Classroom Management Tips from MTA Members

Pick Your Battles
Tips from Maryann Ziemba, Millis

Managing the dynamics of the classroom can be challenging. There are, however, behavior strategies that can be implemented across all grade levels.

First, whether the classroom consists of teenagers or third graders, having expectations in writing and always visible allows the teacher to hold students accountable for their behavior. Classroom expectations must be verbalized continuously from the very first day of school and the consequences of poor behavior must be appropriate and consistent.

For many students, disruptive or inappropriate classroom behavior is not intentional nor pre-meditated. Students who are disengaged or unable to find a personal connection to the lesson act out or resort to destructive behaviors. The lesson may be too challenging, too easy, too long or simply too far removed from the student’s interests.

Finally, holding the students accountable for their own behavior by making class participation a component of their academic grade is an incentive for students to aim for positive behavior. Many teachers customize their class participation rubric, which itemizes the various elements of productive and suitable classroom behavior. Attendance, punctuality, integrity, respect, attentiveness, cooperation and contribution are common areas that teachers assess in order to maintain a successful learning environment. Having students reflect on their class participation and having them rate their own behavior gives them a sense of ownership, along with informing the teacher on how students view their role and presence in the classroom.

My former mentor still has to remind me to “pick your battles.”  Managing disruptive behaviors must not consume a teacher’s commitment to all students.

Students Choose; Teachers Make a Difference
Tips from Cheri McDonough, Malden

It’s a repetitive theme when discussing positive behavior management strategies: “Students choose their behavior.”

Behavior is, of course, directed and guided by teacher input and circumstances. However, students have the ultimate control, sometimes unknowingly. Frequently a student’s behavioral choice is the avenue of least resistance, or familiarity, or made simply because it suits his or her need for attention. So it seems appropriate that teachers provide methods to encourage students to make the right choices in understanding the importance of their behavior in achieving their educational goals.    

For most children, clear expectations, routines, consistency, immediate feedback, positive reinforcement, exciting lessons and authentic opportunities for success are a good start in establishing good behavior in the classroom. However, with more difficult students, or to encourage “best” behavior, a little more attention to behavior strategies is helpful. Sometimes simply posting messages that address exemplary behavior goals can reinforce change. Take the time to get to know what motivates individual students to act in kindness or with greater effort. Finally, a facilitated discussion of simple actions and consequences in the classroom can have ripple effects and produce positive changes.  

Everyone tends to feel better when things are running smoothly and everyone has a chance to succeed. Teachers who take time to ensure that the classroom environment rewards great behavior can influence students to choose behavior that supports their learning.       


Take Charge
Tips from Deidre D'Egidio, Sixth Grade Teacher, Wrentham 

Is behavior management an issue for you? Whether you are a novice teacher or a veteran, there is always room for improvement. Although I am a novice teacher (this is my fourth year in my own classroom), I have been working with children for the past 28 years. In my opinion, one of the ways to be successful with behavior management is to be confident and to take charge. So how do you accomplish this goal?  Here are some successful behavior management strategies I use in my 6th grade classroom:

  • Together we compile a list of classroom rules and post it in our classroom.
  • Ticket system in which students earn tickets for positive behavior.
  • To get my students' attention I  say "clap once if you see me, clap once if you hear me, clap three times, all eyes on me" and then give my direction.
  • I count backward from five to one lowering my voice as I count down.
  • I use cooperative sticks when calling on students.

Overall, I believe the best classroom strategy is to know your students and to choose the best strategy that fits you and your class. 

Assertive Discipline
Tips from Sheila Hanley, Reading Teacher, Randolph

One course I took during my graduate school years that helped me in classroom management was Assertive Discipline. Here are some recommendations from the course:

  • Involve students in making a set of classroom rules. These rules should be stated in positive terms and posted in classroom.
  • List consequences for breaking rules. First offenses tend to be warnings, repeated offenses mean the loss of part of recess and chronic offenses result in phone calls home.
  • Explain your classroom management system to parents in writing or at Open House.
  • Reinforce students' correct behaviors. Marbles can be placed in a jar and a class reward can be given when full.
  • Be in contact with parents. Try to make the first call home of a positive nature.
  • When contacting home with concerns, start with what is going well and then go to what is not going so well.
  • When possible, address concerns with behavior privately, especially with older students.
  • Use a "broken record" technique if student tries to engage you in debate. Repeat your message.
  • Consider periodically surveying your students on their perceptions of your classroom management, fairness, grading, lessons, etc.

Routine, Routine, Routine: Create One, Follow One, Enforce One!
Tips from LisaDawn Rounds, Instructional Technology Teacher, Brockton

When students know what happens when, what to do next and how they can complete their work successfully, the expectations for behavior are clear. Bell work gives kids something to work on while latecomers straggle in. Self-paced reading assignments are perfect for when some students finish early and have nothing to do. Posted assignments and clear goals help to keep students on task and focused. Rubrics for homework and assignments are a perfect way of setting clear goals. Even having a specific place and time of day to turn in work helps kids feel in control of doing the right thing and less able to "forget."

