An article by Richard James Rogers
Classroom management is one of those all-encompassing, dynamic ‘systems skills’ that lies at the foundation of effective teaching. Most seasoned educators will tell you that mastery comes with experience, and this is true to a certain extent. However, there are some simple actions you can take to improve the effectiveness you have in the classroom, even if you are a complete novice.
#1 Don’t speak unless the students are paying full attention
Be patient and wait. Wait a few minutes if you must, but do not accept any talking from your students if you are trying to talk at the same time. It’s disrespectful, and it will soon grow into major disruption if you allow it to. Let them take an inch, and they’ll take a mile.
Now this doesn’t have to be confrontational. You can wait and use body language to suggest to your students that you are waiting for a few people to settle down. If this takes too long, you can even say something like “I really need to take this lesson forward, but I’m waiting for one or two people to listen” or, even better: “Thank you to those who are listening, and thank you to those who are paying attention. I’m just waiting for one or two”.
I was told this trick by a former colleague of mine when I was a PGCE student. Sometimes I would wait and wait until I thought I couldn’t wait any longer. I found the method to become more and more effective the more I used it. Slowly but surely, the students would cue each other: “Be quiet, he’s trying to tell us something,” “come on, stop talking,” and “hey everyone, be quiet.” (The kids did all the work for me!)
My patience paid off and yours will too!
#2 Manage behaviour issues quickly and properly
John has just graffitied on his desk, and Louise is laughing her head off about it. Meanwhile, you’re trying to get your kids to watch and interact with a simulation that you’ve spent ages preparing. What do you do?
First and foremost on your mind should be the need to address the behavior issue right away. If you’re mid-activity (as in the example above), and you don’t want to stop the flow of the lesson, then you can do the following:
- Walk over to the students and have a private word with them
- Stop the activity and get the disruptive students focussed by using a pause or a verbal prompt
- Speak with the students at the end of the lesson
Make sure you apply sanctions fairly, but don’t be afraid of repealing or lightening a sanction if a student redeems themselves through good work or behaviour. Everyone deserves a second-chance, and sometimes students back themselves into a corner and the teacher can make the confrontation worse by being over-zealous. This doesn’t help anyone. I talk about this ‘intelligent leniency’ in detail in my debut book, and other authors like Sue Cowley and Andy Vass make similar assertions too.
Apply sanctions fairly too. Don’t discriminate, and make sure you use your school’s sanctions system if it has one. Being the oddball by operating differently to your colleagues can cause all kinds of problems later on down the road.
# 3 Start taking a GENUINE interest in your students
I cannot stress enough how important this is. The cornerstones of successful classroom management are the relationships you build with each student. Start noticing when the school’s football team win a match, and make sure you congratulate each team member. Go along and watch the school hockey team when they play away. Ask the Year 9 pianist how her lessons are going, and when her next piano exam is. Take an interest when a student tells you how bad their weekend was. Be a good listener. Stop students in the corridor and ask them what they’re having for lunch today. Ask them how their day is going. Dale Carnegie put it this way:
“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people, than you can get in two years by trying to get other people interested in you. “
Whilst it must be emphasised that we’re not trying to make the students become our friends (professional distance has to be maintained), we are trying to get them on our side. Showing them that you care, and that you’re approachable, will have an almost instant transformative effect on your interactions in the classroom. You’ll be amazed at how quickly this will work for you.
Another important element of showing a genuine interest in students involves praising them consistently and never forgetting to give positive subject specific feedback. You’ll find more tips on this here. Feedback is vital in the rapport-building process, and by empowering your students with meaningful praise you’ll make them want to work hard in your lessons.
#4 Do you start your lessons promptly?
As a 17 year old ‘A’ – Level student at a Roman Catholic school in North Wales, I was a typical lovesick teenager. I was easily distracted, and if I got the chance to slack-off, I was sure to take it! I look back at those days and, to my embarrassment, I sometimes have to cringe! However, one question does come to mind quite often – which lessons were the most productive for me at that time? The answer: it was always, without exception, those lessons that began promptly and had a definite focus.
As teachers we’re always very, very busy. There’s so much to do in such a small amount of time, and it can be tempting for us to take a rest whilst we’re working. Whilst a relaxed environment is generally conducive to the learning process, there is a danger that we can cross the line and create an atmosphere that’s too relaxed: one that encourages our students to be unproductive. To illustrate this I can use an example from my personal journey. Perhaps you have had a similar experience?
