The 5 Best Classroom Management Hacks
Did you know that you can avoid many classroom management problems before they start?
Happy New School Year from me, Youth Change Professional Development Workshops Director, Ruth Herman Wells, M.S. I have spent most of my life writing books, creating posters and leading workshops to help teachers figure out what to do when classroom management has become a serious problem. Let me show you how to skip the back-to-school pitfalls that can make teaching so frustrating and exasperating for the next 9 months. These effective, must-do classroom management hacks are time-tested and teacher approved to work better than conventional approaches.
Youth Change Workshops cares about you and your students so if you need more help, we have our Breakthrough Strategies to Teach and Counsel Troubled Youth Workshop coming up soon in Portland on October 13-14, 2016. If you have a bad budget, scholarships are still available by calling 1.800.545.5736. You'll leave the workshop with 200 solutions for the classroom management problems you name at the start of our first day so you're guaranteed to get solutions for your exact students and their exact problems.
1. Start Strong
Because There Are No Do-Overs
No student will ever fight back or complain if you start out the school year being a very strong disciplinarian and then decide to loosen up a bit. However, if you start off being a weak or even moderate disciplinarian and decide later that you need to tighten up…well, good luck with that.
It is so hard to tighten up classroom management and so easy to loosen up. It always amazes me that this central premise isn't the foundation of every teacher's classroom management game plan.
Having spent my whole career helping educators tighten up problematic class management, I really can appreciate that it can feel like battle to re-invent a classroom once an unsatisfactory atmosphere has developed. It's almost like the classroom gets branded as a free-for-all. That's why I sometimes have to recommend that an existing classroom be "discontinued" instead of trying to wage an uphill battle to turnaround that negative perception. So, if you do find yourself fighting serious classroom management battles, it is better to start completely over. You can even re-name your classroom, redo the layout and make other cosmetic changes to emphasize that "Room 256" is gone and now this is "Beyond Room 256" or similar. Re-starting works best at natural break times like the end of a term or after a holiday break.
However, there's a caveat to this remodeling plan: If you tell your students that "things are going to be different," you better deliver. You'll still get challenged and tested and if you don't satisfactorily manage the challenges and tests, expect things to return to the way they were. If you don't satisfactorily manage what the students throw your way in your "new" classroom, it will become even harder to engineer the classroom conditions you need to teach. That means if you do create a "new" classroom, make sure you have acquired the skills, attitude, motivation, mentoring and backing you need to guarantee that your "new" classroom will be "new and improved," not just "new" but with the same old problems.
2. Establish Rules
In a Way That Ensures Compliance
Remember when they put that new stop sign in by your house? Remember how mad you were that you didn't even get a say about it and now you have to live with it? You thought to yourself: "Yesterday, I just rolled through here and today, I want to just roll through here." Wouldn't you have felt better about the new sign and complying with it, if you'd at least had some input into the decision to install it? Sure, and the same logic applies to your students.
When students arrive at the first day of school and are told that they need to follow this rule and that rule and this rule, they react a lot like you did when you thought about cruising through the new stop sign. What if you allowed students to help shape the rules? Well, the answer to that question is that you'd have the same set of rules but far better compliance.
On the first day of school, start with a classroom with no rules and let students take turns role-playing the job of teacher. Give a great prize in lieu of a paycheck. To earn the prize, the role play teachers just have to teach the other students to memorize a five digit number. Sounds so easy, doesn't it? Yes, but, this is a classroom with no rules. The other students can talk at will, leave the class at will, pop bubble gum, and so on. The role play teacher will soon become frustrated. When that happens, offer the role play teacher the opportunity to create rules and let the student attach his or her own name to the rules. For example, "Juan's No Cussing Rule." The rules are now things created by your students and their names are attached to them.
Students are far less likely to hassle or trash the rules that they invented and bear their names. This is a slam-dunk easy way to build in excellent classroom management and discipline from the first ring of the first bell.
3. Teach Behavior, Attitude and Motivation
Before You Expect Them
Few teachers would expect math or reading skills before anyone taught them to students, but many teachers do expect students to start the school year with appropriate behavior, a good attitude and ample motivation. Sadly, those expectations are often not realistic in our contemporary time. Years ago, parents more reliably taught their offspring to behave acceptably, have a reasonable attitude and sufficient motivation. That is not always the case now. That means if you want to work with properly behaved, motivated students who have good attitudes, you are going to have to teach that. You can expect anything you want, but if you haven't taught it to the child– and no one else has taught it to the child either– then you are often going to be disappointed.
There are thousands of lively, effective methods to teach students to have acceptable behavior, attitude and motivation. Take a look at some step-by-step, how-to guides that are in our archive of past "Classroom Management Strategies" articles.
