There’s no single answer to classroom management. Your teaching is unique, your class is made up of individuals and different contexts will call for different strategies.
But there are some classroom management strategies you’ll find in every experienced teacher’s toolkit. Because they work. Consistently.
We’ve pulled together a whopping big list of them here.
Below you’ll find more about the theory behind classroom management. But if you want to skip to the list, click this button:
Let’s get started:
How important are classroom management strategies?
Effective classroom management is key to successful learning.
Studies over the last few decades show that implementing strong classroom management strategies benefits both teachers and students because they:
- drive student progress
- encourage students to be more engaged
- decrease poor behavior
- reduce teacher burnout and stress.
That’s because good classroom management leads to a healthy learning environment, one where students can feel safe, supported, and confident in knowing what’s expected of them.
But it’s not as simple as it sounds.
Challenges of classroom management
No one is spared the difficulties of managing a classroom.
Regardless of a teacher’s experience level, students can pose a challenge. They can derail a carefully laid lesson plan in seconds, and they don’t always respect the social boundaries that we take for granted.
Even the best teachers aren’t exempt.
49% of leading educators interviewed as part of The New Teacher Project (2013) said ‘behavioral challenges’ were one of the top three barriers to effective teaching.
The problem seems to stem from a lack of teacher training (check out a sample of the studies on the subject: Chesley & Jordan, 2012; Evertson & Weinstein, 2006; Garrett, 2014; Greenberg, Putnam & Walsh, 2014; Jones, 2006; Stoug & Montague, 2014).
But there’s good news:
Classroom management can be learned.
And it should be. Your knowledge of classroom management is just as important as your knowledge of content.
What does effective classroom management involve?
Effective classroom management is built on two pillars:
Creating a healthy learning environment
A healthy learning environment, where every learner feels comfortable and valued, lessens the likelihood of challenging behavior to begin with.
A safe learning environment has both physical and emotional dimensions.
Effective responses to challenging behavior
When conflict or challenging situations do arise in the classroom, effective managers respond with strategies that both de-escalate the situation and set firm boundaries.
These strategies might be low-order (subtle) or high-order (more direct interventions).
Now we’ll unpack strategies for each of these in detail.
Responding to challenging behavior
Despite our best efforts, there will inevitably be times when student behavior demands intervention. In these cases we need to draw on other strategies that are more reactive.
When we think of challenging behavior, we often think of high-intensity isolated events. A student suddenly lashes out at a classmate, throws their work on the floor, or becomes openly defiant and abusive.
But all behaviors, no matter their intensity, start small. We can think of challenging behavior as existing on a continuum such as the following:
For bad behavior to hit its peak, it would have been present for some time. As teachers, we want to defuse problematic behavior before it gets that far.
This means staying attuned to the mood and atmosphere of the classroom and any potential triggers. These might be noise levels, negative peer interactions, or just the low mood of a student who really didn’t feel like coming to school this morning.
Keep this in mind as you use the following strategies and you won’t have to stage serious behavioral interventions quite as often.
If a student is off-task — talking when they shouldn’t be, for instance — meeting their eye with a firm stare communicates that their behavior is not going unnoticed. This is often all you need to deter them and doesn’t break the flow of your instruction either.
Pausing your instruction and simply waiting until you have the full attention of the off-task student(s) also sends a powerful nonverbal message: ‘I’m not going to continue until you give me the courtesy of listening’. It can also be used to give emphasis and redirect attention. The student perceives that the whole class is waiting for them and subsequently re-engages, without the noise of a raised voice or verbal reprimand.
Gravitate toward the trouble spots where challenging behavior occurs. Your physical proximity will act as a natural deterrent for misbehavior.
If you notice that certain areas of your classroom are becoming ‘hotspots’, it might be worth creating a seating plan that splits up more troublesome individuals.
Weave verbal signals for attention into your instruction without breaking the flow. The simplest of these is to use a student’s name, e.g. ‘so if we turn to the next page, Daniel…’. It instantly recaptures and redirects the attention of a distracted student.
Add ‘thanks’ or ‘thank you’ onto any behavioral instruction.
It’s a form of positive language that de-escalates the intensity of the situation without softening the command, e.g. ‘I need you turning around and facing me, thanks Jessica’.
By thanking the student in advance for their compliance, it also sends the message that you aren’t entering into an exchange or argument (as you might get with, ‘can you stop that please?’).
If a student resists more subtle attempts to correct their behavior, use Bill Rogers’ forced-choice strategy.
Present them with two alternatives and give them the choice, e.g. ‘You can either do what I’ve asked, or you can come and take a seat at the front of the room. It’s up to you.’
Giving the student a sense of choice means that they retain some sense of control over the situation, and they can choose the path of least resistance without losing face or ‘giving in’.
Forced choice shows the importance of letting students save face in a behavioral situation. As soon as you set about forcing them to comply, you can expect their resistance and intensity to ramp up. Instead, make it clear that it’s not a battle to be won.
