The start of a new school year is full of anticipation and hopefully enthusiasm. However, it also often prompts questions about what a teacher should do to ensure that they develop strong relationships with their students and establish the norms, behaviours and expectations that will form the foundation of an engaging, welcoming and high impact learning environment for their students.
There is a myriad of different approaches to and philosophies of effective classroom management. To some degree, each individual teacher has to determine what works for them, and their teaching approach, personality and practice. However, following a friend’s recommendation to read Michael Linsin’s (an ex primary school teacher from the US) The Classroom Management Secret, I have gleaned a few useful (although not all necessarily research-tested) principles for teachers to consider, all stemming from Linsin’s philosophy of “creating a classroom that students love being part of combined with an unwavering commitment to accountability”.
In keeping with an ever-growing body of research on effective teaching and learning, establishing authentic, positive relationships with students, that are based on genuine respect, is perhaps the most fundamental aspect of effective classroom management. This incorporate both learning relationships established at a whole-class level as well as the development of individual relationships with students, which enable the teacher and student to get to know each other better. There is a certain finesse required in building positive relationships with students. Research suggests that teachers should combine high support with high structure in the classroom, with the firm and consistent enforcement of the routines, standards, and boundaries being as valuable as a compassionate responsiveness to students’ needs and feelings.
Routines and Standards
Establishing from the outset the behavioural standards you expect in your classroom and the routines you want your students to follow in everyday situations such as transitioning between activities, entering the classroom, or participating in a class discussion is essential. It is necessary to explicitly teach students what you expect from them, modelling the behaviour, and setting and explaining high expectations. Making this a co-constructed activity, so that your students feel a sense of ownership over the creation of the rules and understand why they are in place, supports their long-term implementation.
Having established routines and standards it is essential that teachers establish consequences and enforce these consistently. Just as you state the rules and routines of the classroom, also clearly communicate to students what will happen if those rules are broken. Linsin suggests avoiding a system of rewards and incentives. Instead, clearly outline the consequences of non-compliance, display these in your classroom, and always uphold them. In doing so, however, try to avoid using fear or intimidation as this quickly establishes an “us against them” mentality and frames classroom management in a negative light. Instead, use detailed modeling, role-play and practice of the sought behaviours to enable students to see classroom management not as something oppressive but rather as something that enables high quality, enjoyable learning opportunities for all.
Consistency; don’t let the little things slide
One of the most frequent ‘errors’ teachers make in classroom management, according to Linsin, is not being consistent in following through on their established consequences. It is essential that teachers enforce their high standards and expectations for students. Students frequently will push the boundaries of expected behaviour, and they also will quickly learn if a teacher will let little things slide. While it’s tempting to think that because students aren’t technically misbehaving, you can let something slide, this can set a dangerous precedence.
Fun, passion and enjoyment
While all of the above can sound rather restrictive and dry, Linsin suggests to conceptualise it as a framework for enabling you to have an exciting and engaging classroom. That is, having a clearly identified and consistently implemented and upheld classroom management plan is what enables teachers to have a dynamic, engaging learning environment. It is important that teachers have fun, let their personality flourish, and most importantly display passion for what they are teaching. Students respond to and feed off their teachers’ emotions. If a teacher is passionate about what they are teaching, students are far more likely to also be engaged and passionate about it.
Linsin’s book, which was developed from a series of blog posts, has lots of strategies and practical advice for teachers on all things behaviour management. For me, the overarching takeaway from the book is the conceptualisation of behaviour management not as discipline but rather as a foundation for making a classroom a place that students look forward to coming to everyday and that enables the creation of rich learning experiences for all students.