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Classroom Management

Classroom Management: Character Rules and Math Jars

August 4, 2014

Classroom management sets up the learning environment.  Be mindful of the “weather,” so to speak.   A very stringent and strict class might hold back kids from taking risks and a very loose class might just be too loud and distracting for most. It's finding that sweet spot, which takes lots of time and effort by the teacher.


1.  Don't think you're taking too much time on teaching, modeling, and re-teaching classroom environment expectations. It's very important. I believe a good environment will lead to learning, even by accident.

2.  Have very few rules. When I started teaching I had about seven very specific rules (Walk in the hallway, raise you hand when you want to speak, etc.) The students created the rules. Now I only have four character-based rules. Think-Work Smart/Hard- Be Kind-Create. And under those rules, we list all the ways that you can Be Kind, Work Smart/Hard, Think and Create.  So, everything is covered, but the kids only need to remember four.

3.  Have tailor made consequences. I'm a believer of the consequence should match the student. I never list consequences. If there needs to be a consequence, I discuss it with the student and parents are always notified.

4.  Setting up a classroom environment can be trying on your patience. It's important that you don't abandon an idea for behavior modification just because it's not working after a week of trial. It's easy to always try to change your ideas when they fail right away, don't do it. Be persistent even if you think the idea is not effective.  Give it a couple weeks or more. It's working more than you think it is.

Classroom Management is an art. You can read all of the blogs and books in the world, but still feel like nothing is working. This is normal because of you are dealing with the fluidity of humanity.  It's important that you not only try stuff out, but also watch other teachers manage classrooms (if you can) and decide which techniques work for you and your students. This will take time, so be patient and hang in there.

A Reward System (Not THE reward system)

So, we’ve all used some sort of marble jar at some point in our teaching career. If not, welcome to the art of bribery. Here’s the low-down. Kids receive marbles for good deeds, hard work, etc. as a class. When the jar is full, kids have a party­­.

If you give students a choice, they will usually choose a movie party. They’ll ask if they can wear pajamas to school and eat popcorn. I don’t know why wearing pjs to school elicits such excitement. Then they’ll ask you (teacher) to wear your pjs to school. I always deny pjs, but popcorn is fine. I tried this my first few years of teaching (I use super balls instead of marbles).  The kids usually would earn two parties a year. No big deal. A few years ago, my opinion about marble jar systems changed. Why shouldn’t kids earn a reward for following the rules? It’s hard enough “doing” the school thing, let alone rising above on certain occasions just to hear the smack of a marble hitting glass.  I decided that kids should be rewarded for following the rules whether the jar is full or not. 

I changed my system to…

  • Kids are GUARANTEED some sort of party/activity at the end of each semester.
  • The super ball jar will determine the LENGTH of the party.
  • The maximum length of a party (full jar) is 2 ½ hours, which ends up being the whole afternoon using last year’s schedule.  The minimum length (empty jar) is fifteen minutes. This is where you can teach some math. In the beginning of the year we divide the jar into fractions –– ¼, ½, ¾. Then we determine how much time equals each fraction (½ = 1 hour 15 minutes, etc.)
  • Add on: I add a second jar, which is the credit/debt jar. If the jar is full and students earn a super ball, then it goes into the credit/debt jar as credit. If students lose a ball, it will come out of the credit jar (doesn’t mess with their party time).  If the jar is empty and they lose a ball, it goes in as debt. If they earn a ball while in debt, the ball comes out of debt and goes back into my jar. Students will need to clear the debt jar before balls go into the “real” jar that will earn them minutes. Sounds confusing, but it’s not.

Remember, classroom management, rules, and rewards are never perfect across the board. Each year you usually need to tweak the system in order to match the students in your class. Also, remember your students are maturing as the year unfolds, so don’t be afraid to change things up if needed.

Good Luck!

This piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we’ve preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer’s own.

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  • K-2 Primary
  • 3-5 Upper Elementary

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