George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Classroom Management

The 5 Priorities of Classroom Management

To effectively manage a classroom, teachers must prioritize building relationships, leveraging time, and designing behavioral standards.
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For beginning teachers, or for teachers like myself returning to teaching, the most difficult thing to master is classroom management. I had to relearn what ten years of hard instruction had taught me: Good classroom management is more than just being strict or authoritarian, and it is more than simply being organized. If I want to have my classroom run smoothly as a well-oiled learning machine, I have to set up a structured learning environment in which certain behaviors are promoted and others are discouraged. 

I have discovered that there are five components of effective classroom management that establish structures strong enough to entice and motivate student learning:

  1. Developing effective working relationships with students
  2. Training students on how learning takes place in your classroom
  3. Protecting and leveraging time
  4. Anticipating student behaviors in well-written lesson plans
  5. Establishing standards of behavior that promote student learning

1. Develop Effective Working Relationships With Your Students

The most important component of classroom management is relationships. The relationships with my students start at the door when I shake the their hand and greet them with a smile (regardless of what misbehaviors might have happened the day before). Those relationships are strengthened, for example, when I use a student’s name and actively praise him or her. Those relationships are solidified when I spend individual time with each student to get to know them and then use that knowledge to create personal learning opportunities.

From the professional development program, Capturing Kids' Hearts, there was one takeaway that benefited me the most: If I have a good relationship with my students, I can push them harder and further to learn because they trust me.

2. Train Your Students on How Learning Takes Place in Your Classroom

Your students need to know that you do not expect them to instantly learn, that everyone has an individual process for learning, and that if they follow your guidance, they will be successful in learning.

This is more than just talking about your homework policy, late work, and absences. It is revealing to your students how you are going to create -- with them -- a highly effective, low-maintenance, learning team. For example, I discuss with my students that the true power of a strategy such as Cornell Notes is not dividing the paper in two parts. The benefit of that strategy comes from writing the questions on the left side of the paper while reviewing their notes, and then taking the time to summarize what they learned. You have a learning philosophy that guides your teaching style; teach it to your students. Clearly map out for your students what you do to help them learn so that when you do it, they know what you are doing and why, and they will be more willing to help.

3. Protect and Leverage Your Time

An effective classroom manager must be prepared with materials and know how to transition students from one activity to another without wasting time. The number one thing we could do to increase our students' academic performance is to increase the time spent on learning. Time is chipped away by taking attendance, announcements, summons to the office, restroom breaks, pep rally schedules, class meetings, special presentations, awards ceremonies, celebrations, and a myriad of other things. 

Some disruptions and time stealers we cannot avoid, but being successful at managing the classroom also includes managing the time, protecting it, and leveraging it to your best advantage. In Teach Like a Champion, author Doug Lemov effectively demonstrates how to use routines to minimize lost time in activities like handing out papers; he also demonstrates routines to help students train their minds to adopt useful habits and skills, like being able to quickly answer and ask questions.

4. Anticipate Your Students' Behaviors in Well-Written Lesson Plans

Channeling student behaviors, interests, and attention into productive learning paths requires intuitive lesson planning. First, focus on how students will be able to demonstrate that they understand and have achieved the learning objective, emphasizes Grant Wiggins, coauthor with Jason McTighe of Understanding by DesignThen build learning activities that lead students to that point. 

According to Robert Marzano, an education researcher, the focus of our lesson planning efforts should be getting students to ask and answer their own questions. Coming up with those types of questions on the spur of the moment can be difficult, but with a little advanced thought, you can incorporate those types of questions into your lesson plans. Ultimately, the best discipline management plan is a good lesson plan.

5. Establish Behavioral Standards

These standards should promote learning, as well as consequences that diminish or eliminate behaviors that impede learning. They shouldn't be so detailed as to list every behavior and the corresponding consequence for failure to comply, but they should hit the main points regarding showing respect, communicating correctly, and coming prepared to learn. The standards should also interact smoothly with the other four components, especially teaching your students how learning takes place in your classroom.

I have learned to frame each lesson as it is taught. This means that for each learning activity, I explain the standards of performance, as well as the limits of behavior. For example:

You have 15 minutes, and you will be working with your partner on designing a structure out of newspaper that will reach the ceiling. You may use inside voices to quietly discuss your plans with your partner. If you have questions, please put the red cup on your desk, and I will come and help you as soon as possible. Meanwhile, keep working on other things until I get there. 

From Day One

Establishing an effective plan for classroom management has to begin at the start of school, but it doesn’t end there. Throughout the year, we have to be consistent and persistent in developing relationships of trust, following and teaching the best learning theories, honoring student time, being responsive to student behaviors and needs in our lesson plans, and holding true to high and rigorous standards of learning behavior. We also need to be flexible and adjust to tangles that can derail even the best management plans. What classroom management practices have worked best for you?

