Since August 2022, I have been teaching pre-service secondary education students who are preparing to teach middle and high school. Overwhelmingly, their biggest concern moving into their field work and student teaching (and eventually their own classrooms) is classroom management. With back-to-school season around the corner, this is the perfect time to evaluate your classroom management plan and revise, if necessary.
This article will help you do just that. I’m going to summarize the unit created for my Teaching in the Secondary Schools class, which culminated in a Classroom Management Plan. A lot of effort went into researching and refining this plan. Through my preparation and teaching of this unit, my own classroom experiences, and research on classroom management, I found six key aspects that make or break classroom management in middle and high school classrooms.
In the past, I’ve written about how to create an instructional classroom management plan for middle and high school classrooms. (You can read the article here.) As you might have guessed, this article focuses on one of the major aspects of classroom management: classroom instruction. It’s so important that it needed its own article. Today’s article covers a broader range of classroom management considerations to help you prepare for the new school year. In it, we’ll also cover classroom design, rapport, routines, expectations, and interventions.
1. Classroom Management and Classroom Design
Classroom design is a vital, yet often overlooked aspect of classroom management. It’s easy to dismiss it as superfluous decorating and details. High schoolers don’t need cutesy afterall. However, we’re not just talking about decorating. We’re talking about ways to ensure your students are engaged and focused during your lesson.
Literacy Boards for Classroom Management
Literacy Boards are a content-based classroom item that doubles as a classroom management tool. The goal is to promote independent, choice reading and writing while also serving a classroom management purpose. Do you ever have students finish independent work early? This solves the problem. If they finish early, have them work on an enrichment activity from the literacy board. I might also add they make the classroom look great too. You can read more about my exact literacy boards on this post.
Desk and Table Arrangement and Classroom Management
Your desk arrangement should match the nature of the activity you’re doing. It’s really as simple as that. If you’re doing a Socratic Seminar, it makes sense to put desks in circles. If you’re doing group work, push those desks together and make tables. Need students to focus on an independent task? Put them in rows. Switching it up not only harnesses the element of surprise (read Keeping the Wonder for more on this), but it also keeps students focused on the specific task at hand. When they’re in an arrangement that compliments that activity, it makes it easier to complete the activity without distraction or disruption.
Accessibility and Classroom Management
Along those same lines, considering accessibility will help you create a welcoming environment. Think about ways to consider student voice in the classroom setup. Do students have preferences for seating so they can focus? Universal Design for Learning by Cast has a matrix of important considerations for accessibility. You can learn more about the matrix here.
Classroom Design Questions
How will you set up your classroom to create a welcoming, accessible environment that promotes high student engagement? How will your seating arrangement minimize distractions and maximize student learning?
2. Establishing Rapport and Classroom Management
Relationships first. I’m sure you’ve heard this before, and I’d like to propose that we take that literally. Use the first days of school to get to know your students. Find out what they like, what they do outside school, and how they’d like to be supported in the classroom. The best resource for more information on starting off strong is Harry Wong and Rosemary Wong’s The First Days of School.
Syllabus Stations or First Day in ELA Stations are a great way to get to know students on the first day of school. They help you tackle the important back-to-school tasks that you have to do, while giving you an opportunity to walk around and speak to each and every student one-on-one on day one.
Conferencing or workshopping is a way to carry this strong start throughout the school year. These activities can happen when students are writing a paper, progressing through a unit, etc. When you make time to speak with students one-on-one, you’ll help build a trusting relationship. I recommend Kim Bearden’s Talk To Me for strategies to improve communication and relationships. Another great resource is How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. This book is more geared toward parents, but I found a lot of the strategies to be transferable. It made me a better listener for my students.
Classroom Design Questions
How will you get to know students and how will they get to know you? What activities will you create at the beginning of the year? How will you continue to nurture students throughout the year?
3. Engaging Students In Learning and Classroom Management
Keeping students engaged during an entire class period isn’t as easy as it sounds. Really that should be our goal because otherwise you’re opening up “free time” to lots of disruption. When students are bored, you’re more likely to encourage behavior you’re trying to avoid. Even if you’re an extremely charismatic public speaker, you likely won’t be able to keep students engaged in a 40-minute lecture every single day. What will you do instead?
The answer is learner-centered instruction. I’ve written extensively about engaging students and managing instructional time in this post about using class slides with timers and in this post about how to use bell ringers and exit tickets for instructional classroom management and progress monitoring. Plus, the entire book, Keeping the Wonder, is dedicated to high-engagement learner-centered instruction. So, we’ll leave it at this: get your students active in the class through learner-centered learning opportunities, use high-engagement strategies when you can, and keep them on task from bell to bell. Then, smile because you know you’ll be preventing a lot of problems before they start.
Student Engagement Questions
What learner-centered strategies make the most sense for your classroom? How will you utilize them? How will you keep students active from bell to bell?
4. Predictable Routines and Classroom Management
This is where things get a little tricky because you’re going to have to do some thinking and experimenting. First make a list of all the “things” that happen day to day in the classroom. Handing out papers, beginning and ending class, giving restroom passes, assigning homework, taking attendance (I always forget this one), and putting cell phones away are some of the common ones. This isn’t an extensive list and there will be other considerations for your class. But what we can all do is make a plan, communicate the plan, and stick to it.