As a pre-university student back in 2001, I remember some of my chemistry and biology lessons particularly well, but for all the wrong reasons. Some of these lessons would typically begin by the teacher having a nice, casual chat with all of the students in order to create a ‘relaxed feel’. Sometimes we would even begin by making a cup of tea for each other before we began, and this made myself and my peers feel ‘adult’ and ‘special’, reinforcing the fact that we were the big kids in the school and we had a certain status. This ritual would sometimes last for 15-20 minutes before any real learning took place, with one of my teachers in particular discussing anything that came into mind, whether it was a story from her past or an incident she had had with another pupil. After this long ‘introduction’, in which approximately a quarter of the lesson had been eaten up, we would begin the lesson properly. But were we motivated at this stage? How had this casual entry into the lesson content affected our ability to learn thereafter? The answer is that for many of us it had generated a lazy frame of mind, and it was difficult to come out of a relaxed state and go straight into a learning activity (which was often rushed, because of the time wasted at the start of the lesson). Charles J. Givens, author and once a multi-million dollar business owner, summarizes this problem very eloquently:
“Success requires first expending ten units of effort to produce one unit of results. Your momentum will then produce ten units of results with each unit of effort.”
From this we’re able to understand that for students to achieve results, they need to gain momentum within the lesson. However, momentum can only be achieved if the teacher initiates it with an appropriate starter activity that requires at least some effort to complete. So, as soon as the lesson starts (or better: as soon as the kids walk through the classroom door) give your students something to do! This can be:
- A quick quiz or worksheet (requiring around five minutes to complete)
- A question written on the board that the students have to answer
- A quick vocabulary game
- An ICT based task (e.g. using iPads to find out how Oliver Cromwell died, completing an online quiz about dinosaurs or writing a short blog post)
- A role-play or conversation starter with students working in small groups (particularly good for language classes)
- A practical construction activity (e.g. ‘Use the coins to make fifty five pence’, or ‘Use the molecular modeling kits to make a molecule of glucose’)
- Cut and stick activities (e.g. matching words to descriptions, adding labels to diagrams, making pictures out of shapes, etc.)
- Surprise scenarios (e.g. turning your classroom into a ‘crime scene’, and getting your students to take samples and follow clues)
- A treasure hunt (these are particularly good fun, and are also a great way to build ICT into your lessons too – e.g. by scanning QR codes with iPads).
# 5 Play learning games with your students
It goes without saying, but as teachers we should definitely be utilizing the positive primers of memory when we are choosing activities for our students to complete, and one of the most effective of these ‘primers’ are games. I wrote a whole blog post (which was beautifully illustrated by my former student) about effective games here (please note: these activities can be used at any point in a lesson, not just as starter activities).
Games provide a number of benefits, all of which can enhance your classroom management:
- They can be used as a reward for good behavior and effort
- They break up your lesson into chunks, providing variety and maintaining student interest and engagement
- The interactive nature of games forces you, as a teacher, to build up a good rapport with your students (and remember: rapport is the cornerstone of effective classroom management)
- They add an element of competitiveness, which can be channelled into encouraging your students to work hard (especially when partnered with your school’s existing rewards system – e.g. offering merits or house points for first, second and third place)
- They are great for encouraging knowledge retention and are a perfect way to engage ESL, SEN and kinaesthetic learners
Classroom management is a fun skill to learn and master. It does take time, but you can greatly enhance your classroom management skills today by:
- Starting your lessons promptly with a quick, fun starter activity. Don’t be afraid of giving your students something to do as soon as they walk through the door.
- Building up positive relationships and rapport with your students by taking a genuine interest in their welfare, lives, hobbies and interests. Use praise to empower each and every learner.
- Nip poor behaviour in the bud by dealing with it on the spot. Use your schools sanctions system fairly and properly. Allow students to redeem themselves if possible.
- Bring variety and engagement into your lessons by using games and interactive tasks. These are also perfect for the Friday afternoon slump!
- Don’t speak to the class unless every student is listening. Insist on this. Use pauses to bring the focus back on to what you are saying.
Did you enjoy this article? Why not check out Richard’s book, which is filled with tips to help you master your classroom management: