Classroom Management

As I mentioned in a previous post, I subscribe to a daily SmartBrief which sends the latest headlines and research in education directly into your inbox each day.

I thought this was a good article for all teachers, not just new teachers. 


Effective Classroom Management for New Teachers

Avoiding Mistakes, Positive Reinforcement

Christine Fisher

In many fields, professionals say you need to log 10,000 hours to become an expert. For new teachers, that can take about five years, and those first five years are often the most challenging.

“In the United States we lose about half our teachers in the first five years,” said Mike Anderson, a responsive classroom consultant for Northeast Foundation for Children Inc., in his 2012 Annual Conference session “Classroom Management for New Teachers.” “What’s particularly startling is that it takes about five years for teachers to get their feet under them.”

Classroom management is one of the most common reasons teachers leave the profession, and it is an area Anderson, author of The Well-Balanced Teacher, specializes in. During his session, Anderson shared his strategies for effective classroom management for new teachers.

Anderson said new teachers often make classroom management mistakes when they

  • Forget to teach essential classroom routines because they are overwhelmed by the academic content they must cover.
  • Struggle with competing views of what classroom management looks like: the fun, friendly teacher versus the firm, authoritative teacher.
  • Make basic communication mistakes.

Entering the classroom, hanging coats, sitting in assigned seats, and eating breakfast are a few important daily routines that are essential for classroom management, but many new teachers forget to teach these.

To do so, Anderson stressed an interactive modeling approach in which teachers explain and demonstrate the desired routine or behavior, talk about it with students, ask a student volunteer to demonstrate, talk about the demonstration, and finally have all students try the routine. This system of repetition is vital, Anderson said.

Morning routines in the classroom set the tone for the rest of the day, said conference Katie Koons, a 5th grade teacher in North Carolina, during a discussion breakout. She said that she often asks a student volunteer to demonstrate what not to do, which engages more of her students.

To keep order in the classroom, Anderson recommended nipping bad behaviors in the bud through positive language reinforcement. He recommended that teachers try the following:

  • Name concrete, specific behaviors rather than just using generalized “good job” phrases.
  • Recognize all students’ behavior.
  • Avoid personal approval statements, such as “I like….”
  • Avoid manipulative language, such as praise for one student that indirectly punishes others for not acting in the same way.
  • Use keywords such as kindness to stress classroom values.
  • Be brief and set firm limits.

Stephanie Van Adelsberg, who teaches in Korea, plans to implement these recommendations right away, especially the tips to avoid personal approval phrases.

“I thought that was good classroom management,” Van Adelsberg said, “but when he explained it a different way, that really made me rethink [my strategies].”

To help new teachers incorporate effective classroom management strategies, Anderson suggested that they watch video of themselves, observe experienced colleagues, focus on one goal at a time, use visual reminders, and collaborate with other teachers to plan their lessons.

I noticed that this speaker they mentioned is a Responsive Classroom consultant.  If you haven’t heard of responsive classroom, check them out. I agree with everything they said in the article except for one point.  They mentioned, in the article, that one teacher has her students demonstrate the incorrect behavior.  I stray away from that because, in my experience (especially at more rough schools), that when students demonstrate the incorrect behavior, it can get out of hand.  I caution new teachers against that.

I also thought the point they made about needing to log 10,000 hours to be an expert. That’s a lot of teaching time.  I frequently tell new music teachers that it’s like having a new instrument! You spent all of college mastering an instrument. Now, you’re in the school and you need to master teaching.  It’s a whole new ball game. Don’t feel discouraged if things aren’t going as well as you’d have hoped at the beginning.  You need to practice teaching, and children need constant reinforcement of correct behavior. Repetition isn’t a bad thing, it’s what you need to be doing.  If you’re not repeating the rules daily and reinforcing expected behaviors daily, then you can’t complain about students not knowing the expectations.

I took the bulleted points above and wrote (in bold) what that could look like in the music room:

  • Name concrete, specific behaviors rather than just using generalized “good job” phrases. “You demonstrated good musicianship when you all ended the piece at the same time.”
  • Recognize all students’ behavior.“The class is showing me that they understand when the teacher is talking, that they are to look and listen.”
  • Avoid personal approval statements, such as “I like….” Saying “I like” sends the message that students should or shouldn’t do something because YOU like or don’t like it.  What’s going to happen when they get to a more rebellious age and want to do the opposite of what you “like?”  Instead of “I like how row 3 is sitting nicely” try “I notice row 3 understands what the expected behavior is right now.”
  • Avoid manipulative language, such as praise for one student that indirectly punishes others for not acting in the same way. No one likes to be manipulated, no matter how old they are.  Refrain from treating children different from how you would like to be treated. “Arianna is sitting so patiently, she gets to play the drum and none of the rest of you get to do it because you’re being bad.” Try, “I notice that students are not demonstrating appropriate behavior. When all students can show me that they understand what they need to be doing in order to play the drum, I will pass it out.”
  • Use keywords such as kindness to stress classroom values. All children understand the words “kind” and “fair.” Use those words frequently. “Thank you for your kindness of not laughing when that student made a mistake.  That was kind of you.”
  • Be brief and set firm limits.  When someone misbehaves keep it simple. “Lisa, it is not safe to treat the instrument like that. Put it down. When you show me you have control of your body, I will allow you to pick it up again.” Then move on with your lesson and pay no more attention to that student until they are ready to participate again. When you allow them to participate, DROP IT. Do not dwell on their past mistakes.  You certainly don’t want others to dwell on yours. 🙂

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