It doesn't matter if students are in kindergarten or middle school. The assignments and subjects can change, but if the structure is constant, behavior is less of an issue. When the routine stays consistent (with its rules and the consequences for breaking them), there is little to argue about when students stray.

And it's not all about bad behavior. Remember when you have asked for something and get it, you have to say "Thank you!"  Reinforcing good behavior is a surefire way of seeing more of it and, having clear expectations helps you recognize it when you see it.

It's not that any one routine will work best for every teacher, but every teacher and student will have a better day with one in place!

From Susan Graham, Quincy High School

  • With classroom management, it is important to remain consistent. What you do for one class, keep it the same for all. Circumstances arise and adjustments need to be made, but the kids will get to know what you expect and there won't be any surprises.
  • It is important to set up your classroom environment from the very beginning of the year. If, however, things are not working, it is not too late to readjust your plan. Start today, state your expectations again, and stick to them. Just because things may not have gone so smoothly at the beginning does not mean you can't begin again.
  • List your expectations for all students to see. It eliminates the need for you to say what they are, for you can just point to them if a student is not meeting them.
  • Talk to your colleagues around you. Both new and veteran teachers might have great connections with students you are struggling to get through to and they might be able to help. By sitting down with the student and another teacher, it might let a kid know that you want to help and are doing everything you can to help them succeed.
  • The biggest thing I do to help the culture in my classroom is to get involved outside of it. Go to a game and cheer on your students. Show up at a music concert to let them know you are interested in what they are doing. This does not have to happen all the time, but students do appreciate your interest in their successes outside of your classroom as well as inside. I have found it helps in my classroom when the students see my interest in their interests.
  • Get advice from other teachers. So many times, we feel like we close the door and are alone in what we do. Get together with other teachers and see what is working for them. It is amazing what you can learn from other people in your building, and you might even get to know a few more teachers. At Quincy High School, a bunch of us get together to "talk shop" every now and then. It has allowed the collegiality among the faculty to grow, making going to school a positive experience.

From Ellen Peterson, Union Street Primary School, Weymouth

"Students need choices," said Ellen Peterson, a first grade teacher. "I remember having parents and my principal in to hear students read original poetry. It came to be one student's turn (the student I usually had trouble with), and he refused to go up. I calmly urged him to, but in front of everyone he still refused. So, I gave him the choice of going up at that time or at the end of the presentations -- there was no other option given. He chose the end, and everything went smoothly from that point."

  • Have a routine for just about everything. From scheduling to homework to behavior, students should know what to expect from day one.
  • Try a Class Constitution -- students actually make up the rules for the class ("rights and responsibilities"), and if desired, the consequences. The number one right is "the right to learn" and the number one responsibility is "the responsibility to learn." If you only want to post these two things, they cover everything!
  • I have chimes hanging in my classroom. Whenever I need the students' attention, I ring the chimes and they know to freeze. The chimes are actually nice to listen to (much less irritating than flickering the lights!), and seem to have a calming effect.
  • I have every student's name written on a clothespin hanging on a chart on the board. If they are breaking a rule, their name gets moved to a section of the chart labeled "reminder." If they continue, they are moved the section labeled "recess."
  • There should be some incentive system, especially for elementary grades. I have a simple thermometer drawn on the blackboard. Each time the students are complimented, or are working diligently, they get a few steps colored in. When we reach the top, they get to have a popcorn party, movie, extra recess, etc.
  • For homework, my first-graders have a weekly homework sheet. (For my fourth-graders, they had a notebook in which they wrote their homework every night.) A parent or adult's signature is required every evening showing that the student completed the homework, and that the parent checked it. They can drop a card in a basket for each day of the week this is done, and a prize drawing is held on Fridays for students who completed their homework. Not only is it an incentive for the students, but it keeps parents involved as well.

From Larry David, Lexington High School

  • Be true to yourself. Find a management style that is close to your personality, yet also suitable for the students you have. It's hard to be someone different all day and keep your sanity.
  • I'm a fairly friendly, loose person. The class, therefore, is fairly loose, and while things may seem a bit informal and chaotic, the students respect my wishes when I point out that we need to get back on topic. I'm not miserable, I don't feel like I'm being someone else half the time, and it's a more relaxed learning environment. It works for me. You may have some way that works more for you.
  • The more rules you have, the crazier it is trying to enforce them all. For me, be on time, respect others, have/do your work, don't cut, and don't eat in the class works just fine. When rule enforcement of silly things interrupts the learning process, that's a problem.
  • The students are not your friends. You have enough friends your own age. You may be friendly with them, and you might even remain in communication after they leave your class or school, but remember, you ultimately have authority over them and you are accountable for their learning progress.
  • Be sure to remain in control and calm. Never lose your temper. Take a deep breath and count to three, or five, or ten, or whatever you need. Anything you do in anger can and will be held against you.