Imagine driving in a place that had no traffic rules. This would be a place without speed limits, stoplights, street lines, parking spaces, and street signs. The environment would be one that would cause you to feel uninhibited and compelled to experience the spontaneity of driving with no restrictions or requirements. Although for a brief moment it may feel liberating, the safety hazards that are created by reckless driving practices would soon be replaced with feelings of anxiety. Much like how the absence of systems, protocols, and enforced traffic rules creates dysfunction in society, the absence of classroom management creates dysfunction in schools.
Why is Classroom Management Important?
Classroom management refers to the wide variety of techniques and skills that educators use to ensure that their classroom runs smoothly and without inappropriate or disruptive behavior from students. It is important because it empowers teachers to create and maintain structured environments for students to learn. Effective classroom management enables students to be focused and productive as they learn and work. It also ensures that all parties feel safe physically, emotionally, socially, and academically. Learning will not occur at optimal levels in classes where there is weak classroom management or no classroom management at all.
Keys to Effective Classroom Management
Strong Relationships with Students
Relationships are at their strongest when there are mutual expressions of respect, valuation, trust, consideration, and understanding between both parties. Sometimes it is easier for teachers to apply these mutual expressions when forming relationships with other adults but challenging when forming relationships with their students. Teachers must realize that strong relationships with students can be established using the same principles used with adults. Teacher practices that can foster strong relationships with students include the following:
- Talk “with” or “to” students as opposed to talking “at” students
- Greet students at the door and personalize their experiences in class with you
- Genuinely listen to them, learn them, and remember key things about them
- Treat them how you would like to be treated or like one of your own
- Seek to understand before you seek to correct
- Allow students opportunities to make decisions and show leadership
- Celebrate student successes and personal achievements
Protocols, Systems, and Nonverbal Cues
Many times, when observing beginning teachers, you notice them over-utilizing their voice. In fact, many of them describe being burnt out from talking so much every day to direct students. While much of this is natural and necessary for beginner teachers, it may also occur with seasoned teachers. When a teacher over-utilizes his/her voice to manage students, it is usually an indication that the teacher has not yet mastered using protocols, systems, and nonverbal cues in the classroom.
Teachers must establish protocols, systems, and nonverbal cues in order to have effective classroom management. It must be clear to students how they are to behave in every aspect of the classroom. Everything from lining up in the classroom line to how to behave during small group instruction has to be taught, practiced, and modeled for the students.
A protocol is the official procedure that outlines how things will be handled in the classroom. In most classrooms this is described as the class rule/expectation along with the correlating positive and negative consequence. A system is collection of protocols that create an organized framework or manner of doing things in the classroom. Nonverbal cues refer to gestures, eye contact, body language, and posture that communicate clear messages to students.
Once protocols, systems, and nonverbal cues have been taught, practiced, and modeled for students, teachers must intentionally refrain from repeating themselves to students and allow the protocols, systems, and nonverbal cues to serve their purpose.
Engage Intentionally and Anticipate Disengagement
The lack of student engagement always causes a breakdown in classroom management. This breakdown can occur quickly when there are weak relationships between teacher and student and/or a lack of protocols, systems, and nonverbal cues in the classroom. The lack of student engagement causes the breakdown at a much slower pace when there are stronger relationships. At any rate, the lack of student engagement eventually negatively impacts classroom management.
Teachers must have lesson content that is interactive, relevant, student-centered, and interesting to their students. This content must be intentionally and consistently planned. Although this takes a lot of effort at the onset, it proves to be worth it in the long run. When students do not find content engaging, they began to participate in the lesson at the compliant level. They do just enough to stay compliant but have already checked out of the lesson. When students compliantly participate, it will only be a matter of time before they began to get off task or misbehave.
As teachers are planning engaging content, they must also anticipate points during the lesson that may make it easy for students to disengage. Proactively, teachers should design tasks or activities that will get the students back on track or minimize disengagement. This may include alternate activities, enrichment activities, or extension activities that have been built into the lesson that would capture the students’ attention and keep them connected to the lesson.