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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

What's The Best Classroom Management Advice You've Gotten?

What's The Best Classroom Management Advice You've Gotten?

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I thought it might be useful/interesting if people shared the best piece of classroom management advice they've gotten/read/heard... Mine comes from Marvin Marshall, who is my favorite (by far) writer/thinker on positive classroom management. He’s written a question that we as teachers might want to consider asking ourselves regularly. He wrote: Will what I am about to do or say bring me closer or will it push me away farther from the person with whom I am communicating? Of course, we’re just human and all of this is far “easier said than done.” But it’s not a bad level to aspire towards…

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


Kudos to the Machiavelli reference. It's a huge question: Whether or not a teacher should be loved or feared. Taking it a bit further... Machiavelli was also a bring proponent of "realism" (the idea that with a worthwhile end one could justify any means).

With NCLB and a teaching to test mentality present in many classrooms, are we focusing too much on the end rather than the means (where the actual learning takes place)? This could also be spun to classroom management as well (Are teachers willing to sacrifice who they are as a teacher and their teaching style for the end result of a "managed" classroom?

If anyone wants to read a bit more on Machiavelli, Howard Zinn wrote an essay that was published in "Howard Zinn on War" titled, "Machiavellian Realism and U.S. Foreign Policy: Means and Ends." I highly recommend it.

[quote]Upon this a question arises: whether it be better to be loved than feared or feared than loved? It may be answered that one should wish to be both, but, because it is difficult to unite them in one person, is much safer to be feared than loved, when, of the two, either must be dispensed with.

-"The Prince", by Nicolo Machiavelli

Many a teacher has been cautioned by their mentors to "never smile before Christmas." I think this goes hand in hand with the advice given to me from Jim Smith (Master Teacher and god-of-all-unit-leaders) about how it is easier to start out tough and then lighten up, than the other way around. Classroom management and discipline is one of the hardest things to master as a teacher and it took me almost twenty years to develop my own style. In fact, it took me over twenty years of trial and error, hundreds of miserable teenagers, and quite a few irate parents to get to what Jim Fay describes in one short book. So the Machiavellian teacher is usually the new teacher and they will find that it is easier to be feared. But there is more to Nicolo's particular chapter and style that many have overlooked.

Nevertheless a prince ought to inspire fear in such a way that, if he does not win love, he avoids hatred; because he can endure very well being feared whilst he is not hated...

This is where I think a teacher can go very very wrong if they don't pay attention to the rest of what Nicolo has to say. Having students fear you is one thing, but you have to ask yourself if they hate you. Hate is a two way street: if they despise you, then it is very likely you feel the same way about them. And let's be honest about why we teach and what brought us to teaching. On some level we love kids and want to open the world for them. I think that at first it is easier to "come down hard" and "be feared than loved," but, even by Machiavelli's own account, it takes greater strength to inspire both.

(Excerpted from atraceofrabbits.blogspot.com)[/quote]

LPS's picture
Cross Categorical/self-contained - Teacher

My son was in a classroom of 12 students. (SPED) I asked his teacher how he managed his class. First he said, "A Degree in Psychology Helps" then he said, "20 minutes on task, working academics and 10 minutes choice activity". These were Middle School kids. It worked and I use it in my classroom now at the K-2 level and we have "sensory breaks" at least every 30 minutes (Students complete 2 centers) and then get a break. My Activities generally take less than 15 minutes and then we change to the next center or activity. The students can come back to a center after the inital rotations are complete. Some days we spend more or less time dealing with behaviors. As a Team we are alert to potentially hazardous conditions. If we see or hear something we immediately address it. There is zero tolerance for behavior that is potentially harmful to self, others or property.

There are always at least 3 people who are trained it Student Intervention Techniques. I find that when we go to functions the Students are aware that our team is not afraid to say no.

