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How to use classroom management to prevent behavior management

Illustration by Courtnay Hough

Kids screaming. Pencils flying. Drool covered desks. This is the stuff of teacher’s nightmares, capable of causing you to wake up in a cold sweat.

No one wants to walk into a classroom that feels like a war zone. That’s where classroom management can help.

All the educational material you read, stresses that classroom management is critical.

Engaging Instructional Materials Go First

The best classroom management tool is engaging curriculum right at student instructional level.

If someone asked you to do something that was both boring and well outside of your abilities, you’d quickly grow frustrated. You may even act out. That is what our students feel when materials are not leveled correctly or are boring.

Always remember, our students did not ask to be here. They have to go. Some are more excited about it than others. Ultimately though, they want to feel like they get valuable out of the lesson. This is true no matter what their instructional needs.

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Routines and Procedures For the Win 

Solid classroom routines and procedures are another source of positive classroom management. This can help prevent the need for behavior management. It is especially helpful with neuro-atypical students.

There is great comfort in knowing what is expected of you, and what you are going to accomplish each day.

When I taught all day in a self-contained classroom, I set up daily and weekly procedures. We always started with bellwork. This was originally in worksheets. Later it was on Chrome Books when I received a set for my classroom.

Students knew what was expected of them for each part of the class period and for each day of the week. Routines are a lot of effort in the beginning to set up, but pay off in spades.

It’s amazing to watch your classroom run itself. You get to see the confidence and personalities of your students blossom as they make academic gains. They enjoy the comfort of knowing exactly what to do and how to do it.

Engaging and correctly leveled curriculum and classroom routines are great. Although they are foundational, there are many strategies and interventions that you can add to your teacher tool belt. These can prepare you for managing common behavioral and classroom management scenarios. 

Forge Connections

One of the best small changes I’ve made in my classroom with huge success is simply asking, “Are you okay?” to any student who is not doing what has been requested or what is expected.

Instead of, “Sit up!” Or “No sleeping in class” I simply ask if the student is okay.

If they said yes, then most of the time they followed my instructions or were easily re-directed.

But it has also been hugely illuminating on when the student says no. Some things I’ve heard are tales of trauma, trouble at home, homelessness, a breakup, school stress, etc.

When a student opens up I can in the least listen with an empathetic ear. When appropriate, we can also come up with action plans to help relieve stress or to cope with whatever is troubling the student.

Most students want to be successful, but need to know how to make that happen.

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Plus the recent reduction in school counselors and mental health supports effects students. Many of our students are struggling with how to process and cope with trauma and stress. If we can provide them a safe place where they feel successful that is a huge step toward behavior management.

No one gives their best to people they don’t think care about them.

TBH: to be honest

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Honesty is also a major component.

Some students that the hardest time with managing their own behaviors crave control. Due to that they would benefit the most from being involved in coming up with their own plans for success. They crave independence, responsibility, and self-actualization.

On the first few days of school I try to identify students who I believe will be high needs or could benefit from some extra attention.

These are usually the students who make sarcastic remarks. They struggle with following instructions. This happens even those first few days of school when they’re on their best behavior.

These students thrive on authenticity. They like to push you to see if you’re consistent. They like to push you to see if you actually care about them.

With them, it helps to tell them your real feels, and also to be very honest about what you’re seeing from them.

If you are a real person with them, who really cares about them living their best lives, they will accept your feedback on their behaviors. They will want to take part in their behavior changes.

They will not do that for someone who they can tell is phony in some way. They’ve been there, done that, and they will show their worst face to that kind of person.

Be proactive

I am always on the lookout for students who are meeting my expectations!

I strive to notice something they did well or are skilled at and recognize them for it. I may mark that with either with a positive phone call home or a encouraging note. I may just point it out in class and than them for it.

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Sometimes, I will also give that student a special role or job in the classroom that allows them to showcase. I would do this especially if the student has high energy or easily distracted.

Some options for classroom jobs are:

  • making sure all the technology is plugged in
  • filling up a water bottle/cup
  • time keeper to
  • remind you and the class when it is time to pack up

There are many more than these. The options are endless depending on your classroom needs.

