5 Classroom Management “To Dos” for the Beginning of School
August 13, 2019
To establish and maintain an effective classroom management system throughout the school year, there are a few “to dos” to address at the beginning of the year. These “to dos” should focus on student behaviors and skills most essential to academic and social success, including:
- Building positive relationships with adults and other students.
- Attending, remaining engaged, and completing assignments.
- Working as a positive team member, especially for problem solving.
- Helping and being kind to others.
- Taking pride in their accomplishments.
To teach and maintain such critical behaviors, consider these 5 “To Dos.” Doing these five things should help you get off to a great start and stay on track all year!
First “To Do”: Focus on Relationships
We know that strong positive teacher-student relationships are associated with positive academic and social outcomes for students (Hamre & Pianta, 2001). These relationships are the foundation that supports classroom and behavior management systems as well as academic instruction and interventions. When students and teachers demonstrate mutual respect, trust, and caring, the system means more to students. Likewise, any positive or reductive consequences will have more meaning and more impact.
Teachers can start on Day One to build relationships by engaging in simple, but genuine interactions.
- Stand at the door and greet students.
- Learn and use students’ names as quickly as you can.
- Visit students’ homes and meet their families.
- Find an interest of theirs and listen to them talk about it.
- Respect each student’s culture, language, racial/ethnic background, and heritage.
- Identify students who seem isolated and make a sustained effort to give them two minutes of time each day.
Second “To Do”: Pay Attention to the Classroom Environment
There are several key components of a classroom or school that can impact behavior immediately. Consider these three:
Most classrooms should have flexible seating arrangements and teachers should thoughtfully decide when to assign seats (probably on the first day) and when to allow choice. Sometimes, new teachers think that rigid seating arrangements will prevent off task behaviors or excessive talking, but those behaviors might be more influenced by instructional style, pacing, and questioning.
There is an increasing body of knowledge related to classroom climate. Climate generally means the “feel” of the room—-hopefully, welcoming, positive, clean, bright, uncluttered. Classroom climate can also be influenced by art work, space, and clearly designated areas designed for specific purposes.
Traffic and Noise
A lot of behavior problems can be prevented by arranging areas for movement and noise. For example, if 5 students each get up to throw away trash during a 50-minute class period, that means one distraction every 10 minutes. When 5 other students get up to sharpen their pencils, we now have one distraction every 5 minutes—A ratio that can make teaching and learning a challenge.
Instead, plan and arrange for prevention. For example, consider small plastic trash cans by groups of desks. They are inexpensive and cut down on movement. Do the same thing with pencil sharpening, which is one of the most annoying activities in many classrooms. Place small 1-2” manual sharpeners so that students can reach them. This will prevent both movement and noise. Small steps can make a big difference.
Third “To Do”: Teach Classroom Expectations and Rules
Classroom rules and expectations are critical. Students need to know how you expect them to behave as you model and instruct directly, as they work independently, and as they work with others. Begin the year by explaining the purpose of rules, reviewing them, modeling them, and then having the students practice how to comply with them. The rules should be reviewed often during the first week and then regularly throughout the year. Keep these guidelines in mind:
- Keep the rules simple, clear, concise, and posted where all students can see them. Clarity prevents arguments. For example, “Use at least one genuine compliment in this discussion” is clearer than “Be positive,” which is open to interpretation. Whenever possible, involve students in making the rules so that they have a sense of ownership and a belief in them.
- Whenever possible, avoid “don’ts.” Teach the behaviors you want students to demonstrate. “Walk in the hallways on the red line” is better than “Don’t run in the hallways.” “When the teacher is talking, look at him and keep your hands and voice quiet.” is better than “Don’t talk when the teacher is talking.” Remember, you are teaching behavior just as you teach reading, math, or any other subject.
- Consider three to five rules for students in the early grades and about five for students in the upper grades. Too many expectations can cause students to lose focus.