The bottom line is that good classroom management is predicated on students using proper behavior, and having adequate motivation and attitude. If you want good classroom management, you need to teach students to do their part. It is difficult– perhaps even impossible– to have good classroom management with students who are chronically badly behaved, unmotivated and have negative attitudes. If you want to change what you see in your classroom, start by training your students to look, act and sound like successful students.
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4. Proactively Identify and
There's always at least one, isn't there? There's always at least one student in every classroom who seems to start the fires and feed them once they're started. Identify this student on Day 1 and immediately develop an effective plan to manage him or her. If you wait until this student is in trouble for misbehavior, it's too late as these youngsters are often pretty cagey and slick– even at a young age– and can be master manipulators of both students and adults.
Even more important, you need to know that one-size-fits-all discipline techniques fit no one, and that is part of why this student can reign supreme on your turf. Just like you know 200 ways to teach spelling to fit each student, you need to know 200 ways to implement classroom management to fit each student. Often, your biggest trouble-maker doesn't respond to conventional, everyday discipline methods and behavior intervention strategies. You may have noticed that "nothing works" to control these seriously acting-out students. The amazing thing is that mental health and juvenile corrections staff have developed tailored techniques for the most extremely misbehaved youngsters, and have been successfully using these methods for generations. Even more amazing, most educators have not been offered these tested and researched techniques. The one exception to this statement is that special education teachers are sometimes fortunate to have been given training on how to manage the most extremely misbehaved children. These special educators may have been given some or a lot of practical training on how to manage students who have been given the mental health diagnosis of conduct disorder.
It is estimated that 11-14% of the population of children and teens have conduct disorder– whether diagnosed or not. The key thing here is that you can't use ordinary behavior management techniques with this population as those approaches always fail and usually make the problems worse. So, if you want to have the tools you need, the reality is that you need to upgrade your skills to include behavior management techniques designed for very acting-out students. We can help with that upgrade. You can rely on our site's free resources to learn classroom management methods designed to work more effectively with children with conduct disorder. These carefully tailored and researched interventions are going to work so much better than the generic methods that you're using now. There are lots of free articles on conduct disorder on our site. You can start by reading an introductory article on conduct disorder.
We also have many live, online and on-site workshops on the topic. We also have books, ebooks and audio books that can quickly deliver these must-have tools so that you finally have the updated, targeted methods you need to rein in your most misbehaved, hard-to-manage students. You'll learn the reasons why you must work with the most misbehaved students by having many, ultra-high consequences; making sure that all interactions relate to what the student cares most about; making sure you know the student's most liked rewards and disliked sanctions; confronting all bad behavior every time; never giving second chances; drastically limiting discussion over sanctions and rule violations; maximizing supervision at all times; watching for set-ups; watching for manipulation, lies and delinquency, and if your boss and team permit, you need to stop being so fair.
The bottom line: If you can control your most misbehaved students and negative leaders, you're well on your way to controlling your entire classroom.
5. Get Help Now
One of the top reasons that teachers quit is that they hate the state of their classroom management. Some teachers may improve on their own, but the vast majority of teachers who are living through a classroom management nightmare really need to acquire better tools and information. Since 80% of a typical teacher's training focused on academic content, it's not a surprise that classroom management can seem so daunting. Based on that percentage, one would expect that a typical teacher's day is dominated by content issues, but ask any educator and they will tell you that their day is dominated by students' behavioral, social and emotional problems– yet those are all areas given limited or no practical training in pre-service courses.
Severe or chronic classroom management problems are unlikely to change unless the teacher changes. If you've read this article looking for the way out of your classroom management war, the truth is that change isn't going to just happen. You are going to have to actively upgrade your skills and possibly, your personality style and demeanor. That's not to say that every teacher needs to have a loud and forceful personality, for instance– some of the best classroom managers are very quiet and laid back– but if students see you as an easy mark or easily fooled, some personal change may be required to combat that perception. That's why a mentor can be such a help. So, consider finding someone with great classroom management and a personality like yours– or what you wish your personality could be more like– and ask for help. While there is no substitute for upgrading your skill set to fit contemporary students, for some educators, tweaking their personality style and demeanor will also be necessary.
Students read us adults like open comic books. That means they sometimes know us and our weaknesses far better than we know ourselves. You may fool your boss, your co-workers and yourself, but you will almost never fool your students. So, it's incredibly important that you believe wholeheartedly that you can effectively manage difficult students. And, that's not something you can learn from a workshop. That's why upgrading your skills may need to be accompanied by finding a caring mentor who tells it like it is.