I’m writing this post to meet a common need that I keep seeing pop up all over my social media. Over the last month, I’ve been seeing a bunch of both experienced and newbies posting for tips on how to manage their students. I’ve been there and there is nothing more defeating and frustrating than feeling like your students are out of control. Breathe. Keep faith. There are effective strategies that can help. It gets better and you can do this!
When I started teaching high school 15 years ago, I was just 22 years old, only a couple years older than many of my students. I was utterly unprepared to be in control of my classes and a it classroom management nightmare. Thankfully, since then, I’ve taught in a variety of environments that have helped me improve my ability to manage my students. I’ve taught in 6 different middle and high schools for grades 6-12 in 4 different public districts in 2 different states. I’ve been in schools that were rural and mostly Caucasian, another that was urban and at least 50 percent African American, and I now teach in a suburban school in a university city that is so diverse I couldn’t really begin to give you the breakdowns.
I’ve experienced teaching environments ranging from easy-as-pie to extremely challenging. Somehow, through my experiences and trial by fire through the years, classroom management is now probably one of my top 3 strengths. I’m excited to share some strategies that have made a world of difference in my ability not just to manage my classes, but to create an environment where my students can learn and I teach without losing my mind, patience, or hair.
1. Set clear expectations
Maybe I should start off by saying that it’s part of my personality to be extremely forthright and honest, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I think laying it all out there is the most important thing that teachers can do to set the stage for what the year will look like.
You can do this any way you want. You can come up with the expectations yourself or you can let your students help you come up with what the class norms will be. Call me mean, but I come up with them on my own. It took me a while to be able to outline exactly what things mattered, but now my students are very clear about what I’m looking for.
One tip: try to spin my expectations positively by detailing what behaviors you do want to see as opposed to what I don’t, but the key is that my students know what is appropriate in my class and what is not. Some still choose to ignore my expectations and do what they want; I’ll get to what I do about that soon.
2. Make sure the kids know your expectations
Once I’ve defined my expectations, I make sure the kids know them. By heart. I formally teach my expectations in a variety of ways and repeatedly check my students’ understanding.
A few years ago, I created a Picktochart syllabus that laid out my expectations in a graphically clear way, which seemed to work really well for the parents, but it didn’t really help my students. As a result, I know have a 40 slide Google Slides presentation that I created to go over my behavior expectations and procedures for every situation under the sun. Don’t worry, I break up the monotony with role plays of what behaviors I am looking for.
Sounds like overkill, right? I’m fine with that. My students need to know what I expect, and I need to know that they fully understand. Plus, I always spice it up with my witty banter and adorable Bitmojis, so that obviously helps 😉
My presentation is fully customizable and editable, but gives a solid groundwork for going over both your expectations and class over view with your classes. It might be just the tool you need to make it crystal clear to your students that you mean business.
3. Make sure your classroom walls are working to support you
I have several different graphic posters on my wall that reiterate my expectations and I reference them often. I have a call and response poster, a Bitmoji voice level chart, proficiency expectation posters, qualities of effective language learners visuals, and, my most referenced, a CHAMPS activity diagram. Actually, you could get all of these posters in a growing bundle, print them, and be ready to make your classroom walls work for your in now time!
If you haven’t heard of CHAMPS and you’re struggling with management, I cannot recommend it enough and I breakdown why it’s effective in this blog post. CHAMPS seriously changed the way I teach and improved my classroom management because it forced me to think out my expectations for my classroom and for different instructional activities.
I keep my CHAMPS chart below prominently displayed and teach my students the behavioral expectations for different types of activities at the beginning of the school year, before lots of activities, and as needed throughout the rest of the year. Honestly, it works.
|My various classroom management wall tools for world language|
4. Read up
Everyone has their favorite method or book about classroom management, behavior management, discipline strategies, student engagement, or whatever the popular tagline is this year. I personally have trouble reading Harry Wong’s ever-popular undergrad favorite The First Days of School without wincing, but he certainly does have some very worthwhile and effective ideas.
As you know, my personal favorite is CHAMPs or its secondary version, Disclipline in the Secondary Classroom. Other popular methods are Teach Like a Champion and Teach Like a Pirate. Even though I’ve been teaching for years, reading and reviewing classroom management techniques is essential to refine my practice, remind myself of habits I need steer away from, or things I should try.
5. Build relationships
I know this one is a little cliché, but there is truth that some students work harder for teachers to whom they feel connected. There’s a big debate amongst my student body if I’m nice or strict, but regardless I work to make sure students know I care. I know you do, too.
At my school, I’ve witnessed a huge increase of students coming to school with more trauma and difficult home lives. I’ve had to change my teaching style and be super intentional about connecting with students. We all have our own ways of doing this. I give surveys, make positive phone calls home, and using class time to sit next to the students that irritate me most because I’ve come to believe in the adage that the kids who need the most help will ask for it in the most unloving ways.
I’ve found that it really helps to ask students what they need and give them choices even when I flat out just do not feel like it. Meet them at the door as often as your busy schedule allows, go to their events, find out who their friends are, ask what they did over the weekend, eat lunch with them in the cafeteria, whatever it takes. We all have our strategies for building relationships with students and it matters immensely. This is the hard work that matters. (P.S. This is the part of teaching I struggle with the most)
6. Keep them busy
In my first teaching position, I taught my students in 2 hour blocks, 5 days a week. 10 hours a week with each child? Are we kidding?! What to know what I learned? Keep them busy at all cost.