A good way to do this is to walk away from the student after you’ve made it clear what you want to see from them. They’re much more likely to comply if they do not perceive you as standing over them or challenging resistance.
When a student responds to your intervention with a ‘but…’ argument (‘But he’s also doing it…’, ‘but I didn’t do anything…’, do not take the bait by arguing the point. Instead, acknowledge their argument and quickly redirect the focus back to your initial instruction. For example, you might say ‘That’s a conversation I’ll be having with them later, but right now I’m asking you to…’.
If a student becomes increasingly resistant and intense in their behavior, use a ‘when-then’ statement.
For example, if you’re being told ‘This work is stupid and I’m not going to do it’, your response might be: ‘When you’ve calmed down and are ready for a conversation, then we can have a chat about the work and what you would like to do instead’.
This places responsibility back on them to manage their behavior and gives them an incentive to do it.
Use an assertive (but not aggressive) tone
Behavior management demands a firm and assertive tone, but this should not translate to constant shouting. Instead, phrase your instructions to be short, sharp, and definitive without raised volume or aggression. For example, ‘I don’t ever want to see you do that again’ is much more effective than a thirty-second rant with the whole class as your audience.
If a student’s behavior reaches peak intensity, they may well need to leave the room for the sake of yourself and other students. Instead of framing this as a punishment (‘Alright, OUT!’), present it as an opportunity to cool off and recharge (e.g., ‘You’re obviously angry and not having the best day — just take a breather outside for five minutes and come back when you’re ready’).
Online classroom management strategies
An online classroom presents unique challenges from a management perspective. Without seeing their peers or teacher in person, students may feel a diminished sense of accountability that makes for disengaged behavior or inappropriate communication.
Here are five bonus classroom management strategies that ensure your classroom runs just as smoothly in the digital world.
- Create a communication protocol.
Teach students what productive and respectful communication looks like online. This involves:
- using clear headings in posts so that other learners can navigate the discussion easily
- disagreeing with others, but always responding with courtesy and respect
- speaking clearly into your computer’s microphone and muting yourself when another person is speaking (particularly on Skype or Zoom)
- taking the time to respond calmly and rationally if something sparks a strong reaction in you.
- Stay connected and personable.
Good relationships and a sense of belonging are the foundations for smooth classroom management online, just as they are at school.
Here are some things you can do to stay connected and keep things personable in the digital classroom.
- Let your students connect and talk to each other. This might through an off-topic discussion board, a weekly online ‘show and tell’, or collaborative activities.
- Upload a daily ‘welcome to class’ video. It’s the online version of greeting students at the door.
- Check-in with students who disengage. If you notice a student slipping through the cracks, contact them directly to see if you can help.
- Be warm and enthusiastic when you’re communicating with your students online. Keep things vibrant with GIFs and emojis so that they get a sense of your voice and personality.
- Foster a parent-teacher partnership.
Parents play a vital role in online classroom management. They can be the motivators, monitors, and aides for your students while you are on the other side of the screen. But you have to actively involve them first.
Send home a parent support package. In this you can include:
- an overview of what content will be covered during the online teaching period
- the expectations for home learning: when students should be working, what it should involve, and for how long
- strategies for rewarding good online study habits and deterring poor ones
- login details and access information for any online teaching tools being used.
- Reward good online behavior.
Your rewards don’t have to be physical incentives. Record a personal message of congratulations for your students, use GIFs and emojis, or let them have a say in choosing a fun activity.
- Create a streamlined system.
Just as the physical classroom layout plays a big role in classroom management, an effective digital platform makes all the difference in online management. Centralize your teaching in an online home base, and make sure students know how to navigate it.
QTIP: Quit Taking It Personally
There’s a reason QTIP gets the last say in this piece, and that’s because it’s the golden rule of any classroom management approach.
Student behavior can be tough to manage, but it’s never personal.
It’s not about you. It’s not against you. It’s not the end for you. There’s a perfect storm of emotions and experiences informing that behavior – and often it has nothing to do with us.
If you bear this in mind, you’ll be so much more able to handle the challenges of classroom management calmly and rationally.
So next time you’re faced with a student who just won’t cooperate, or a student who seems hell-bent on making your life more difficult, remember to QTIP. Slow down, stay calm, and be the voice of reason your students need to hear.
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A Model for Online Support in Classroom Management: Perceptions of Beginning Teachers – Administrative Issues Journal: Connecting Education, Practice, and Research, Summer 2016, Vol. 6, No. 1: 22-37. DOI 10.5929/2016.6.1.3
Salient Classroom Management Skills: Finding the Most Effective Skills to Increase Student Engagement and Decrease Disruptions – Report on emotional & behavioral disorders in youth
Variation in Teachers’ Reported Use of Classroom Management and Behavioral Health Strategies by Grade Level – School Mental Health 12, 67–76 (2020)
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A Meta-Analysis of the Effects of Classroom Management Strategies and Classroom Management Programs on Students’ Academic, Behavioral, Emotional, and Motivational Outcomes – Review of Educational Research · September 2016, DOI 10.3102/0034654315626799