There are plenty of books and articles on classroom management, but some of the best advice I've received on the subject has come from students. They're quite familiar with what works and what doesn't in the classroom, so I asked some of my current students for classroom management ideas. Here are eight of the helpful tips they shared.
1. Be Ready to Go
We understand that you have to take attendance, collect phones (if that's your thing), and answer e-mails," Lena told me. "But if you aren't ready to go when the bell rings, we won't be either." Getting down to business means there's no time to get off task. Some teachers put a prompt or question on the board for students to answer while attendance is being taken or other administrative tasks are handled. Ths helps activate student interest and engages your class immediately.
Further reading: 5 Classroom Management Tips That Seem Counterintuitive
2. Strive for Maximum Engagement
If the activities and learning in your classroom are passive, your students are sure to be as well. "I don't know a single kid who likes a lecture," Danny told me. "And no student likes to copy notes off a board," Sari added. "If students aren't involved in their learning, they'll become disinterested and bored." Creating activities and lessons that are hands-on and involve the entire class can go a long way toward ensuring that students are engaged. "If there's no place to hide, you're kind of forced to take part, and it's usually a lot more interesting and fun that way," Dana said.
3. Avoid Busy Work
"By the time we're in third grade, we know what 'busy work' is," Samantha complained. "And, to be perfectly honest, we will probably put as much effort into busy work as the teacher who created it did—it's just not fun or meaningful for anyone." If students don't see a purpose in the work they're doing, they won't put forth their best effort, and they'll be distracted or noncompliant.
4. Be Firm on Phones
Phones are a tricky subject for most teachers. They're almost always a major distraction in the classroom. At the beginning of the second semester this year, I bought a hanging pocket chart for cell phones. It was the best $20 I ever spent. "I didn't like it at first," Dom said. "But now I have to admit that it makes me less tempted to look at my phone, and that means I'm less distracted in class, and I can focus on my learning."
5. But Show Some Flexibility
Since I ask my students to put their phones in the pocket chart at the start of class, I always give them at least two minutes at the end of class to do a tech check. "Since we know we're getting this time, it makes it easier to give up our phones in the first place," Jorge explained. Two minutes of classroom time is not so much to give up when you realize the return is 74 minutes of uninterrupted student attention.
6. Know What Kids Know
"We like teachers who know what's up," Bazi said. Building relationships is at the foundation of all classroom management. If you have strong relationships with your students, they'll be less likely to act up. Honoring youth culture and affirming your students' identity is the best way to create bonds with them. So stay informed about the music, television shows, YouTube videos, fashion, language, and sports that are so important to your students, and use them as conversation starters and topics for discussion. When students see that you value their interests, they will return that respect to you.
7. Have Open Discussions
Students want to talk about the issues in life that affect them, and almost every student told me they love having discussions on topics that are important to them. If there's something significant going on in the world, your town, or your school, taking some time to listen to your students' concerns is worth it. The day after the election, for example, my students needed to talk. They had a great deal of anxiety and fear. As long as the conversation remains respectful, students appreciate the time to voice their opinions, ask questions, and review topics that are relevant to them. Providing students with this time will go a long way toward creating a community in the classroom, which will, in turn, help with classroom management.
8. Use the Broken Record Technique
"I'm not going to lie—it can be kind of fun watching a teacher and a student argue, but it gets annoying after a while," Jackson said. "Teachers give up power when they get into a showdown with a student." The "broken record" technique is a trick I learned from Richard Lavoie, a nationally known expert on learning disabilities and classroom management. With this technique, the teacher merely repeats the instruction or desired behavior three times. Say, for example, a student won't put away his phone. The teacher says, "Rafael, please put away your phone." The student argues: "Sue has her phone out" or "I just need to answer a text." Rather than debate with the student, simply repeats the instruction, calmly and evenly, three times: "Please put away your phone." I can assure you that by the last instruction, the phone will be put away; this technique is magical. Students told me they'd much rather see a teacher use this strategy than waste time arguing with a student.
Further reading: How to Earn Respect in the Classroom
Culling classroom management ideas from your students can be extremely enlightening. Listen to your students and ask what ideas they might contribute to this list.