Always be ready and willing with some extra jobs too. I try not to make the jobs feel silly, so the students helping feel a sense of pride and responsibility.

I truly pick things that help me and my classroom run. Sometimes they are things I would normally do myself but feel comfortable letting go.

Proximity

There is also so much to be gained by being a physical presence in the room. Walk around. Have small conversations with students whenever you can. Get to know who they are.

Another thing that helps is how you stand when you address a student. When I am talking to a student who is behaving in an unexpected or inappropriate way I try to be physically lower. That helps me to not appear to be over assessing my power/ presence in the classroom to them.

Keeping your palms down and in a non threatening pose helps the student see you as less of a confrontation.

Try to have individual or small group conversations with students whenever you can. This helps you to know who they are as individuals and build essential rapport.

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Also, see this on using writing to build relationships with students.

Always have tough or behavioral conversations one on one. Keep them away from the eyes and ears of other students.

I try to let the student talk first whenever I have those tough conversations. Then, we come up with an action plan together.

In these conversations avoid “you” statements. Focus on what you observed, and how that affected the student.

For example, don’t say “you were breaking the rule about cheating”.  Say, “I noticed that you were not looking at your paper during this test. It’s really important for you to show what you know and don’t know, so I can better help you to learn. What can we do to help you in the future?”

Students will appreciate your tact and your interest in them. That will make for much better behavior outcomes.

Make Plans Together

Behaviors are complicated. Some may have triggers. Others may be habitual. All behaviors fit a need though. Changing them can be both scary and difficult. You cannot change them without buy-in and a plan from the student. 

These action plans can be as formal or informal as needed. Sometimes it’s just a quick conversation and a few follow up conversations after the fact.

Other times, an informal (or formal) behavior plan may be required. Here’s an option for an informal behavior plan I have used if it’s needed. 

Mistakes are a part of the learning process

The final recommendation I have is to make your classroom a safe space for learning. Celebrate diversity and the interests of your students.

Learning is a process, and requires vulnerability and bravery from your students. Growth mindset is all the rage, and I think there is great value there.

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I always try to be transparent about my own journey and process. Own your mistakes and failures. Model for your students perseverance and be willing to keep trying.

It’s hugely powerful to students to see their teacher admit to a mistake (or mistakes). This is especially true if a student is who notices and points it out.

Cultivate a classroom community

Classbuilding and team building are wonderful ways to build an engaging, comfortable learning environment.  They are essential if you plan to use groups and cooperative learning structures.

One year I incorporated them into the weekly routines. I called it “Work Together Wednesday”. I alternated between class-building and team-building activities/games each week.

At first after going through Kagan training I had been hesitant to incorporate classbuilding and team building. I wasn’t sure how there would ever be enough time for it.

However, I was still willing to give it a try. I was shocked. Giving up a full day of reading every week didn’t slow my students down. My students were farther along in each of their group novel studies than ever before, no matter the level.

“Work Together Wednesdays” gave students the opportunity to play. They could develop leadership and teamwork skills. They got to enjoy each other’s company, and become more comfortable with their group members.

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It was a huge success! Kids were motivated to do their work to earn the Work Together Wednesday activities. They became more adept at relying on each other’s strengths and helping to scaffold each other’s weaknesses.

It was beautiful to watch them form their own mini supportive communities. They would encourage each other and recognize their victories individually and as teams.

I also loved watching them play. So many students are dealing with so many stressors and trauma. It was such a blessing to watch them just enjoy an activity and enjoy being a kid/teenager for a short period.

Years later, I see them bring those skills to other classes and each other. I’ve seen my students help each other with project and assignments.

They teach each other special functions and shortcuts on technology. Others, help with picking out the perfect picture for a Google Slides presentation.

I believe anyone can create their own versions of a classroom community. Be intentional about your management style and always bring your sense of humor!

Your students will sense that you care about them. And that goes such a long way.

Following these guidelines for classroom management will make the need for behavior management minimal. This will be true even with the most challenging learners!

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