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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.

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chloerenee's picture

I really enjoyed reading your 7 tips for classroom management. I find it refreshing that a teacher says we must first love our students. I could not agree with this statement more. If your students know you love and care for them, you will have a much easier time getting them to behave and respect you and your classroom. Students will definitely know how you feel about them even if you do not say it. That statement is also true. I have been a student in classrooms where teachers have used some of these techniques. One that really stands out to me is praising the class as a whole. I will definitely keep this one in mind as I think it is very successful. I will use all of these tips one day in my classroom.

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TGeorge1181's picture

As a student intern and an upcoming student teacher, I can admit that this is something I struggle with. I really loved reading your tips for classroom management. And yes I think it is very important to love your students! -- glad that you mentioned that, every student is unique and different. Do you think getting to know you students is effective in classroom management?

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Austin Halliburton's picture

I thought this was great! I think it is important to set the tone of a classroom because it is easier to loosen up then to tighten down. Students seem to respond well to clear expectations and direct instruction and you nailed that in both your video and explanation. I was curious about how you decided which seat they would sit in. It seemed to be a combination of on the fly thinking, and having some other factors in mind. I know that letting students choose a seat, and having them assigned to a seat differs from teacher to teacher, but I would be curious to see your take on it and how it helps/hurts classroom management. I also liked how you pointed out that it is important to assume the best in students.

John S. Thomas's picture
John S. Thomas
First & Second Grade Teacher/Adjunct faculty Antioch University New England, former Elementary Principal

Austin, I've known teachers at all levels who always assign seats and it works for them. I've also known teachers who let students choose. Most of them can make it work too as long as they make it clear to students that they need to stay engaged in the class or else seat location may change. If you choose to assign seats it depends on how well you know your students. In my small school I know my students very well, in a large secondary school you may not know most of your students. Some teachers begin their classes letting students choose seats and use that period of time to learn student tendencies and then decide if any or all need seat assignments. I've also known some teachers who simply do a getting to know you ice breaker and make assignments from that relatively successfully.

Ancelma's picture

Good evening Mr. Hester, I just want to comment on what a great start to begin the school year. You have shown great management skills with clear direct directions and classroom expectations to the students. I saw that you have integrated a lot of metacognition with the students along with socialization. I like how you put humor and strictness into your lesson. Managing a classroom can be sometimes stressful and handful for teachers, but with these great tips it can really better a lot of teachers management skills, and probably student-teacher relationship.

Rosibel Canales's picture

Hello Mr. Hester,
When I was watching your video, I was really impressed with the way the classroom followed all the rules you gave them. The students stayed very quiet and did not question your authority. As a future student, I would like to have the same impact in my students. I also liked the 7 points that you made about classroom management. I think your students are in good hands because you care about them genuinely and care for their academic success.

ESM's picture

As a student and becoming a future educator, I loved all these tips for classroom management. I believe it's not only important to organize the way you ran your classroom, but also connecting with your students emotionally to actually understanding them and wanting the very best for them. I completely agree that it is important to make sure your students know discipline within the classroom and having them know their mistakes. I really enjoyed these tips and I will gladly keep them in mind when running my classroom in the future!

Daniel T. Anderson's picture

I am currently in school to become a teacher. My love of working with children has led me into this field and I think that it is a profession where you are constantly learning and evolving. That said, I definitely learned a lot from this article. Classroom management is where the rubber meets the road. You can have the best lesson plan in the world, but you can't implement it if you don't have the basics of classroom management. I like how Mr. Hester broke it down about the point of being sincere and open with your students. I have children and I know that they see a lot more than you would think at times and can be very perceptive. Dealing with them from a place of love and acceptance can go a long way to making for a great environment to conduct learning.

SI's picture

As a current student and soon to be future teacher I find these tips to be extremely helpful and will benefit once I have my own classroom. I agree and believe that loving each and every single one of your students is the most important once you become a teacher. If you show your students that you do care for them and love them you can expect your students to respect you and behave well at all times. They will understand that you want the best for them and they will appreciate it and thank you back. Managing a classroom will be difficult at times, but with these helpful tips it will make the management of the classroom way more easier.

Samer Rabadi's picture
Samer Rabadi
Online Community Engagement Manager

SI, I don't think you can expect all your students behave well just because you love them. Yes, forming a relationship with them will help, but students act out for lots of reasons, some of them outside of their control.

Instead, what loving does is to help cushion the impact for when your students misbehave; to create a context for finding a way to work with them, even at their most frustrating.

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