When I began teaching second grade, I thought I needed a highly structured and rewards-driven system to manage student behavior. Boy, did I find out quickly that those systems didn’t work for me! With all of the standards, testing, and day-to-day duties I was expected to fit into our school day, I didn’t have time to worry about who earned a sticker, or who got to choose from the prize box, or which team lost a scoop of popcorn kernels for talking in the hallway. I needed something easy and effective for maximizing our time for teaching and learning. And, I needed it fast!
With a great deal of help from my principal and a lot of trial and error during that first year, I found that all I needed to manage my classroom were these six strategies. Year after year, these strategies helped me start the year off right. Of course, I needed to tweak this or that to meet the individual needs of my students. But, overall, these strategies were my rock-solid foundation in any situation.
Strategy #1: Teach Expected Behaviors
Children are not mind-readers. Furthermore, they each bring to school a unique homelife experience. You, as the manager of your classroom, need to show the students what your vision is for the daily runnings of your classroom community. Teach your students how they need to behave. Don’t assume, for example, that they know to walk quietly in the hallways. Teach them how to do this and then practice, practice, practice. In fact, whatever your expectations are for behavior, spend at least the first week of school practicing them, along with doing your curriculum, of course. Be sure to review these procedures and expectations throughout the first month and especially after weekends and holidays. If you don’t lay this foundation in the beginning of the school year, you’ll be spending many precious hours throughout the year struggling with students to meet your expectations.
Strategy #2: Be Consistent
Once your students have learned what you expect, consistently enforce those behaviors. Don’t be “wishy-washy” when it comes to behavior. Stick to your expectations each and every time or your students will develop the attitude that you’re not serious about your expectations.
Strategy #3: Be Prepared
When you’re unprepared, you leave yourself open for disaster. This is true in any situation, but especially true when it comes to classroom management. Have materials and lessons ready to go at all times. Have games and activities ready that can be done when you finish lessons early or when students finish assignments with time left on the clock. The less “unplanned time” you have, the more structured your classroom will be.
Strategy #4: Be Realistic
Being prepared goes hand-in-hand with being realistic. Don’t expect a class of kindergarten students to sit quietly for twenty minutes while you lecture about the parts of an apple. You are just inviting misbehavior. Know your audience and structure your lessons and classroom expectations accordingly. For younger students, change activities and positions often. This will eliminate the boredom that often results in unwanted behaviors. By being realistic about expected behaivors, you will be helping your students be successful in meeting those expectations.
Strategy #5: Use Choice as a Motivator
Nothing motivates people more than free will. The same is true for students. Often, students will meet your expectations for behavior if they have a sense of ownership in the classroom community. Allow students to help you generate the list of expectations. Always leave room for choice in your day, whether it is during centers or free time. This bit of freedom during the day will equate to more willing classroom community members every day.
Strategy #6: Praise Your Students’ Efforts
When you see your students meeting your expectations, praise their efforts! Sure, praise is a reward, but it isn’t a tangible prize. Praise makes a student feel intrinsically good about himself. It makes her want to do the right thing again and again so that she can feel proud of her behaviors again and again. Praising your students will also help them to feel safe and happy in your classroom. That is one of the biggest motivators for a cooperative classroom community.
Whether your students are five or ten years old, whether you have ten students or thirty, these strategies can help you have an enjoyable and successful school year. You’ll be happy, your students will be happy, and a great deal of teaching and learning will be taking place in your classroom. Isn’t that what it’s all about?