upwards of 25 students. My students would be cutting and rolling their eyes, and not 5 minutes would pass before someone would stand up and yell, "This class is b-s," and walk out of the room." On day 2 and day 3, there'd be a lot more empty seats.

Geri's picture
Geri
HS Math Teacher from PA

LOVE the article! LOVE the video. I watched all three days and can't get over how beautifully you have incorporated so many of the techniques from Teach like a champion so smoothly into a HS classroom! Awesome!

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