Fourth “To Do”: Teach your Management System
Design and plan a system that promotes positive behavior in the classroom and explain it to the students on the first day. Not everyone believes in extrinsic reinforcement systems or visual management systems. However, most students will respond well to visual reminders and almost all students respond well to consistency. Management systems encourage both teacher and student consistency and reduce misunderstandings and arguments. Here are some practical suggestions:
Focus on social reinforcement in your management system.
Because the point of most behavior management systems is to improve social behavior, use positive reinforcement activities that allow for practice. These can include:
- Game time for the whole class. Having fun together improves social skills more than almost anything else students will do.
- Lunch with the teacher and a friend. Students love to talk and want someone to listen to them. This is the perfect opportunity.
- Reward progress! Re-consider strict daily criteria (x number of points per day), fewer timelines, and more measures of steady progress with a guaranteed end in sight.
- Win one for the group. This allows a student to “secretly” earn a fun activity for the whole group. (But no punishing the whole group for one student’s behavior and no shaming!)
Reinforce high level skills like supporting others, helping a friend, not giving up, and making a positive comment.
- Assign points to groups or tables for exemplary behavior. Similarly, you can give individual students tickets, warm fuzzies, or tokens for good behavior, which they can trade in for school supplies or other prizes at the end of the day or week. A general rule is to reward the whole class publicly but correct behavior individually and privately. No one likes to be embarrassed or made a scapegoat and corrective feedback is usually more effective in a quiet, calm setting anyway. Change up your system regularly so that students get to know and appreciate everyone in the class.
- Use some private systems on individual students’ desks. Warning cards, visual reminders, and self-checking cue cards are all good for students who need more immediate, individualized supports. Cues that encourage self-regulation (“Take a deep breath.” OR “Count backwards from 5.”) are effective in helping students learn to self-monitor and use self-control strategies.
Fifth “To Do”: Teach about Consequences
Take some time to teach the students both positive consequences for appropriate behaviors and reductive consequences for inappropriate or disruptive behaviors. When students break a rule or fail to follow the class management system, they should know what will happen. These should match the infraction so you do not over- or under-react. For example, sometimes students will be redirected, then warned or reminded, then provided another option like a change of seat, a private hall conference, or a calm down strategy. However, for persistent or dangerous misbehavior, students should know that there will be swift consequences designed to keep them and everyone else safe.
Students should also know that they will be recognized and appreciated for their positive behaviors. Sometimes, educators feel that recognition is not warranted because students “should do what they are told.” We think that everyone appreciates being noticed for a job well done. It’s never wrong to be positive, appreciative, and sincere when students demonstrate kindness, respect, interest, and effort. Let them know that you notice and that their behaviors matter.
Students need to know how you intend to follow through on your consequences, so they can adjust their behavior accordingly. Consistency is critical. If students think that you will apply reductive consequences unevenly or unfairly, you are likely to have more behavioral issues in your classes, not fewer.
Reference for This Article
Hamre, B.K. & Pianta, R.C. (2001). Early teacher-child relationships and the trajectory of children’s school outcomes through eighth grade. Child Development, 72 (2), 625-638.
Resources for This Article
For more strategies for behavior supports and interventions, ways to prevent disruptions, and for students with ADHD or High Functioning Autism (HFA), see our 3-topic set of Inclusion Guides for Busy Teachers that is available on Amazon.com. The guides are practical for special and general education teachers alike. New teachers and experienced teachers new to co-teaching and inclusion will find these particularly helpful.
You can find the Inclusion Guides for Busy Teachers on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Inclusion-Guides-Busy-Teachers-Set/dp/1733991131
You can also contact us for more information or for orders of 50 or more of the guides: firstname.lastname@example.org
We also recommend a recent article on the Edutopia website that has links to videos and other resources:
8 Proactive Classroom Management Tips. You can find it by clicking on this link: https://www.edutopia.org/article/8-proactive-classroom-management-tips