5 ways to improve classroom management

5 ways to improve classroom management

Managing a classroom of students can be a difficult juggling act, as any teacher knows. As such, it’s common for mistakes to be made. However, depending on the approach a teacher makes when managing student behaviour, the result can be an effective one, or a complete disaster.

So, what are some of the biggest learning curves associated with the behavioural management of students, and how should teachers navigate them?

According to an article published in Edutopia, mistakes teachers often make in managing student behaviour include reacting to ‘surface-level’ behaviour without understanding underlying reasons, assuming misbehaviour isn't related to academic struggles, and confronting every minor infraction which may increase them.

Other ineffective practices include using ‘time-out corners’ or public shaming, which have been shown to harm students’ self-esteem.

Some teachers might also expect compliance without building trust and empathy and fail to check inherent biases.

When it comes to tackling these issues, it pays to first consider your relationship with the individual students in the class, and just as importantly, with the collected ‘personality’ of the broader class itself.

As Brendan Corr, Principal of Australian Christian College in NSW’s Marsden Park, states: “Each day with each class a teacher fronts up to engage and educate a collection of students – and in doing so shares themselves in a unique relationship with each individual student and with the collected personality of the class. Favoured strategies and faddish pedagogies may come and go in the profession but this relational reality is the essential and enduring truth about teaching.”

An article by The Core Coaches suggests a proactive approach to classroom management, pointing out that such an approach not only enriches a teacher's enjoyment of teaching but also significantly enhances the academic success of students.

Below, the article shares five strategies teachers can use, and explains how proactive management plays a direct role in shaping a conducive learning environment and ultimately, the educational outcomes of students.

1. Strengthen relationships

Building healthy student-teacher relationships is essential to establishing a positive, safe classroom environment. Teachers should focus on getting to know their students on a personal level, taking time to learn about each student’s interests, strengths, and needs. Investing in students as individuals builds trust and positive relationships between the teacher and students, which is absolutely critical to successful classroom management. 

2. Morning meet & greets

A morning greeting sets a positive tone for the rest of the day. Greeting students helps them feel welcome and safe the moment they arrive. It also provides an opportunity for brief chit-chat and personal connections. Another great way to build relationships is holding a classroom morning meeting. Morning meetings help students transition from home to school. They build a strong sense of classroom community and establish trust between the teacher and students. For morning meetings, the teacher and the students typically sit on the floor in a circle.

3. Set clear expectations

Setting clear expectations ensures students understand why the rules are important in a classroom community. In the beginning, teachers should take time to create a list of norms or agreements. The class discusses what the classroom should look, feel, and sound like. When students help create the rules and agreements, they have buy-in and are invested in the classroom community they help create.

4. Establish a stable routine

Teachers should spend a significant amount of time teaching classroom procedures. They should model and practice them many times with students. Teachers should establish a clear rerouting for everything they can think of. They should teach procedures for transitioning from subject to subject, lining up, sharpening pencils, movement, group work, independent work, going to the restroom, getting a drink, etc. Establishing predictable routines is a critical part of classroom management because routines form the framework for a smooth running classroom. 

5. Cues and reminders

Reminders and cues are a great way to help students keep the rules and follow instructions without disciplining or negativity. Cues can be directed at the entire class or at individual students who need redirection. Cues can be verbal, visual, or physical.

What about students with special needs?

According to some experts in special needs education, the “manage-and-discipline” model used in most Australian schools is not effective in managing children’s behaviour.

Dr David Armstrong, a Senior Lecturer Inclusion and Disability at RMIT University, says students with disabilities are taking the brunt of the model’s impact.

“The risk of disengagement becomes particularly acute when the model is used on students with disabilities… and is one reason for their over-representation in programs for disengaged or educationally excluded young people,” he said.

“Another issue for some children with disabilities is that they might not be able to process certain instructions as quickly as their peers.”

Dr David Roy, a lecturer in education at the University of Newcastle, works closely with disability advocate groups and governments to support vulnerable young people and help them succeed.

He says one way to make special needs students feel heard is to “simplify questions without simplifying ideas.”

“Reducing the number of questions can still demonstrate understanding. He also recommends breaking tasks into achievable goals or 'jigsawing' knowledge. Offering alternative methods to express understanding, such as speaking instead of writing, can also be beneficial,” he said.

Teachers should also consider the child’s physical environment, says Dr Roy, who advises allowing for greater movement by students or adjusting their seating.

“Small modifications, like adding felt to a desk for a child who taps, can greatly aid focus. Involving students' interests in learning can increase engagement.”

Finally, Dr Roy said the technology being used in the classroom should be matched to core skills such as reading and writing. He says flexibility in writing methods is essential and suggests the separation of ideas and technical skills.

“Some children find it easier to write with a pen, others a pencil, so get rid of hurdles such as punitive ‘pen licences’ and allow a child the best method to succeed,” he said. “For some children, I have allowed them to write on a laptop first then translate to handwriting – so ideas and technical skills are seen as separate.”

For others, Dr Roy encourages them to hand write first then translate to a laptop.

“Again, separating the two different assessable elements -ideas and writing. The best idea though is to listen,” he said. “There are better experts than you in the child’s needs.”