Some students will thrive on predictable routines. It will calm their nerves. I was one of those students. I hated being caught off guard or not knowing proper etiquette. It stressed me out. (Others won’t care, but they won’t be hindered by it either.) The goal is to create routines for activities that otherwise would create a big disruption to your flow. Think of it this way. When you’re in the middle of an activity and a student asks to use the restroom, do you have to stop everything to wait for her to come to the front of the room, take out a pass, and sign? It might seem like a small interruption, but it’s not hard to lose your train of thought. By contrast, if that same student knew exactly how to sign out for the restroom, you could simply say yes and keep teaching. Again, this restroom pass might not be a scenario that bothers you. But, there are certain to be some. That’s why it’s valuable to make a plan to meet your needs.
It’s not enough to just make routines though. Students need to be explicitly taught these routines sometimes over and over and over. Sticking to these routines and reteaching if necessary is the key to a classroom management plan that works. It may take some time, but in April, you’ll be thanking yourself for the effort you put forth in September.
Student Engagement Questions
How will you begin and end class to minimize downtime? What routines do you need to put in place? How will you teach and reteach these routines?
Focusing on what you want students to do versus what you don’t want them to do is the key to a successful classroom management plan. Framing and communicating your expectations in a positive way not only sets the stage for positive relationships, it also provides a more direct course of action for students. Take this as an example: “Don’t be on your cell phone during our class.” Sometimes we go even further and threaten, “or I will take it.” This is telling them what they shouldn’t do, but you’re not giving them any direct solutions to make it happen. As a side note, threats like this feel insincere and speaking from experience are nearly impossible to keep up. Some students might even see it as a challenge. So what should we do instead?
Let’s consider this statement: “Put your cell phone in your backpack during our class.” The difference is subtle, but meaningful. Implicitly you’re telling them not to have their cell out during class, but this time, you’re also explicitly telling them what to do instead. You’re offering a solution. One that is pretty easy to explain, model, and reinforce daily if necessary. In fact, you could start class by putting your phone in your bag and instructing them to do the same. The key is to be direct, detailed, and dedicated.
Positive Expectation Questions
What are the main expectations in your class? (Choose 3-5 that are easy to remember and reiterate.) How will you phrase those expectations to state what you want students to do (positive) versus what they shouldn’t do (negative)?
5. Interventions and Classroom Management
While a proactive approach to classroom management can stop most problems before they start, you still need to be prepared to deal with disaster. We can’t prevent everything. So what do we do when things go wrong?
First, it’s a good idea to review response strategies for classroom behavior. This 2017 publication by Michigan’s Integrated Behavior and Learning Support Initiative is a thorough review. Some examples are redirecting, providing choice, and using proximity. To be clear, if someone, the student or other students, are in danger, always follow your school’s protocol for protecting students. This is key. If no one is in danger, then the goal during the class period is to minimize distraction for other students, avoid putting the student on the spot, and minimize giving them a platform for attention.Then, have a student conference.
Individual Student Conferences
Meeting one-on-one with a student outside of class is an excellent strategy to deal with disruption. It’s an opportunity for you to come to them with empathy (this may not be warranted depending on the situation). You might also find out the root cause of something so that you can be proactive and fix the issue before it starts again. For example, if you have a student falling asleep in class over and over again, and your proactive approaches and response strategies aren’t working, calling the student into a conference might reveal a root cause that you can work to help her with.
Anyone’s instinct is to put up a guard and get defensive when they get yelled at or called out. It’s also not good for your blood pressure to have to get angry about the behavior! So, in an effort to build those relationships, you can come from a place of caring and this might change their behavior for good.
6. Classroom Management In Any Class
It’s important to note that there is no one-size-fits-all classroom management plan for middle and high school classrooms. You’ll have to tailor these recommendations to your classroom. Also, you’ll have to be responsive to the needs of your students. You might have to reconsider throughout the year. The goal of this post is to give you suggestions and guiding questions to consider all aspects of classroom management.
- Bearden, K. (2018). Talk to me: Find the right words to inspire, encourage and get things done. Dave Burgess Consulting, Incorporated.
- CAST (2011). Universal design for learning guidelines version 2.0 [graphic organizer] . Wakefield, MA: Author.
- Copper, J., Bible, A., Gross, A. & Lamb, S. (2021). Keeping the wonder: An educator’s guide to magical, engaging, and joyful learning. Dave Burgess Consulting, Incorporated.
- Faber, A., & Mazlish, E. (2012). How to talk so kids will listen & listen so kids will talk. Scribner.
- Michigan’s Integrated Behavior and Learning Support Initiative (MIBLSI). (2017). Response strategies for classroom behavior. Retrieved from https://mimtsstac.org/sites/default/files/Documents/MIBLSI_Sequence/School/Elementary/Supplemental/T1ClassPBIS/09_Response_Strategies_for_Classroom_Behavior.pdf
- Wong, H. K., & Wong, R. T. (2018). The first days of school: How to be an effective teacher. Harry K. Wong Publications.