Classroom Management Strategies

Herding cats...
It’s a phrase used by people to describe a task that seems impossible; a metaphor for organizing something that seems more like chaos. It’s not hard to get 20 sheep to go in one direction, but if you have 20 cats in a room, you can count on them having 20 different agendas. It can be the same with 20 students in a classroom – students who come from different backgrounds, with varying skill levels, learning difficulties, and behavioral habits. And that’s where classroom-management strategies come into play.

A teacher who is good at classroom management will be better able to:

  • Keep the students focused and attentive;
  • Keep the learning activities organized;
  • Keep the classroom orderly;
  • Minimize and handle disruptions;
  • Maximize respect and learning behaviors.

And when these things happen, every one of those 20 different students learns better. And the teacher – who is also part psychologist, part engineer, and part herding dog – is rewarded with attention and respect.

“We've all had that one class that, by November, you dreaded going to because you knew every single minute would be a battle,” writes Illinois teacher Christopher Bronke in a blog for the website TeachingChannel. “Of course, there are countless strategies to help deal with classroom management issues, but at its core, combating the chaos rests in understanding and honoring humanity. As you consider some of your most challenging students or classes, think about your approach to classroom management through the lens of these three areas: connection, consistency, and compassion.”

What are some common classroom-management mistakes?

The term “classroom management” sounds a little like something out of a corporate handbook, filled with pages of dry rules and guidelines approved by the human resources department. In real life, it is a vibrant combination of techniques that includes body language, voice cues, expectations, games, routines, rewards, and disciplinary strategies. Before we talk about what works, let’s explore the traps a little. (And now that the country is moving past the pandemic, we’ll forgo listing the perils of remote learning.) The website Edutopia lists eight classroom-management mistakes teachers make at the beginning of a school year. They include:

  • Not making expectations clear: Neither students nor teachers benefit when expectations are fuzzy – and you can count on being tested when they aren’t.
  • Not being consistent: If you treat two students differently, especially in the area of consequences, the classroom will see you as unfair and able to be manipulated.
  • Not using specific action plans: When a student disrupts class, tests limits, or has falling grades, he or she may be unsure about how to improve. If you don’t create an individual action plan for that student, you’re making sure that the situation will continue.
  • Not doing what you say you’ll do: Not following through after you have explained or threatened discipline creates a situation where you’ll be seen as weak or wishy-washy. Even the best students may take advantage of this situation.
  • Not building relationships with individual students: There is always more to do than there are hours in the day, so it can seem an impossible task to get to spend time with your students one-on-one. But if you don’t unlock what makes each child work, your classroom may not become a cohesive community where each child thrives.

Classroom Management Strategies by the Ages

Values like respect, courtesy, tolerance, and acceptance in the classroom are important no matter what grade you’re teaching. But the best classroom strategies are adjusted to meet the growth and challenges of each age group. Here are some tips:

Classroom Management Strategies for Elementary School

  • Rules and routines:In kindergarten, first, and second grades, you’re building basic structure and routine. The website We Are Teachers advises that you’ll want to set rules, keep them simple, and enforce them consistently. Classroom management for this age group covers everything from how to enter and exit the classroom, to how to listen when the teacher is talking. Visual cues are key: colorful spots on the carpet show where to sit, picture labels on storage containers show where supplies are stored.
  • Expectations and values: By the time you get to third grade, you should start setting expectations instead of rules; by fourth grade, you are teaching values, which students can help emphasize (“Our class shows kindness. Our class tries their best.”) Routines are still important, but they can be more complex.
  • Responsibilities and rewards: Students can be assigned responsibilities for class jobs, such as distributing homework papers, organizing a work area, or taking the recycling bin to the school recycling center. You can manage behavior with points systems (and rewards!) and student notebooks that include goals, rules, and self-check-ins.

Classroom Management Strategies for Middle School

Children in middle school range from ages 10 to 15, and they experience massive developmental growth. They also face a host of new logistical challenges: They have lockers, travel between classrooms by themselves, and face more social pressure overall. Students have different teachers for different subjects, which means each teacher may have his or her own classroom rules and expectations. Middle-school students need more time-management and organizational skills. And because they are expected to be more independent learners, conditions such as ADHD, dyslexia, or executive-function issues can present bigger challenges. Here are a few middle-school classroom-management tips from TeachHub, a website for K-12 teachers. They share the same foundation as for younger students, but have bigger expectations and can be more complex:

  • Rules and routines: Some of these cover the same issues as in elementary school, such as classroom behavior, how objectives get accomplished, and how students should interact with the teacher and with one another. But students in this age group can also help set the routines and rules, which encourages more buy-in, and they can be given more freedoms, such as flexible seating options.
  • Expectations and values: You’re still working to build positive individual relationships with students, creating an environment of respect, and making your expectations clear and consistent, factoring in the growing maturity of this age group. An example: Create a social contract for the classroom, which means students then have shared ownership of classroom expectations and can help keep each other accountable.
  • Responsibilities and rewards: Responsibilities are greater with this age group, and rewards mature as well. A class might work together to earn an outdoor activity, extra computer time, a classroom game, or being allowed drop their lowest test grade. Individual students can be rewarded with hall-monitor duties or choosing the next assignment for the class.

Classroom Management Strategies for High School

High school is even more complicated; students are in the process of becoming adults even while often acting childish. They seek guidance, yet question authority. They are smart, but may act as though they aren’t. They are greatly influenced by peer pressure. In the midst of all this, they are expected to be mature, focus, and grow. (No wonder there’s always a locker being slammed somewhere down the hall.)

Classroom management at this point is more about being a leader, earning respect, and setting high expectations. We Are Teachers asked experienced educators across the nation to share their advice in “50 Tips and Tricks for High School Classroom Management.” Here are a few:

  • Don’t treat them like younger students: “High schoolers want and need some autonomy in learning and hate feeling like you are trying to “hold their hand” through every little lesson/activity. They have so much more maturity and insight than what you might expect.”
  • Pick your battles:“Set clear boundaries and stick with them, but don’t make or see everything as a challenge. If you stay calm and respect them, they will show respect for you.”
  • Embrace individuality:Make space for the piercings, tattoos, and occasional goofball behavior. “Always (be) mindful to respect each student’s individuality. Teenagers are teenagers.”
  • Involve the students:“Show that you are willing to listen to their ideas and implement them when practical.”
  • Be confident:“High schoolers smell fear. Say what you say with confidence – do NOT let them think they are smarter than you are.”
  • Above all, be a leader.“I often remind my high schoolers, the classroom is not a democracy. And although we are a team in this learning journey, I am, in essence, their boss (although they quite often remind me that I can’t fire them).”

Develop your own classroom-management strategies

In the midst of all this (remember, it’s herding cats!), you can’t neglect your own learning. EDS offers several three-credit courses that satisfy professional-development requirements while helping you up your game in the classroom. Courses include developing a growth mindset, developing executive function skills, teaching for retention, the technology-infused classroom, health and wellness for the educator. And for more specific information, click here and fill out the contact form.