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eliserosencrans's picture

Classroom management is a tough thing to achieve especially if you have little to no experience. I have experienced the do's and don't's of classroom management being a resident substitute at an elementary school. When I was in my first classroom, I had no idea how to handle the classroom. It wasn't until I had some trial and error and gained the student's trust, that I was able to effectively manage the classroom while I was in there. I liked how this article pointed out that to build a good relationship with the students, they need to trust you. I think encouraging your students is the best thing you can do for them. They need encouragement in the elementary stages. The teachers encouragement may be the only encouragement that they get in their day. We have so much influence as a teacher. We need to remember that we may be the only positive role model in a students life. This article was a good reminder of how to effectively manage a classroom keeping students needs in mind. #MALT607

Emily Bruce's picture

Having good classroom management is crucial to promoting a successful learning environment. I agree that knowing all the students in the class; their background, learning preferences and needs, and interests is vital in promoting a positive and successful classroom environment. There needs to be a two-way road with communication, trust, and respect between the students and teacher. When there is respect and communication between the students and teacher, it is clear in classroom management. The teacher wants to help the students learn by being prepared, conducting lessons that interest the students, as well as constantly learn more about students. In return, students are engaged in the lessons and are excited about the topic and want to complete activities in the correct manner. Without these characteristics in the classroom it can be difficult to promote a functioning and successful learning environment.

SarahBaca's picture

I believe that effecting working relationships with my students so important in the classroom. Students having trust in their teacher is really important in helping create a positive environment in the class. I agree that these forms of classroom management should be consistent. If you are not consistent, students will notice, and act upon it with different behaviors. While it's also important to create working relationships with my students, it's also important to establish the behavioral standards from day one-not necessarily specific rules, but things like showing respect to everyone in the class and contributing to class discussions.

Margarita A.'s picture

Honestly, these 5 components of effective classroom management are everything I've learned so far in my grad. classes, I've experienced by subbing and experienced with current teachers. It's very important to form relationship with your students, for them to trust you and not fear you. The component I haven't really thought about the most is #3 Protect & leverage your time, and the reason would be because as you mentioned of all the time stealers we cannot avoid.

Kenneth Sarti's picture

I agree with Mr. Johnson that the most difficult thing to master is classroom management. Especially when there are so many events going on, it is important to plan ahead for events that take away learning time. A strategy that will allow for more time would be a self-managing class. This will give students responsibility and be able to rely on each other when needed. By implementing this strategy, it will also allow the students to become more independent and less reliable on the teacher for everything.

StephanieHillsMcginty's picture

I really appreciated what Johnson had to say when discussing "Develop Effective Working Relationships With Your Students." He discussed cultivating a relationship with each of his students and creating a space where each day was new
"...greet them with a smile (regardless of what misbehaviors might have happened the day before)." That really speaks to me as an emergent educator and some situations that I have encountered in my experience as a substitute.

I have had the pleasure of acting as a guest teacher for long term assignments with classes full of students that I felt were so- "against me." I tried different strategies to try to unite the class and establish some sort of cooperative learning, but it seemed nothing worked. Some days I left school in tears or thinking about calling in sick! But, every night after I calmed down and sorted out my thoughts, I tried to remember the situations in which I knew a majority of my students were living. I remembered they were just kids and that I had a job to show them forgiveness and give them a chance that they may not receive from home.

In no way am I claiming to be "perfect," I still have so much to learn, I just really appreciate what this article has to offer.

Amber Bechard's picture

Stephanie, You r ability to remain resilient in the face of challenge will be important throughout your career. Reminding yourself of students' situations is a great strategy for shifting a frustrated lens.

Terri's picture

These are all important factors for classroom management. Each play an important role in maintaining a safe learning environment. Unfortunately, it's easy to forget about them as we move into the meat of the year and trying to get through all the material. But, in forgetting the factors, you are essentially taking more time to teach content because of the repeating you have to do and managing behaviors.

Mr Austin Uzim's picture

I firmly believe that classroom management is indeed a tough cookie. But it also represents a good way of accessing your own teaching abilities while you still access your students classroom behaviors. Add a little bit of 'love and more tonic of patience' in place of "strictness and being authoritarian" in your recipe of classroom management. In my school, where I am the school administrator in Nigeria, we don't allow the possession of cell phones in any classroom by the students. But we have emergency lines known to parents and staff which both can use to reach out in times of extreme need. I'm of the firm opinion, that cell phones should not be found in the learning tools of the students, that's not being strict, but a firm policy.

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