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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.


Comments (30)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Linda Kardamis's picture
Linda Kardamis
middle school math teacher in Ohio - I blog at www.teach4theheart.com

Great thoughts, Tyler! I love your emphasis on being both encouraging and firm. Both are key - and they need to go together for us to be successful.
#4 is also super important - I didn't do this my first year, and it created a nightmare. I try to warn every first year teacher I can about that....
I share my experience here:

Erin Osborne's picture
Erin Osborne
Education writer

I 100% agree with points 1 and 5. The teachers I remember most and the ones I consider successful now are the ones who are vulnerable to their students. Earning respect by treating students as human beings, opening up to them on a human level, is so obvious yet so difficult. Loved watching your video!

Mary Tasce's picture

Hello, these are pretty good methods to do a well job as a teacher. Because I have met a few teachers in my work as an online coach on your24hcoach, who were destabilized by their class probably because they had forgot one of these rules.
I helped them to regain control and it started by themselves! As you said in the 5th rule, teachers have to build a specific reltionship when they meet their class.
Trust yourself, share with students and go ahead, that is the point!
Thankyou for your article!

Wendell Oshiro's picture
Wendell Oshiro
Clinical Supervisor of Student Teachers, Retired MS Science Teacher

Thank you, Tyler! I've recently watched all 3 videos (...Day 1, Day 2, Day 3) and loved what I saw and heard. I've offered them to my current student teachers as excellent examples of effective classroom management, especially for establishing procedures and setting up a positive learning environment at the beginning of the school year. All seven points described above are well taken...

Elana Leoni's picture
Elana Leoni
Director of Social Media Strategy and Marketing @Edutopia, edcamp organizer

Absolutely *love* this line:

"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."

Almost want to make a poster out of it!

Sarah's picture
Future Educator, Ventura County, California

I don't really know what I'd think if I were a student in this class. However, as a future teacher, the video and tips were very helpful in how to maintain classroom management.

Lee Mauk's picture
Lee Mauk
In Teaching Credential Program

I really enjoyed points 2, 3, and 7. I think these are crucial to the students and in the classroom setting as a whole. I believe assuming the very best in the student/ giving them the benefit of the doubt is a perfect tool so that you don't come off as "too strict" for every misbehavior that occurs. With that said I totally agree that giving praise throughout the course of the day to students is very important. Students want rewards for their good behavior. As B.F. Skinner found, "positive behavior can be shaped with positive rewards". Giving praise to the students is a positive reward, as the teacher is trying to bring out the positive behaviors in the classroom. Lastly, having a lesson plan that is clearly understood is key. Also, having a lesson plan that covers material throughout the entire period or class day is also very important because students do not like to be given "busy work".

Chris Mastrovito's picture
Chris Mastrovito
Teacher in training from California

I admire the clarity of your instruction. The only other people I have seen who have as nearly as much of a direct, clear sequence of instructions as you have are close-up magicians. While observing the video, at first I thought you were just micromanaging to the extreme, and then I realized that each moment of meticulousness in your instruction served a purpose, whether it was to build a team dynamic (the timed, coordinated, passing of papers), or simply to establish an expectation that instructions are to be followed exactly (the binder, the letter assignment). you seem to know exactly what you are doing in every moment, there is no uncertainty. How to maintain that level of "withitness" throughout the whole school year is another question.

envirosciguy992 (Matt Jackson)'s picture
envirosciguy992 (Matt Jackson)
teaching credential student (single subject, chemistry)

Great blog, Tyler. These recommendations all seem pretty right on with what I've been learning and what I've always believed from a personal standpoint on what makes an effective educator. It's important to let your students know early on that you want to forge a collaborative identity with them where the endgame is helping them achieve a level of success they perhaps previously thought not possible rather than appearing as someone simply there to babysit them and scold them when what they do doesn't jive with your rules.

Joscelyn's picture
Prospective English Teacher

I agree that is is extremely important to expect the best of students, even if they are not always giving it. A student is going to want to succeed if you believe they can. Also, I never thought about sharing pictures of myself from when I was the same age as students... But that's a great idea! From what I have learned so far, a great way to connect with students is to humanize yourself.
Thank you for sharing your insights and experiences on this blog! Very helpful for me especially as a student who is aspiring to teach English one day.

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