Keys to Classroom Management

New and seasoned teachers think a lot about classroom management. In order for students to be able to engage deeply with the curriculum, the classroom environment must be orderly; the atmosphere must feel business-like and productive, without being authoritarian. In a productive classroom, standards of conduct are clear to students; they know what they are permitted to do and what they can expect of their classmates. Even when their behavior is being corrected, students feel respected; their dignity is not undermined. Skilled teachers regard positive student behavior not as an end in itself, but as a prerequisite to high levels of engagement in content.

The first step towards creating a classroom environment as described above, is to develop meaningful relationships with students. While this may seem obvious, teachers can forget the importance and power of good relationships when faced with challenging behavior.

Setting the Tone at the Door
Where are you before the class period begins? Are you at your desk? Are you running down the hall for coffee? If so, you may miss an important opportunity to set the tone for class before class begins. Greet students at the door. This not only allows you a moment of one-on-one time with each student to enhance your relationship as well as assess a student’s mood and readiness, but it gives you a chance to have an initial positive interaction with every kid in your room. Here’s one teacher’s method for greeting kids at the door.

When I was a teaching intern, my mentor teacher practiced a routine that I continued to use as my own for over a decade. At the end of the day, he’d shake every student’s hand and ask them a question about themselves before they left for the day. On Friday it was the students’ turn: they would ask him a question about himself. This routine not only helped him learn more about his students, but helped his students develop the skill of asking meaningful questions about someone else. The learning, then, was mutual.

Monitoring and Preventing Challenging Behavior
Experienced teachers seem to have eyes in the backs of their heads; they are attuned to what’s happening in the classroom and can move subtly to help students, when necessary, re-engage with the content being addressed in the lesson. At a high level, such monitoring is preventive and subtle, which may make it challenging to observe. The holy trinity for avoiding interruptions and off-task behavior: Participation strategies, movement, and meaningful group work.

Responding to Misbehavior
Even experienced teachers find that their students occasionally violate one or another of the agreed-upon standards of conduct; how the teacher responds to such infractions is an important mark of the teacher’s skill. Accomplished teachers try to understand why students are conducting themselves in such a manner (are they unsure of the content? are they trying to impress their friends?) and respond in a way that respects the dignity of the student. The best responses are those that address misbehavior early in an episode, although doing so is not always possible.    

Public vs. Private
It’s best to address behavior in as private a manner as possible. First steps may include wordless communication: Sometimes just a look will let a student know they should modify behavior, and moving within close proximity to students can send a similar message. If you can’t speak with a student  individually and quietly, then brief and to-the-point is the next best method.

Here are a few things to keep in mind as the year progresses:

1. There is no magic formula for classroom management.
2. Connections with kids should outweigh corrections by approximately 5:1.
3. When corrections are made, reconnect with student as soon as possible.
4. Set expectations that are authentic and real, and connect corrections to those norms.

Commentary by Kristen Downey

Kristen Downey is UVEI’s Associate Director for Teacher Education.  Her other blogs can be found at:

You can follow Kristen on Twitter @UVEIconnect