Little Things: Quick Interventions That Support Classroom Management
1. Show students that it pays to behave.
At the end of tough classes, I’d daily give out two raffle tickets — one for academic effort and one for good behavior. After writing their names on the tickets, kids dropped them in a jar. On Friday, I randomly drew two student names — both received candy bars.
2. Never punish an entire class.
Even when you feel like the entire class is misbehaving, there are always some kids following directions. Punishing the class as a group only incites further resistance.
3. Build content-related anticipation.
At the beginning of class, say, “Later today, I’ll tell you. . .”
- How to cure cholera (Clean water makes all the difference.)
- What most super-geniuses have in common (They burn through acolytes.)
- How the X-Wing fighters in Star Wars violate Newtonian physics (Blasters and afterburners don’t make sounds in space.)
The goal is to get students interested in the teacher’s agenda in lieu of misbehaving.
4. Change the tone.
To interrupt a class of aggressive complainers, I cued up Katrina and the Waves on my CD player. When the first grumbling complaint occurred, I raised my palm and played “I’m walking on sunshine, woooah / And don’t it feel good!” Everybody laughed. Another kid started to whine until I pressed play again. Bigger laughs. After that, complaints rarely occurred.
5. Find things to appreciate.
Instead of starting class braced for conflict, make yourself look for things to delight in: that Serena knows everything about Detroit hip-hop or that your thermos of Intelligentsia Coffee is three quarters full.
6. Ramp up your enthusiasm.
There’s no downside to being 20 percent more enthusiastic.
7. Use your words.
Students sometimes miss the obvious. Say, “This class makes me glad that I teach.”
8. Don’t pander.
Never cueing students to meet your emotional needs is an important adult boundary. And one of life’s paradoxes is that people who never obsess over being adored are often the recipients of adoration.
When students get kicked out of Katie Riley’s ninth-grade English classroom, she always tells them that everything is forgiven and that the next day will be a fresh start. When a student commits a felony, he sees Ms. Riley sitting in the courtroom gallery. That’s all he needs to know.
10. Give students choices.
“Do you want to do this assignment in class or as a take-home quiz?” “Should this project be group or independent work?” Choice increases students’ buy-in.
11. Publicly announce classroom management goals.
Say, “Yesterday, the noise was at an ‘eight’ during work time. Let’s shoot for a ‘five’ today.”
12. Establish routines.
If you have a chaotic class, keep things predictable. Also post the day’s schedule.
13. State the truth when things go wrong.
If students are confused and lost, don’t brush over it. And when you’ve sent a student out of the classroom, say, “That makes me sad and frustrated, but let’s get our brains focused back on the third math problem.”
As you find your way forward with hard-to-manage classes, please let us know what has worked for you, and what hasn’t.