Typically, my kids are working on focused tasks from bell to bell. Actually, they have to be seated and self-start their warm-up by the bell in order to be considered “on time” to class. I know, I’m mean, but I also teach middle school and I’ve found that when I start class in an orderly fashion, the rest of the period goes much more smoothly. It’s what works for me.
I don’t know about you, but I find that I get students of extremely varying abilities and thus, I get some kids who finish things very early. I have a list of activities that fast-finishers are expected to do while their peers are still working. A couple of my favorite fast-finisher tasks are DuoLingo, logic puzzles, and LyricsTraining.com. Find a couple that work for your classroom and go from there, but there’s nothing better than never having kids say, “Sr./Sra./Srta. _____, I’m done!” If you train them and go over what to do when they’re done before letting them start an activity, you won’t have to repeat yourself 1,000,000 times.
7. Seating charts
I’ll admit it. I’m a control freak and I’ve ok with that label. I always start every first day of school with a seating chart and kids stay in a seating chart FOREVER. For the first time ever, last year I trusted one group of my 8th grade students so much that I let them select their own seats, but I waited until early May to let it happen. I applaud those of you who are more laid back and your kids succeed in whatever seats they’ve chosen, but it’s just not for me.
What to do about seating charts on the first day of school when you don’t know the kids? One of my favorite mottos is “Randomness is the spice of life.” My school’s gradebook software has a seating chart feature that lets me create a classroom layout and then I can select for it to randomly place students in a seat. Another alternative is to use a random grouping strategy like Martina Bex’s adorable (and free) character seating cards.
Although I’ve never tried personally tried Jessica’s (AKA Miss Señorita)
idea to let kids choose their own seats on the first day of class as
she describes in this post, it’s genius. What a tricky lady. Definitely check it out.
8. Initiate contact with parents/guardians
I’m for real about this one. I actually (mostly jokingly) always make it a point to tell my students during the first week of class that one of my favorite things to do on a Friday after school is to call parents. Usually, at least half of them look at my like I’m crazy and I’m completely fine with that.
With a smile, I calmly explain that I LOVE to call parents to talk to them about how awesome or not so awesome their kids were in my class that day. I explain that I find Fridays to be the best time to call because they then get to spend the whole weekend with their parents, which can work either for them or against them.
Last year, I had an impressive amount of 7th grade boys who didn’t seem to believe I was telling the truth. I chose two of the boys, called their parents after school on Friday, and strangely enough, their behavior was markedly improved on Monday. Word of my Friday phone call spread to their buddies and suddenly those 7th grade boys calmed down. Victory is mine.
9. Use call and response
How many times have you found yourself trying to get your students’ attention by repeatedly saying, “Silencio. Escuchen,” only to have them completely ignore you? I did this more times during my early care than I care to admit and the result was completely ineffective if not undermining.
When I implemented the CHAMPS method, our trainer recommended teaching callbacks and I thought to myself, “Oh heck no. I am not an elementary teacher.” Seriously, call-backs make me cringe especially when a trainer uses them in PD like all of us are first-graders.
Unfortunately, and I hate to admit this, call and response works. If you can find ones that you and your students like and that you can use without completely embarrassing yourself, they’re extremely effective. For example, when I say, “Hola, hola” my students must respond “Coca-cola.” The key is that they have to stop speaking to one another to respond with the “Cola-cola.” Our own Elisabeth (Spanish Mama) recently posted an amazing list of fun call and responses. Take your pick and try it out.
Be sure not to overuse your call and response. I tell my students that when they say “calabaza” that they need to be silent and looking at me waiting for instructions. I also found that my call and response tactic was much more effective once I posted this poster in a highly visible spot in the front of my classroom. Plus, I think it’s kind of adorable and it’s a free download!
10. Utilize technology tools
11. Find out what works for you
I’m sure some of you are thinking, “Who is she kidding? A call home doesn’t work for all kids!” You’re absolutely right and I am the first to admit that all of the suggestions above will not work for all schools, students, and classrooms.
At my school, historically, we’ve had very little administrative support, so I pretty much handle all classroom management on my own without the ability to write disciplinary referrals or send students to the principal’s office. When I inevitably find kids who are unmotivated by my expectation presentations or a call home, I’ve got to get creative. If that means creepily showing up at their class right before lunch and bringing them to my classroom, so be it. If that means I keep them after school to get to know them better, ok. If that means I contact little Johnny’s basketball coach and explain my behavior concerns and then the kid runs their tail off in practice that day, awesome. Whatever works, within reason, of course.
I hope today you found a few classroom management strategies that you can use to have a smoother, calmer year. Remember, it’s a process that we are constantly working on improving and there will be “those days” where things went less than perfectly. Stick with it, try something new, you’ve got this!
Remember, it’s so much easier to do be in this amazing profession when your teaching environment is relaxed and effective. You can teach that amazing lesson you so carefully planned so much better when your kids are engaged, respectful, and know what you expect. Have a great school year!