What is classroom management – and why is it important?
Classroom management is the art of managing a group of students in the classroom so your lesson runs smoothly and effectively. It’s key to creating a productive learning environment, where students can achieve their potential while disruptive behaviour is minimised.
Classroom management is a skill that’s developed over time and is based on a set of strategies that are effective and research-based. It involves implementing whole-class strategies consistently to ensure that students are paying attention and are engaged in learning.
And if you’re in the UK, your effectiveness at behaviour management at the whole class level is included as part of the Teacher Standards by the Department For Education.
Whether you're a new teacher or have been in the classroom for years, these classroom management techniques will help you create a positive learning environment.
What is the role of a teacher in classroom management?
Every child has the right to learn in a positive and safe environment, where they’re able to learn and grow amongst their peers. So creating a positive learning environment for students is the most important aspect of any teacher’s job.
It’s the teacher’s role to create an environment where this can happen – and that’s where classroom management skills come in.
So classroom management is all about handling behaviour at the whole class, “big picture” level - rather than how we make adaptations for the needs of individual students. These are important, but form part of a more granular, individualised approach that sits within the school’s approach to Special Educational Needs (SEN).
That said, most teachers who excel at classroom management actively form positive relationships with all the pupils in their classroom.
What classroom management skills should a teacher have?
Effective classroom management includes a range of skills.
- Making classroom expectations clear, so your students know what behaviour is expected during lesson time
- Planning classroom activities in a way that will encourage positive learning behaviours
- Using a range of effective positive reinforcement strategies to motivate students to behave in an appropriate manner (this extends beyond academic engagement – you will also want to encourage positive prosocial behaviour, for example)
- Handling inappropriate behaviour in a way that minimises disruption (and that’s consistent with your school’s behaviour policy)
- Setting out the physical classroom environment (the tables, chairs, displays etc.) in a way that promotes student learning
- Speaking and acting in a way that keeps pupils focussed and on-task (for example, during whole class discussion, as well as during work tasks)
- Forming good relationships with pupils, at a professional level, so they feel confident their teacher has their best interests at heart
- Being a role model for what constitutes good behaviour (to “live your expectations”)
Get this right, and the outcome is higher levels of positive behaviour throughout the school day.
In fact, the right mix of effective classroom management strategies can be the difference between a boring, frustrating lesson and a productive and engaging one.
How do you create a positive classroom environment?
There are essentially two approaches to motivating students to behave in a positive way.
The first, and more traditional, is to use extrinsic rewards.
Extrinsic means “from the outside,” so we’re adding something to encourage our students to behave in a positive way.
Here are some common examples:
- Behaviour specific praise and recognition (e.g. for on-task behaviour, for sharing, for holding open a door)
- House points, table points or a point logged in your school’s classroom management software system
- Certificates and physical rewards (like stickers or small prizes)
- Additional privileges
- “Hot Chocolate Friday” with the head teacher
- Working towards a special trip or experience
Intrinsic rewards encourage a pupil to behave well because it feels good – or because performing that action is the right thing to do. Intrinsic means “from the inside”.
These are best encouraged by helping the child:
- Take personal pride in their achievements
- See how the learning activity is relevant to their own personal goals
- Feel like they are part of an important group, moving towards a joint goal
- Care about their social interactions with other children (and understand how their behaviour impacts on others)
- Feel like they’re making progress with their learning (or behaviour)
The use of praise and recognition is interesting in that, although technically an extrinsic method of motivating pupils, research shows that it has an intrinsic effect.
Effective classroom management is about taking an effective blend of these approaches based on your individual pupils.
How do classroom rules support classroom management?
Our classroom rules (or expectations) explain what our expectations for behaviour are in the classroom. They set the boundaries for what is acceptable, and what isn’t acceptable, in the classroom.
By the way, the difference between an expectation and a rule is simple. An expectation is always phrased positively (“We expect pupils to put up their hand during class discussions”), while a rule can be phrased positively or negatively (“Pupils shouldn’t shout out.”)
Our rules help our students know what we consider to be disruptive behaviour, and what the child should expect if their behaviours falls outside school’s expectations.
Rules are only effective in encouraging positive behaviour if they are discussed with pupils and implemented consistently by the teacher.
A highly effective classroom management strategy is to have a class discussion about your classroom rules the first time you meet a new class, so everyone is clear about the expectations from Day One.
How do you handle disruptive student behaviour in the classroom?
Sometimes, the classroom can be a disruptive place, with some students shouting out the answers to questions, walking across the class to get a drink during instructional time, taking out their devices or passing notes to friends.
These kind of “low-level” behaviours from individual students have a big impact on classroom behaviour as a whole.
The specifics of how you respond to classroom disruptions will depend on your school’s approach to classroom management, as outlined in your behaviour policy – but the key to success (as with your classroom rules) is following your policy consistency.
Many children, especially those with additional SEMH needs, find it difficult to link cause and effect. When the adult acts in a consistent way, it helps them understand where the boundaries are, and if “I do X, the result will always be Y.”
Traditionally, schools have implemented artificial consequences to manage classroom behaviour.
- Using eye contact or gestures to indicate to a student you are monitoring their behaviour
- Issuing verbal warnings to the student if the behaviour continues, and reminding them of classroom expectations
- Issuing a detention (or loss of playtime or privileges) if the behaviour persists
In these incidents, the consequences are considered artificial, because there is no logical link between, say, using unkind words to a classmate and staying in at lunch time.
More and more schools are taking a restorative practice to managing behaviour. Here, the student is helped to understand the impact of their actions on other pupils, and how to make amends (using natural consequences) when their behaviour has harmed another pupil.
A natural consequence is one that is naturally linked to the child’s negative actions. For example, a natural consequence for using unkind words might be writing a letter of apology, and then saying something positive about the victim during the next class circle time.
The aim of restorative practice is to restore the relationship between two pupils when something has gone wrong – and this is done through a structured conversation.
This helps the offending child learn empathy and problem-solving skills that result in fewer incidents of inappropriate behaviour over time.
How do you get better at classroom management?
There’s no one secret to managing the whole class effectively – success lies in blending together a range of skills and strategies.
And then practicing those approaches until they feel natural - and you feel confident using them.
In short: Strategies + Experience = Success.
And don’t feel like there is one, single solution to improving discipline in the classroom.
Two teachers can both be successful with the same class and have quite different approaches to classroom management.
However, teachers who are good at classroom management all tend to have the following in common:
- They’re intentional about what techniques and strategies they’re using to keep their class on task
- They’re reflective about what has worked for their class and what hasn’t – and adapt as appropriate.
- They focus on positive reinforcement (actively recognising students on task, or who are engaging in prosocial behaviour) and try to de-escalate negative behaviour. They're more positive than punitive.
- They’re consistent with their expectations, how they communicate those expectations and how they respond to classroom behaviour
- They work hard to foster positive, professional relationships with pupils.
- They make adaptations for pupils with additional needs (this is outside the strict topic of classroom management, but still vitally important, so I've included it here)
Get your classroom management procedures right and everyone benefits in class.
You’ll see higher levels of classroom engagement, classroom activities will feel easier to teach, you’ll see less incidents of disruptive behaviour and everyone will benefit from a caring, productive learning environment.