It’s probably happened to most teachers. You look around your class one day, in the middle of a lecture or reading aloud, and you realize no one is paying attention.
Joe and buddies are in an intense conversation, spiked with bursts of laughter, about their weekend. Lanie is, as usual, playing with her long hair, smoothing out the invisible split ends. Kyle is reading something that looks like part of the “Star Wars” series. And Debbie is off in a corner talking on her cell phone. How did we ever get so dysfunctional? you wonder. While such classroom dysfunction is unfortunately not uncommon, it can be fixed. However, since the problems didn’t start overnight but rather have been building from the first day of class, they can’t be fixed overnight, either. It will be gradual process based on several methods.
5 Winning Methods for Classroom Management
Introduce class policies from Day One. Involve students.
One of the biggest mistakes teachers make, the most detrimental to a well-run class, is the failure to communicate expectations from the beginning. Classroom management is about teacher expectations and student adherence to them—the expectation that students will speak one at a time and listen to each other, for example. If the expectation is not clearly communicated, students can’t be blamed for not understanding it. In addition, different teachers have different expectations—some instructors are really bothered by the use of electronics during class, others not so much—so instructors have to communicate clearly what is important to them. In addition, students can be involved in this process early in the class by having them with the instructor brainstorm 5 to 10 rules for running the class efficiently. Most often, students themselves have knowledge of what works and does work in running a classroom well, having been in classes of varying management effectiveness most of their lives, and they appreciate being involved in the process.
If class policies have not been established from the beginning, it will be hard but not impossible to establish them later by calling an informal class meeting and discussing the need to establish some policies for the sake of the a smoothly run learning environment. Students will usually agree, and then the class can proceed to establishing a few key rules.
Enforce class policies.
Class policies are of little value, of course, if they are not enforced. It may seem a little mean to speak to the student about being late the very day after the class policies have gone into effect: the tendency may be to let it go “just this once.” The problem with that is, of course, that “just this once” gets extended to “just this week” and “just this month.” And then arises the problem of trying to belatedly enforce the rule, and thereby enforcing it with some students and not others, which leads to confusion and resentment. Fair and equal enforcement of the class policies is necessary for a well-run classroom.
Set up class routines.
As important to classroom management as rules are classroom routines. Few things are more annoying and nonproductive in a classroom that students wandering around aimlessly, sitting at their desks listlessly, or whining “I have nothing to do.” This is a problem of lack of classroom routines, which aid students in knowing what they should be doing throughout a class session. Ways to communicate the class routines early in the class are each day posting what the class will be doing on the board as well as on the class website if possible so that students may view it to find out what materials to bring to class and know what they will be doing; having a set procedure each day, such first attendance by signing in, next listening to a short lecture from the instructor, then extended practice with an established group. Also important are accessible materials, such as all handouts placed at the edge of the instructor’s desk to be picked up by students if they come in late. Knowing what they will be doing ahead of time each class session contributes to well-run class and allows the students to focus on their learning, not on what to do.
Classroom management is really at its core about respect of teacher and students: their time, their boundaries, and their individuality. If the teacher models this respect by arriving on time consistently, actively listening to students, and recognizing their individual needs and contributions to the class, this value will be communicated by example to the students and they will demonstrate the same respect to each other and the teacher.
Focus on course content, not management issues.
It may sound counterintuitive, but the ultimate goal of focusing on class management issues is to eventually not focus on them and shift attention to class content. Few things are more frustrating to an instructor than taking up a significant portion of a class to (again) discuss the procedure for coming in late, for obtaining the handouts, for getting into groups, etc. If these management issues are thoroughly covered in the beginning days of class, they eventually become internalized and the focus can shift to the content and learning, the primary reason students are there—and students are usually as relieved as the teacher when then change occurs.
Managing and leading groups of people is not easy.
It is not coincidental that most world leaders age quickly or even die in office. This is especially true of managing groups of young students, for whom the pack instinct is strong—their rules are often internal to their peer group, not the classroom and teacher. However, by involving students in developing some reasonable class rules, enforcing those rules for the good of the group, and then shifting the focus from the rules to the content, students begin to see and appreciate a well-managed classroom.