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Classroom Management

How to Improve Classroom Behavior Without Public Shaming

Instead of clip charts and data walls, try these classroom management techniques to discourage misbehavior and build a stronger classroom community.

May 3, 2024

When it comes to keeping classroom behaviors in check, teachers often struggle to find the right balance between enforcing compliance and getting student buy-in.

According to Cheryl Blankman, a school psychologist and adjunct professor at Ramapo College of New Jersey, some educators—seeking a clear, transparent method—turn to disciplinary tools like clip charts. Although they tend to be colorful and bright and “appear student-friendly,” Blankman writes for ASCD, the charts can have perverse effects.

The anxiety some students experience from seeing their missteps on display can become a source of lingering embarrassment and leave kids feeling apathetic and hypervigilant, rather than improving behavior and driving better academic outcomes. “The worry of where [students] are on the clip chart can be a pervasive distraction that splits their attention and undermines their learning.” Meanwhile, students on the positive side of the chart can become overly focused on their position, too, as “there is nowhere to go but down.” 

Research suggests that reactive strategies to address student misbehavior—like using public displays to highlight infractions or verbally reprimanding students for minor misbehavior in the moment—aren’t as effective as many think. A 2016 study, for example, finds that although this “negative feedback” can temporarily put a stop to disruptions, students are often left feeling disengaged or resentful and may have issues concentrating on their work. If overused, this type of response, researchers noted, “actually amplifies students’ inappropriate behavior” in the long run. 

In contrast, research shows that when teachers implement more proactive classroom management strategies and focus more on delivering positive feedback when students are meeting behavior expectations, instances of misbehavior go down and relationships between teachers and students, and students and their peers, strengthen.

While it’s true that teachers have to call out class misbehavior from time to time, Blankman says, there are ways to deal with the more commonplace disturbances using proactive strategies that can also have the effect of encouraging positive behavior in the future.

Co-Signing Classroom Contracts 

Instead of handing down a list of rules in your classroom and then punishing students for infractions, you can get student buy-in by letting them in on the process early on in the school year.

Cait O’Connor, a middle school English and English language learners teacher in New York, writes that by developing community contracts with students, each classroom establishes—and then collectively enforces—expectations that feel unique and owned. “Community agreements allow students to build a set of expectations for themselves, the students who are there every day, and hold each other accountable for those expectations as they get to know each other better,” she says.

To get started, O’Connor asks students to rank a prepared list of values, which might include loyalty, friendship, respect, or knowledge, for example. She then has students answer reflective questions—“Which value is most important, and why?” and “How do you plan to live and act out this value in our classroom?”—before working with them to craft agreements they can all follow.

For essential values, like respect, O’Connor initiates small group discussions to answer questions like this: “What does respect look, feel, and sound like?” These discussions help students come up with “imagery of respect in action,” which can include things like “using kind words, giving everyone’s opinion space, not interrupting, and not embarrassing people if they make mistakes,” O’Connor said. 

Blankman suggests discussing what students can expect from you, too: “What will it look like, sound like, and feel like as you teach and promote these expectations?” she says. “What is the plan when students misstep?” 

This can involve laying out clearly for students how you plan to respond to various levels of misbehavior in the classroom. For example, Grace Dearborn, a high school teacher and author of Conscious Classroom Management, developed tiered responses to student misbehavior that she frames “as consequences, not punishments.” 

Low-level misbehavior receives a “gentle” response—using nonverbal hand signals to encourage students to pay attention or saying the child’s name quickly, for example—whereas more extreme or chronic misbehavior will result in calls to parents or removal from the classroom.

Develop Your Emergency Script 

Even classrooms with the strongest community agreements will test teachers from time to time, which is why educator Emily Terwilliger says that it’s important to prepare for heated scenarios before they arise. Imagining possible conflicts and developing emergency scripts you can use when your buttons are pushed will allow you to move past impulsive responses, according to Terwilliger.

“Think through scenarios that might happen in your classroom and how you want to respond before the start of the year. It will make those first redirects and interventions less intimidating.”

While threats of violence or repeated disruptive behavior, for example, often call for escalation, there are alternative options to prepare for run-of-the-mill classroom management issues. 

