The oft-repeated recommendation that you should never smile in the first two months of the school year is hogwash. A smile sends a subtle but powerful message to your class that kindness and politeness are expected. It also calms nervous energy and builds instant rapport and likability. This is critically important because when your students like you and are comfortable around you, they’ll want to please you, listen to you and behave for you. As you meet your class, look them in the eye, say hello and smile.
Have clear rules
Classroom rules protect every student’s right to learn and enjoy school – and your right to teach. They must cover every possible disruption, interruption and misbehaviour – and there should be no misunderstanding regarding what constitutes breaking them.
Define each rule explicitly during the first few days at a school. Modelling is key here; show your students examples of the precise behaviours that transgress your rules. For example, if you were teaching children to raise their hand before speaking, sit in a student’s seat and demonstrate what following the rule does and doesn’t look like.
Have clear consequences
Consequences hold students to account without having to lecture or berate them. Maintaining a positive relationship is crucial in reaching and inspiring your students to mature socially and academically.
Walk your class through the steps of misbehaving, from initial warning to parent contact. Model the exact words and body language you’ll use when you give a warning, send a student for time out, or inform them that you must call home. This way, there are no surprises, no arguments and no anger when it goes wrong. This prompts the offending student to reflect on their misbehaviour, take responsibility for it and vow to never do it again.
Teach detailed routines
Routines are the lifeblood of a well-run classroom. They save time, keep students focused on learning and reduce misbehaviour. Anything and everything you do repeatedly – such as lining up for lunch, turning in work or circling into groups – should be made into a routine.
The key is to teach children in a detailed way. Pretend you’re a student and guide them through the steps you want them to take. For example, if you’re teaching how to enter the classroom in the morning, throw on a backpack, start outside your classroom door and create a memory map for your students to follow. After checking for understanding, choose a student as a model then practise as a class until perfected.
Add a dose of fun
It’s easy to get so caught up in teaching your objectives that you forget the importance of making school fun for students. If there is a secret to classroom management, this is it. When your students are happy, engaged and look forward to your class, you have powerful leverage to curb misbehaviour because your consequences mean something to them. It is this combination of fun and accountability that will transform even the most difficult students. This doesn’t mean you always have to have an interactive game at the ready or spend extra time planning, just be open to sharing a laugh with your students. Be yourself and never be afraid to show your personality. Tell hard-luck stories of your youth, take attendance in a funny accent, answer a question as an opera singer. Enjoy your job. Your students will love you for it.
Tried and true
Unfortunately, there is a lot of bad advice bouncing around the halls and staff lounges of schools. Some of the most commonly recommended strategies are dishonest and manipulative. Some may work in the moment, but cause more problems down the line. And some are just plain harmful to students.
You’ll do well to filter everything you hear through the six tried-and-true tips above. If it doesn’t build influential relationships, if it doesn’t entail honesty, consistency and doing what’s best for students, if it doesn’t help create a learning environment your students enjoy being part of, then let it go in one ear and out the other.