Accompanying podcast episode:
The best definition I have found for what ‘Classroom Management’ actually means comes from Carol Weinstein and Nancy Schafer at Oxford Bibliographies:
Classroom management can be defined as the actions teachers take to establish and sustain an environment that fosters students’ academic achievement as well as their social, emotional, and moral growth. In other words, the goal of classroom management is not order for order’s sake, but order for the sake of learning.
When order breaks down in the classroom, student learning is affected and teachers’ stress levels, burnout and anxiety rise – which sometimes leads to teachers making the decision to leave the profession (McCarthy et. al., 2022). It is therefore in every teacher’s best interest to master the fundamental techniques of effective classroom management.
I’m not sure if what they say about classroom presence is true or not – either you’ve got it or you don’t! If you do, it’s likely that you won’t have too many problems with classroom management, because more than half the battle is won just by your presence in the classroom. Students look up to you, and you have complete control over the class because you demand high standards from them.
If you need help, here are five tips that may assist with classroom management. As with most ailments: prevention is better than cure. Once you’ve lost their attention, it’s harder to rein them back in.
Here’s how you could prevent problems from cropping up:
- Be prepared: Being prepared for your lesson shows in your body language and this reflects in your delivery of lessons, conversely being under-prepared shows too! A good plan, a complete set of resources (from working whiteboard markers and flashcards, to crib notes) – anything you need should be organised and ready for use, without you having to worry about them. As you segue from one stage to the next, your students shouldn’t have time for distractions. If, however, your transitions lead to dead time (time with your back to the class), you’re likely to have bored students who will find something else to do.
- Use students’ names: calling out their names ensures they’ll do what they need to do, to not be “called out” for negative reasons. Rather than pointing and saying, “You at the back, please be seated”. (‘YOU’ will probably turn his/her head and pretend to look at another student and pretend they’re not at fault.) Using their names will leave no room for doubt. Learning their names also shows that you care, and knowing that their teacher cares, will give them more reason to stay engaged.
- Limit distractions: This could mean anything from distractions on a student’s desk, to visuals in a classroom, to views outside the classroom, to sounds. Try to limit whatever is within your control. Establish classroom routines where students start the class with cleared desks – or have only what is required on their desks – no extra books, stationary, or even water bottles. If your students have phones, request them to turn OFF vibrate mode, or put their phones inside their bags, rather than in their pockets.
- Use non-verbal hand signals: Avoid students calling out aloud to request permission to use the toilet, for example, by having a hand signal for the same. Design similar signals for other circumstances too. When the student gets your attention by doing the signal, a simple nod of your head will grant permission. Rather than him asking you a question and having you answer it – thereby distracting the entire class and possibly diverting your train of thought.
- Call and response: We know all too well that even at the best of times, you’re going to have situations when you’ve lost their attention, the class is loud and they’re bouncing off the walls and you do actually need to try and rein them in! Here are my favourites:
- T (teacher): “Yo! Yo! Yo!” Ss (students): “Yo! What’s up!” (Great for middle-schoolers.)
- T: “1-2-3” Ss: “Eyes on me” T: “1,2” Ss: “Eyes on you“
Start the chant and continue till the whole class is responding. The first few times you do this, maybe some students won’t join in. Carry on – even if it means you’ve said it 8-10 times, and the rest of the students will egg on the “stragglers”.
And, finally, when all else fails, and your voice won’t work – stand still and silent with your right hand raised over your head. As you make eye contact with the students they must raise their right hand, stop doing whatever they’re doing and stop speaking. They make eye contact with the others who must in turn do the same. Think of this as the opposite of a flash mob. Once the entire gathering is quiet, you have their undivided attention.