One of the biggest challenges many teachers face—especially at the beginning of their careers—is classroom management. It's just not easy to keep 25 kids interested, engaged, and focused.
Classroom management skills usually improve with experience—but some teachers seem to have a gift for it right from the get-go. They seem to connect with kids and keep them focused on the lessons, and they seem have fewer discipline problems. What's their secret?
They don't have one—they have seven.
Further Reading: Effective Classroom Management Strategies to Achieve Your Daily Goals
Every teacher is unique—they have their own personality, their own behaviors, their own style. But after years of observation, I've come to recognize that most good classroom managers seem to share seven habits.
1. Set the Tone
Don't just stay at your desks before class begins; stand near the door of your classroom and greet kids as they enter. It's a way of saying, "Welcome to my room. It's great to see you."
One teacher I know of even plays a game with kids as they enter, asking students silly questions like "What weapon would you use to defeat Aquaman?" or "What's your favorite cookie?" Welcoming kids sets a positive tone before class even begins.
2. Jump Right In
Good managers start class right away. One colleague of mine, when the bell rings, shuts his door, turns to his students, raises his arms, and announces "Showtime!" I have my own, more subdued line: "OK, folks, the best part of your day is about to begin!"
Of course, you don't have to be so dramatic. But good managers take advantage of prime teaching time by diving right into the lesson and leaving classroom maintenance tasks until later in the period.
3. Establish the Rules
Good classroom managers have protocols in place to handle routine issues that occur in every classroom. Students know the policy on cellphones. They know how to borrow a pencil and where to turn in late homework. They know the protocol for a trip to the bathroom. In other words, students don't need to interrupt instructional time with maintenance questions because they know how the classroom runs.
4. Have a Plan
Good classroom managers don't just have a specific plan—they share it with their students, too. A plan can be simple: "Today we're going to be talking about how our country got involved in the War of 1812," you could tell your students, or "Here are your ten vocabulary words for the week. Copy them in your notebook and then we'll talk about them." Keep teaching tools like video clips cued up, and handouts and smartboard pens at the ready.
5. Involve Your Kids
Good managers are enthusiastic about the subjects they teach, but that doesn't mean they monologue for the entire class. They limit how much they talk and encourage their students to participate. They ask interesting questions that make kids think and value their students' input.
6. Respect Your Kids
Good classroom managers like and respect kids, and they show it. They smile. They act like they're happy to be there. They expect kids to make mistakes (and understand when they do), and they appreciate when kids work hard (and tell them so). They walk around the room and interact with kids, offering help and individual praise. They try to keep in mind, teacher Otis Kriegel says, that every student is trying their best, and they don't embarrass kids who—on occasion—test their patience. Good classroom managers look to make their classrooms a safe, comfortable, and pleasant place for everyone.
7. Keep It Fair
Good classroom managers don't play favorites, and their kids trust them to apply the rules evenly. They don't ignore poor behavior from some kids but not from others. They don't allow students to bully other students. And they model the behavior they'd like to see in their students.
Connecting with Kids
Some teachers (and principals) think that good classroom management is all about law and order. But what these seven habits have in common is that they focus less on student compliance and more on teacher-student relationships. A classroom culture based on mutual respect and trust fosters student growth and discourages disruptions. Discussions and assignments that draw on students' experiences and ideas encourage kids to invest in their own learning, according to the Harvard Education Letter. When students are invested, they're less likely to disrupt the classroom.
Take, for example, my colleague Inez. In her first year of teaching, Inez believed in running a tight ship; she was afraid that allowing kids to talk or get out of their seats would create chaos. But she realized that her approach simply wasn't working when students were struggling to slog through the third week of lessons around The Odyssey.
So she took a risk.
"All of you have your own odyssey, your own journey in life," she said to her kids. Then she gave them an assignment: "I'd like each of you to make a timeline of your own odyssey that you can share."
The students were noisy as they worked, but the class wasn't chaotic. Students loved presenting and listening to others. When one girl asked if Inez made a timeline of her own, Inez shared hers on the board. That assignment, she reflects, resulted in her first real connection with her students.
Good Management Benefits Everyone
Inez's experience changed her attitude. Her students weren't scary anymore, and they weren't trying to take advantage of her. They were just kids who wanted to have a good experience in her class. And letting kids know a little about her own life helped change Inez's students' attitudes toward her.
Further Reading: 8 Classroom Management Ideas from Students
Good classroom management isn't simply about keeping everyone in their seats and quiet. It's about building strong relationships with your students, encouraging them to take part in their own learning, and sharing a little of yourself. A classroom culture that is good for kids is good for teachers, too.