Donna's picture

You need to know that what you had to say was profoundly helpful. Mathematics is a foreign language to many students in public school, and their views of themselves as math learners is similar to that of students learning a foreign language, as is science to a great degree. Thank you for your commments

Jo Ann Brass's picture

I have been teaching over 28 year in grades 3-8.The best advice I have been given and have passed on, is based on Fred Jones' Tools for Teaching. The concept of "Pay Now or Pay Later" encompasses many areas in the classroom. If we look at classroom management in these arenas: instruction, discipline and motivation, the concept is embedded in all three.
With instruction, having lessons pre-organized, routine established,items and materials readily available, thinking through "predictable questions" and teaching proactively based on these components.
In discipline, think in terms of "always having a plan". From small to large infractions. Being consistent with your plan is imperative. The students will always want to test you, but if your reaction is always the same, the game is over quickly.Also, management by walking around is key. Sitting behind your desk, or not in close proximity with all your students will allow them to goof off regularly.
Finally, motivation. In a "pay now or pay later" mindset, you always need to answer the universal question of "why should I?" Think through "what if" scenarios carefully BEFORE a lesson, and always front load with the answer. Your students will know you are a teacher with a plan, who is consistent and who CARES about the relevancy of the lessons for them.
Too many times, teachers create their own stress. This can be avoided or at least minimized by following a plan such as this. In the end, a positive and productive environment is created and everyone wins.

LindaC's picture

Fred Jones' advice about re arranging your room is advice that makes a huge positive change in the classroom. Our rooms are really designed in rows to make it easy for the rooms to be cleaned but this class design makes it impossible for a teacher to 'work the crowd" as Dr. Jones calls it , which is simply managing by walking around. If you cannot reach every student with a few steps, but have to squeeze through tight rows or trip over book bags and kids' long legs, then you cannot prevent the inevitable 'fooling around' and disruptions that the students farthest from you, yes, those who always want to sit in the back of the room, cause. By re arranging your room , you can prevent most disruptions by just walking slowly toward the culprits - there is no 'green zone, as Dr Jones calls it, where a teacher has to take a lot of time to get to any student and disruptions are frequent and annoying. Re arranging your room with wide walkways between every row of students is the first step in classroom management. Your ability to move close to every student prevents them from taking the chance of fooling around.

Simon's picture

My sponsor teacher once told me this during my practicum, "If you have an engaging lesson, students are less likely to misbehave." It's so true - there were times when my lessons were more like listening to me talk, and there were times when my lessons were full-blown hands-on. There were much less issues with student behaviour/classroom management issues when the students were so engaged!

LindaC's picture

Fred Jones' "say see do teaching" models for anybody wanting to teach anything the steps to take. I tell you, I show you, you do it. In too many classrooms, it is I tell you, I tell you, I tell you and then next week you can try to do it or on the test or some time not right now. But children or adults for that matter ,do not learn from listening or seeing, they learn by doing. Think of teaching a child to shoot a basketball. Of course, you let them try to do it right away. Practice is essential and should happen immediately after any lesson. Too often, we expect kids to practice at home via homework. How often have you gotten homework papers back with everything done wrong- you've spent your valuable classroom time teaching and valuable home time correcting? What do most kids do with a corrected homework paper? You are right- ball it up and shoot it into the nearest waste basket. Instead, use your chalkboard or white boards or electronic boards to see your students practice what you just taught them immediately. You may find you don't even need to send homework home ( or waste your valuable family time correcting it) Say see do is just one part of Fred's teacher training program.

Elizabeth Anderson's picture
Elizabeth Anderson
11th grade English Teacher

I agree with the idea of not arguing (did I spell that wrong, cuz it looks odd) with a student in the clssroom. They have a reputation to uphold and so do we, as the educator. As soon as you argue with them, you give away your power. They've won simply by making you lose your composure.

Carey Rebecca's picture
Carey Rebecca
Senior English and AP English

[quote]I listened to this today on Talk of the Nation- AWESOME!


I listened to this, too, and then I bought the book. I got in my car one day, was stressed to my limits, and in tears over something that felt just wrong, frustrating, and unnecessary, and this Talk of the Nation program was just starting. All of a sudden, I wasn't questioning my decision to change careers, my experience, myself in general, or my students. I could see that there were solutions. I am sooooo NOT a person who relies on books to change my life, but this one has changed my life as a professional and as an educator. (The author is Doug Lemov, the founder of the Uncommon Schools)

The best advice- take the time to teach expectations, and reteach them as needed. This may feel like you are wasting time that could be spent on curriculum, but when you add up the time it would take to do a menial task throughout your semester or year, you are actually adding time spent on instruction. The example used in the book is the teacher who takes 20 minutes to teach kids how to pass out and pass in papers. If you go to the Uncommon Schools website, or to YouTube and type in Uncommon schools, they have published videos of their classrooms and teachers who use these techniques successfully.

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