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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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Clark Goldentyer's picture

I found your video almost hypnotic. Relaxing to watch, almost boring, but strangely enjoyable. I feel like I profoundly disagree with your style, the creation of an artificial and ultimately oppresive power system, the focus on minutia and obedience rather than originality and expression. Still I'm left reflecting on your style, lost in thought.

Inga's picture

An excellent technique, a good management of a class and an individual student, clearly explained expectations but... successful management of a class also depends on meeting students' expectations. From what I've seen I'd like to highlight 2 mistakes 1. Time management: the teacher was using timing for completing the tasks at the same time giving the tudents an impression of his professionalism in the time management. Unfortunately, the lesson didn't end with the bell because the teacher had forgotten to set time for his own performance. 2. It is highly unprofessional to address some of the students by names and some like "you two in white and purple". We all struggle to remember the names of all our new students at the very beginning but there are plenty of ways how to be reminded and remember the names faster in order to avoid this mistake. Conclusion: If you expect students to respect your time, respect theirs. If you want students to honour you, hounor them. The first and most important tool to do this is referring to a person by his/her name.

Amber Johnson's picture

Yes, yes and yes again! Than you for these ideas. It can sometimes be very difficult year to year with management since students are constantly changing, but I will be using these tips in the classroom and will be sharing this article with my friends. This article and and have been the most helpful by far! Thank you for these tips!

Joshua P.'s picture

Amelia, Try flipping your classroom. You'll have much more time to spend with students doing independent work and collaborative work. You could replace the station you used for direct instruction with something else.

PS I just realized how old that comment is, so.

Teaching4life's picture

Mr. Hester,

I really enjoyed reading your ideas on classroom management. It is interesting seeing how you implemented these strategies in your classroom. The video gives teachers a better understanding rather than just simply reading about it. The saying "a picture is worth a thousand words" is definitely the case in your blog.
I was amazed at how structured your pan was and I can defiantly see the thought process behind it. The first thing you said was "see the beauty that exists within every student." I think that as educators we must develop a love/interest for all of our student. Doing this will help with our classroom management because students will see that we genuinely care about them and they will try to do their best to please us. Setting high expectations for all of the students also encourages them and helps students see that we believe in them. Greeting them at the door is a great start in developing relationships with your students.
The way you dealt with students who didn't listen was very impressive. I have seen teachers get after their students right away in front of all the class. I think it works best if we take them aside and tell them our expectations using a calm voice. Just the way you did it with one student at the beginning of class.
Overall I think that a management plan is not effective if the teacher is not interested in the students. Thank you for the great insights and model you provided. I know for a fact I will implement some of your suggestions into my classroom the upcoming years.

Rachel Edwards-Bishop's picture

In your day 1 video, you mentioned "homework center" as a consequence for missing or incomplete assignments. How does this work? I need a system to encourage work completion (instead of a zero in the grade book).

Alexis Radney Mercedes's picture

The object of discipline is the training of the child for self-government. He should be taught self-reliance and self-control. Therefore as soon as he is capable of understanding, his reason should be enlisted on the side of obedience. Let all dealing with him be such as to show obedience to be just and reasonable. Help him to see that all things are under law, and that disobedience leads, in the end, to disaster and suffering.

Alexis Radney Mercedes's picture

The rules governing the schoolroom should, so far as possible, represent the voice of the school. Every principle involved in them should be so placed before the student that he may be convinced of its justice. Thus he will feel a responsibility to see that the rules which he himself has helped to frame are obeyed.
Rules should be few and well considered; and when once made, they should be enforced. Whatever it is found impossible to change, the mind learns to recognize and adapt itself to; but the possibility of indulgence induces desire, hope, and uncertainty, and the results are restlessness, irritably, and insubordination.

Teresa Alberto Pimentel's picture

Alexis Mercedes
As I was reading that paragraph, the use of words and the sentence structure sounded so familiar...almost like something a lady with the last name White would write..sure enough I was right :).
Amen thank you for sharing that quote.

kristian.givens's picture

I really liked the tip on loving your students. Maya Angelou's quote will never disappear from the minds of teachers like us. People will never forget how you made them feel and thats what students will know and remember you for. Show that you care about them. Make your students feel good first, and then our students can make us feel good about ourselves as teachers knowing we made a positive impact on them.

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