I recently saw a headline for a blog post that said “Students are learning to relearn.” That is so true! I’ll take it a step further and say that students need to relearn how to “do school.” As we have restructured our lessons to get back to the basics our students need to relearn, as teachers, we need to reteach how to “do school.” Here is a Baker’s Dozen of easy suggestions to get back to the basics of classroom management.
Greet your students
According to this Edutopia article, greeting students “sets a positive tone and can increase engagement and reduce disruptive behavior” and is a great way to start making a personal connection to each student. This small gesture promotes “a sense of belonging, giving them social and emotional support that helps them feel invested in their learning.”
Teach and reteach classroom expectations, procedures and rules.
Let’s face it, we are all creatures of habit, and we do better when we have a routine and know what to expect. Have the daily agenda and objectives posted. Make sure students know where to turn in work, where to find a pencil, etc. Have basic ground rules (these can be tweaked with a class meeting–more on that later.) I recently sat in on a high school physical science class, and like any other good teacher, I’m going to steal this procedure! The teacher had a bathroom “sign out” on the dry erase board. The students “signed” themselves out for a bathroom break. They knew to quietly get up and sign themselves out without interrupting the lesson. Brilliant!
Build in “Brain Breaks”
Now more than ever, students need to “do school” in smaller chunks. In my 90 minute class, I try to take a 5-8 minute break halfway through. Students are more likely to put their phones away if they know they can get them out during their “break.” This is also a great time to connect to some of the students that may be quiet in class by asking questions about their interests. You can also use these breaks to get students up and active. I love “Silent ball” or even some quick yoga poses to shake out the midday sleepies.
Never make an idle threat
This is some of the best advice I received from a veteran teacher when I was student teaching. The idea is: Say what you mean and mean what you say. If you don’t follow through by holding them after class or calling home, you will never have any credibility.
Don’t punish yourself with a student consequence
This is another tip from my student teaching mentor. For example, if you need that 30 minute student-free lunch break everyday, don’t give lunch detentions for the whole 30 minutes. A smaller amount of time can be just as effective if you are keeping them from that social time in the cafeteria. Consider other consequences that don’t punish you. Knowing your students better helps you to identify what consequences would work the best.
Catch them being good
Verbally acknowledge when you see a student doing something considerate or helpful. This contributes to team building in such a subtle way. It lets the students know that you can’t do it all by yourself and that we are all in this together. Follow up with a note or email to their parents. It is always best to have had a positive interaction with the parents before you have a negative one.
Keep things positive
Complaining is not allowed in my classroom. It just brings everyone down. I have been known to have students go out and re-enter the classroom with a cheerful “Good Morning!” when they enter voicing their complaints. Along those same lines, the “T word” is also forbidden. No one is allowed to complain that they are “tired.” It just makes everyone else think how tired they are too! If this continues to be a problem, we may take a few minutes for everyone to think of something positive to say. They are allowed to pass if they can’t think of anything because if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. I do circle back to them at the end for another opportunity.
Praise those that are complying
Rather than calling out the student who is on their phone, praise one that has already put theirs away. You will be surprised how well this works! Be sure to praise the offender the next time they comply without being told!
An often overlooked behavior strategy is physically putting yourself in proximity with the behavior you want to extinguish. Two students are talking on the other side of the room. Just walk over to them and quietly stand there. It doesn’t take long for the talking to end.
Quietly waiting for compliance
If you have not already guessed, I can be passive aggressive in my classroom. I will announce what we are doing for the day and signal the beginning of class. Because I have taught and retaught my procedures, my students know this means to put your devices away and get ready to listen. When someone is still watching that TikTok video, I silently wait. Oftentimes, someone will say, “What are you waiting for?” I say nothing and continue to wait. They get the student’s attention and point at me, and Boom! I get compliance. It also doesn’t hurt that my students know that I have an agenda for the day. Their “Brain Break” can be reduced by the time we spend waiting on someone to comply with the rules, “Only a 4 minute break today since it took so long to get started.”
Get students involved
Try to incorporate ways to get students involved so the learning is not so passive. Ask the student with their head down to pass out papers. Have students double check your math or your spelling. By making a mistake every so often, it can accomplish more than just getting the students to pay attention to “catch” you. You also get to model that you are human and how to handle it when mistakes happen. It is easy to make a mistake into a teachable moment by demonstrating how to handle it with grace and not making excuses. Of course, all of my mistakes are done on purpose!
Have a clear phone policy
I am of 2 minds about the students and their phones and have tried both ways to handle it. I know some teachers are very strict and have a “phone keeper” for students to place their phones in when they are in their classrooms. This is not my approach for several reasons. One practical consideration is that I don’t want to be responsible for someone’s expensive phone. But the real reason that I now handle phones the way I do is that I am trying to teach responsible phone usage. How many adults do you interact with during the day that have their phone in their hand and are constantly looking at it? My goal is for the student to recognize that they need to put it to the side so they can concentrate on what is going on in class. And, because we discuss my policy on phones from day one, my students know what my expectations are and that there will be time built into the class for them to check whatever they need to check on.
There’s Always More To Learn
These are a dozen strategies that I use that work for me and my style of teaching. Every teacher has to decide what works for them and their students. Of course, these don’t work for every student every time, but the more proactive you can be as a teacher, the less interventions you will need later. Here are some strategies and interventions that Todd Finley learned from a very rough year of teaching. He shares 6 strategies and 13 interventions. I think the most important one is intervention #9–to forgive your students after a bad day. I always try to revisit the behavior later (after everyone has cooled down and processed what happened) to let the student know that I still love them, but I did not like their behavior and why. Then we move on. Once an incident is in the past, it should stay there.
Another interesting take on classroom management is this article: 8 Classroom Management Ideas from Students. Sometimes the students really do know what they need and it helps everyone if you can arrive at that conclusion together.
Student Input–Baker’s Dozen #13
Have a classroom meeting to get everyone to agree on the rules and the consequences for breaking the rules. Some teachers do this on the first day of class every year. Because of my role as a Special Educator to different combinations of the same students for the 4 years they are in high school, I only do this if there is a problem unique to that particular class that has become a pervasive problem. For example, I had a class where multiple students were late every day. The reason was their friends had a class nearby and the social reward for being in the hall outweighed the reason to be on time. We had a classroom meeting and decided that I would give them another consequence instead of assigning them a lunch detention for 20 minutes each day. (My school has a room where we send the students for lunch detention. This would be punishing me if it was my lunch detention and a violation of #6.) We agreed that for every minute late, they would stay a minute after class with me. Everyone had lunch next, so this worked. By the end of the first week, the tardies had mostly ended. There were a few more scattered through the rest of the semester, but I didn’t even have to say anything except quietly write the time on the board. They know if they did the crime, they had to do the time! (#5!)
Determine what works best for your style of teaching and your students. There is no one size fits all approach. Try different strategies out, keep what works and discard what doesn’t. Use interventions when needed, but remember the best intervention of all is to connect with your students. My colleague David Kayler tells why connections matter and 5 ways to connect in his excellent article “Connecting with Students.”
If you have any strategies that you would like to share, please leave a reply below. I am always ready to steal another strategy and make it my own!