It can happen at any time, to almost any teacher: You go in to work one morning and realize that, as they say, management has become an issue. Reviewing the rules isn’t going to be enough—you need a classroom management makeover. The good news is that turning a classroom around happens all the time. You just need willingness to reflect, time to plan, and the consistency, strength, and heart to pull it off.
How do you know if you need a classroom makeover? You might be experiencing symptoms like these:
- The noise level is too high.
- Too many students are out of their seats.
- Some students don’t complete their work.
- You struggle to get the class to listen, even for brief periods of time.
- Discipline referrals to the office have gotten too high (and there are a couple of kids you wish could just stay in the office for good).
- Administration may have noticed that things aren’t going well. Even if they haven’t said anything, you’re afraid they will—there’s a lot of time left in the school year.
Mapping out the makeover
The classroom management makeover is best mapped out over the weekend and rolled out to the kids on Monday morning. Here's an overview of my process.
The week before: Observe your class. Note when it just feels like too much. What is happening at that time? Consider your students’ progress so far. How are they doing? Which students are struggling, and why? Write down your reflections. Talk to a colleague and develop ideas on what you might do. Try to develop four areas where the class needs the most improvement.
Over the weekend: Choose four goals for the makeover. These could include such ideas as less talking, staying seated, being kind to classmates, and lining up quickly. Each class will be individual—what they need will become clear if you slow down and watch. Make notes for yourself clearly stating what the new class goals will be and how you and the students will reach the goals. Make a new seating chart for the class.
Monday morning: Move the desks. Call a class meeting. Roll out the plan. Listen to students’ thoughts.
The next two weeks: Move forward together. Every day after, choose a management goal and give the class feedback on their progress.
5-Step Classroom Makeover
1. Set the stage: Before the students come in on Monday morning, move their desks. This will get their attention and will clue them in to the fact that things are changing. In addition, it can help quite a bit with defusing problem behavior. After the desks are in their new positions, welcome the class in and have a classroom meeting first thing. The class meeting will address some concerns you have.
2. Hold a classroom meeting: Talk to them about what you have observed and why you’re concerned. For example, “I’ve noticed there’s a lot of loud sharing during independent work time. That can cause it to be hard for some students to think. We need to work on keeping our voices quieter.” Allow every student (if they wish) to share their feelings about the current situation during the meeting. On a piece of chart paper, write down concerns raised by you and by your students.
You may be surprised to learn that many students in the class share your concerns. Students are often bothered when the classroom is noisy or when people don’t line up quickly. They are remarkably compassionate when they hear that their teacher or classmates need these behavior modifications.
3. Chart your course together: On your chart, incorporate suggestions the students have made to the classroom management makeover plan. When everyone has shared, explain the four new procedures and expectations that the class will work on. For example, “Our procedure for lining up will be three steps. When I say ‘One,’ you’ll stand beside your chair. When I say ‘Two,’ you’ll push in the chair and look at your numbered line spot on the carpet. When I get to ‘Three,’ you’ll walk to your spot. If it takes more than 10 seconds for everyone to be on their spot and ready, we’ll go back and do it over.”
4. Reward success: It will probably be helpful to use a marble jar or other classwide incentive program. This allows you to provide positive feedback when the class is performing the new procedures without a word. The reward can be as simple as “When the jar is full, we will have 10 minutes of extra recess.”
Each morning for the next couple of weeks, set a goal for classroom management. Write the goal in a designated spot on the board and indicate it first thing. Choose whichever goal seems most urgent to you on that day. The goal might be “Raise your hand to speak” or “Stay seated during independent work time.” When the class meets the expectation, put a ball in the marble jar, or just verbally affirm the class.
5. Follow through: Even though it’s helpful to use the marble jar, the biggest incentive for the kids is always your leadership. Words of affirmation for the whole class or individual good examples are actually the core of obtaining the new, more seamless classroom management. The reflection, discussion, written plan, and posting goals on the board are all tools that impact you… so that you can impact the students.
I’ve seen this strategy work in so many classrooms—most importantly, during my own first year of teaching. The best part is, once you’ve thought through a problem with one class, handling it becomes second nature when it comes up in subsequent years.
You have the power to create the climate that you and the children desire for learning. As you do this, don’t forget to notice and savor the small victories: the first time the class lines up quickly, or the moment when you realize that the tension has dropped in the room and it’s easier to breathe. When you get there, give yourself credit for succeeding at what leadership experts sometimes call a “management 180”—a successful classroom management makeover.