Instead of jumping into “decision-making” mode when a student talks out of turn or causes a distraction, for example, educator Pernille Ripp recommends that teachers remind themselves to pause, assess what is happening beneath the surface of the disruption, and look for solutions. “We must come into each situation recognizing its uniqueness and its opportunity for exploration.”

Amanda Morin, an educator and director of thought leadership at, says one way to engage in this exploration is to ask questions to try to understand a student’s behavior, instead of quickly reacting to it. Even a simple “Are you OK?” expresses your concern for a student personally, aside from the choice they just made a moment ago. 

Morin recommends adopting a “nonjudgmental investigative” mode when asking questions, which can help you gather information needed to get to the deeper root of an issue. For example, perhaps a student is acting up because they aren’t following the task at hand, or perhaps they’re bored and not feeling challenged enough. Understanding the source of the issue can help lead to a productive adjustment in approach that strengthens your relationship to a student, rather than exacerbating the tension.

Model Expectations, Praise Success

Explicit modeling of the behaviors you’d like to see in your classroom is the “fine print” of the contract that students sign, Blankman says. After all, students can agree to all kinds of things, but “defining and describing” the agreements and praising students when they live up to the contract’s principles can positively enforce agreed-upon behavior.

In a 2023 interview, best-selling author and former educator Doug Lemov told Edutopia that the “single greatest motivator” for a student is the approval of their peers, and yet in many classrooms, students feel like their attempts at contributing in discussions aren’t valued by others.  

To create respectful classroom cultures, Lemov addresses positive habits of discussion and attention, things like sitting up when others are speaking, making eye contact, and building on the comments of others instead of dismissing them—which conveys that students are actually “listening and care.” Lemov says this approach validates students and makes them feel like they’re part of a classroom that talks “to each other,” not “past each other.” 

Blankman said that once these habits are discussed and modeled for students, praise is needed to solidify them. Students should receive “timely, authentic, and action-oriented” praise when they demonstrate one of the rules they’ve committed to, she says. “When students are doing what you want them to do, tell them specifically, in the moment, what it is that they are doing well and why it matters.” 

Manage Transitions

Misbehavior thrives in the transitions. One way to ensure that transitions between classrooms, and even between activities, are smooth and frictionless is to take a moment to review expectations before the transition occurs.

For younger students, Blankman says this might look like reviewing how they should line up in the hallways as they head to the lunch room, for example. This type of preemptive reminder is just as useful when students are transitioning into group activities or discussions. 

For example, if students in an 11th-grade English class are about to transition into a Socratic discussion, Blankman advises taking a few minutes beforehand to review what the “language of good discussion” looks like, including “how to agree, disagree, add on, or question appropriately.” The setup reinforces behaviors at a crucial juncture and helps students “connect the appropriate behaviors with the context and conditions in which they should occur, making it more likely they will (1) perform them in the moment and (2) remember and apply them later.” 

If, after making some adjustments, you continue to struggle with transitions, consider asking yourself some questions to troubleshoot issues, suggests Todd Finley, a former teacher and professor of English education. For example, “Did I provide too many or too few directions?” or “Did the transition catch kids off guard when they were absorbed in an activity?” or “Are there specific students who created chaos?”

Pick Your Battles 

There will always be moments where a student’s behavior needs to be addressed directly and publicly. It’s important to pick these battles wisely, because they can become costly: Research suggests that students who are frequently called out for minor infractions—things like not paying attention or chatting with other students—are more likely to become disengaged and apathetic, which can lead to more behavioral issues in the future. 

But in the moments when you do have to call students out—if, for example, you can’t call them aside and address the issue—Blankman advises to try your best to “keep the student’s dignity” in mind. Try to “be brief, be objective, be specific, and then be quick to acknowledge and praise any resulting effort to get back on track.” The idea, she says, is to stay “focused on the desired behavior” and quickly pivot back to learning. 

For example, you might say, “Jemma, you did not put away your social studies materials and get ready for math despite multiple requests to do so, and you were talking with classmates, which distracted them from getting ready for math as well. When we transition to science later, I want to see you focused and ready.” 

Correctives like this, Blankman says, reinforce what the expectations are for students, as well as how their actions impact the positive classroom community. “Students, like all of us, appreciate clear expectations, boundaries, and consistency,” Blankman says. ”Trust is strengthened by students knowing what to expect, even when this means a constructive correction.”  

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