I’ve been teaching an education course for the last four years, and every time the students express that their greatest worry is about classroom management, I tell them that it’s most teachers’ greatest worry too (did you have your back-to-school nightmare this year?).
Since I know that the ability to manage a class is ultra important, I build in lots of opportunities for my education students to practice their management skills via role playing. And, we always start with five quick strategies that are easy to implement and very effective.
Many issues in the classroom can (and should) be dealt with via non-verbal actions because they
a) don’t interrupt the flow of a lesson
b) don’t draw attention to a student and cause possible embarrassment, and
c) don’t give the class clown the attention they may be seeking.
Even if the intervention is “verbal,” doing it in a way that doesn’t put the spotlight on the student will get your message across in a way that allows them to save face.
Now, there are behaviours that will need more intervention than these five classroom management strategies, but for most distracted and distracting students, these can work wonders.
Classroom Management Strategy #1: The look
The concept of the teacher “look” will not be a new concept for you, as you have probably witnessed many in your days as a student, whether that withering stare was directed at you or a nearby classmate. And no doubt you’ve cast a few of them about your classroom already.
However, as simple and obvious as this classroom management strategy is, it’s one of the easiest and most effective. Raised eyebrows, a “quizzical brow” (as Lizzy Bennet would say), or that withering stare, can send a message that’s easily delivered and interpreted – and it doesn’t interrupt the flow of the class. Used in combination with the next three strategies it can redirect many students.
Classroom Management Strategy #2: The name drop
This is one of my faves. If you are delivering a lesson or directing a discussion, and Lisa isn’t paying attention, you can slip in a simple, “isn’t that right, Lisa?” or “What do you think of that, Lisa?” Immediately, she knows that you see her and you want her to get in the game.
Alternatively, if you had said, “Lisa, put your phone away and pay attention,” she might feel resentment for being called out, and it could affect your relationship – and your ability to get her to focus in class. Yes, she needs to pay attention, but there are ways that can get her to do so that can work better than calling everyone’s attention to the fact that Lisa is not doing what she’s supposed to do.
However, if the name drop doesn’t work, you move on to the next step.
Classroom Management Strategy #3: The move
I teach my education students to “work the room.” That means that instead of standing at the front of the class all the time when you are speaking, you move around. Sometimes you’re at the back, the side, etc. Often, you’re talking as you walk.
This is an effective strategy because more students feel connected/included when you are present throughout the classroom. More importantly, though, it allows you to easily (and stealthily) employ “the move.” If Thea and Leo are chatting and not paying attention, you take your next walk by their desks and stop right in front of them. Just your presence may end the chatting, and if not, you can add in “the look” or use the next strategy, “the tap.”
Classroom Management Strategy #4: The tap
This classroom management strategy is the next level up, when your looks and moves aren’t getting the message across. As you are working the room, if Casey is chatting, looking at a phone, or just not doing work, you can simply walk by, pause and tap the student’s notebook or desk.
The message is clear: I need you to get to work. And once again, you get that message across silently, without interrupting the flow of your lesson or drawing attention to Casey. And Casey will appreciate this much more than if you stopped and yelled, “Casey, get to work!” from across the room.
But what if the tap doesn’t work and the student keeps on doing what they were doing (or not doing). That’s when the next strategy comes into play.
Classroom Management Strategy #5: The squat
The squat will be more obvious to the rest of the class, and does require you to stop what you are doing. But, as we all know, some students don’t respond to the easy methods, right? However, if you can still keep your intervention “quiet,” your students will respond better than being called out (again, this is not for redline behaviors).
So, let’s go back to Thea and Leo. You’re giving a lesson and they’re chatting. You cast a look that they don’t see as they are involved with each other. So you mosey on over to their desks and stand there, hoping that gets the message across. It doesn’t, so you give one of their desks a tap as you keep walking.
You get to the back of the class and realize they’re still talking, so back you go. You squat down, so you are at their eye level and quietly say something like this: “Listen, I know your conversation is likely a whole lot more interesting, but I need you to pay attention. OK?” More often than not, students will apologize and pay attention for at least a little while, especially if you use a friendly, conversational tone, not a snarky one.
With this quick classroom management strategy, try to keep your voice as low as possible, because you don’t want the whole class listening in.
If these low-level interventions don’t work:
So what if Thea, Leo, and Casey still don’t respond to your low-key interventions? Then it’s time to take things to the next level: the chat.
Let’s say Casey refuses to do that work you tapped on. Maybe he even says, “This is stupid” or “You can’t make me.” That’s when you tell Casey to either step outside and wait for you in the hall, or ask him to stay after class for a quick chat. If it’s during class, tell him that he’ll have to wait there until it’s a good time for you to come out to see him (do it as quickly as possible, though).
Implementing “the chat”:
What happens during the chat? Well, there’s a pretty good chance that Casey is being defiant for a lot of reasons that have nothing to do with you. He could have had a bad day/week at home. He could be frustrated because he doesn’t feel like he knows what to do. Or there could be any number of factors in his life outside the classroom that is making him act like a jerk in class.
So, during my “chats” I always make sure I’m at the same level as the student, not standing over them in a role of “power.” That’s easy in hallway. If it’s an after class convo, I squat down beside them, sit on the desk if they are standing, or pull up a chair. Then I start with an opening that’s non-confrontational: “So, what’s happening. How can I help you, so you can get your work done?”
More often than not, when the student is not in front of their peers, they will be honest with you. Casey might say he had a fight with his mother, or he had to work all night, or that he isn’t sure how to do the assignment. If you suspect the latter is the issue, you might lead with that: “Casey, I know you find analysis hard, but if you let me help you, I can hopefully make it easier for you.” I’ve had a lot of success with this approach and only a handful of conversations that didn’t go so well.
I began this post by saying that these classroom management strategies work because they don’t single out and embarrass a student. I know that putting the spotlight on a student is a strategy that many use to manage a class. However, it’s my experience that things go much more smoothly without calling attention to a student.
So those are my 5 quick classroom management strategies. Give them a try and see if they work (and it may take time and practice…be patient).
More posts with classroom management strategies:
Let me know if you have any questions.