The Top 5 Classroom Management Skills Every Teachers Should Know

The Top 5 Classroom Management Skills Every Teachers Should Know

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Want to know the top 5 essential classroom management skills every teacher should know? The 5 skills that lead to whole class success, healthy adult:pupil relationships and on-task behaviour?

In this episode, based on 1000s of lesson observations, we reveal exactly what those skills are - and how to start using them in your classroom. All with the aim of creating a positive learning environment for you and your students.

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Show notes / transcription

Simon Currigan  0:00  

The teachers that inspire you, they draw you in and then you become committed. It's not about compliance. It's actually about conviction. They drag the kids into the lesson by being interested in them and building those relationships, meaning they don't have to do much in the way of behaviour management. 

Welcome to school behaviour secrets Episode 17. I'm your host, Simon Currigan. Our neighbours conifers affect the light across the back garden at Behaviour Towers, but we're polite and we don't complain about it. As ever, I'm here with my co host, Emma Shackleton. Hi, Emma.

Emma Shackleton  1:08  

Hi there,

Simon Currigan  1:09  

Emma, you and I have both been very privileged and had the opportunity to observe in 1000's of classrooms over the last 10 years. What's the one thing that surprised you most looking back.

Emma Shackleton  1:21  

 One of the things that surprises me and one of the things that I absolutely love about visiting schools and going into classrooms is the variety. Even in schools with very similar demographics, close physical locations to each other, following the same curriculum and all of that, two schools will never be the same. They'll always be different to each other. And I really love that. Every day is different. Every class is different. Every teacher is different. And they all bring aspects of their own personality to their role. And I find that really fascinating.

Simon Currigan  1:56  

That's really true because I never appreciated that as a teacher because you only see your own four walls and your own school. Until I got into lots of different schools and saw just how different they were. Well, today we're going to talk about based on all of our times when watching hundreds of teachers, 1000s of kids in hundreds of classrooms. The five essential classroom management skills that make or break behaviour, what skills as teachers, we should develop to create a positive learning environment for all our students.

Emma Shackleton  2:26  

Just before we move on and reveal what those five key skills are, I've got a request to make. If you find today's episode useful, please help other teachers and school leaders find the podcast by giving us a rating and review on Apple podcasts. This will tell Apple to recommend School Behaviour Secrets to other podcast listeners. And that way they can find the shows and start getting the help they need to support the children in their classrooms.

Simon Currigan  2:53  

So without further ado, let's walk up to the oche, pick up the dart of knowledge, launch it at this lopsided dartboard we call behaviour and see if we can snag ourselves a treble 20.

Emma Shackleton  3:05  

Let's start out with a definition of what we mean by classroom management so that we know that we're all on the same page here. Classroom Management refers to the conscious decisions that we make to promote the smooth running of our whole class. In terms of behaviour management, being the leader of a team of 30 individuals who may or may not even be able to tie their own shoelaces yet, is no mean feat. If we don't actively manage whole class behaviour, things go wrong pretty quickly, meaning that very little learning can take place.

Simon Currigan  3:41  

And there are lots of moving parts involved in that. And what I've found over the years is successful classrooms actually emerge out of things like setting up the right environment and setting up the right routines. All of these things are likely to increase on-task behaviour. And remember, if the kids are on task, they're not being disruptive or walking around the room. On task behaviour reduces disruption. And what we're going to do today is we're going to focus on whole class elements of classroom management. So we're not focused on individual children. It's all big picture stuff.

Emma Shackleton  4:17  

Okay, so Golden Rule number one is about the ability to form relationships. One thing that we've learned through our years of observing lessons in both primary and secondary schools, is the ability to form relationships is absolutely critical. Children need to feel that you like them, you care about them, and you want them to be there. They need to know that you've taken a personal interest in them. When you build positive relationships or positive rapport with pupils. It means that they are much more likely to engage with you and with the work.

Simon Currigan  4:55  

Think about the teachers that really inspired you when he younger, what separated them from the other teachers. Well I'm willing to bet at some level they took a personal interest in you, maybe you wrote a comment in a book and they wrote a comment back and you wrote a comment to them and then wrote a comment back to you maybe you had a shared sense of humour but those teachers inspired you are connected with you on a certain level and what was the result of that you behave well in their lessons because you wanted to do well you wanted to succeed and you knew that they wanted that for you too they took that relationship like Emma said, it wasn't just business it took it into you know an appropriate relationship with the adult cares about how you're doing and they're on your side and they want to see you succeed and that always has an impact on classroom behaviour

Emma Shackleton  5:44  

I can vividly remember teachers that inspired me they come to mind straight away and i can also remember the teachers that i hated at school and i think the reason for that is i felt that they disliked me so those teachers the lessons were more disrupted children were less inclined to follow their instructions particularly i think in secondary school i can remember those teachers and it was about their manner or by the way that they treat his people you have to earn that respect don't you and when you feel like people don't respect you they're not interested in you you haven't got a connection with them you're less likely to do what they say

Simon Currigan  6:25  

and when you see those classrooms where those relationships aren't in place there's almost a physical gulf between the teacher and the students, whereas the teachers that kind of inspire you, they draw you in and then you become committed it's not about compliance, it's actually about conviction. They drag the kids into the lesson by being interested in them and building those relationships, meaning they don't have to do much in the way of behaviour management

Emma Shackleton  6:47  

If you get those personal relationships right ,actually everything else follows i think a great tip for building rapport is to invest a little bit of time school environments are really pressured these days there's so much to fit in there's so much curriculum to get through but if you can commit to spending a few minutes every day finding out about your pupils learning what they're interested in what makes them tick that goes a long way just a note of caution here to try really hard not to be too judgmental about children's out of school activities so if for example you ask a child what they like to do when they're not at school and they tell you that they love nothing more than sitting in their bedroom playing on the xbox or the playstation for hours on end just accept that resist the temptation to go into teacher mode and start lecturing them about too much screen time for example so whatever it is that they come back with whatever it is they tell you they like doing or they're interested in showing interest in that too

Simon Currigan  7:53  

if we want to form good relationships in class we need to role model the behaviours that we expect from the kids so if we want the kids to be forgiving we have to role model forgiving at certain times and if we want the kids to be patient we have to role model that patients when they're finding something difficult a classic example here is if you want the kids to be respectful and say sorry when something goes wrong well you've got to role model that too you have to be willing to put your hands up when you've got something wrong and say you know i told you all for x y or zed but actually i think i went a bit too far there. I'm going to change my mind on reflection and I apologise for that. If we want them to behave in certain ways, the most powerful way we can help them start doing that is by role modelling the behaviours. If we want them to invest in us then we have to invest in them

Emma Shackleton  8:45  

That's so true and building relationships is particularly important for helping kids with behavioural issues if you think about it why would you change your behaviour for someone who didn't care about you. Some children find it difficult to connect with others because they haven't had strong relationships modelled to them. In fact some kids will actively test out behaviours that push others away those pupils are the hardest to make a connection with and they are the ones who need that connection the most these kids need consistency and positivity more than anybody else

Simon Currigan  9:29  

I'd just like to take a pause for a moment and say that if you're finding this podcast useful then you're going to love what we've got waiting for you in our Inner Circle program the Inner Circle is your one-stop shop for all things behaviour. It's a comprehensive platform filled with videos, resources and behaviour inspiration to get you unstuck with classroom behaviour we've got training resources on de escalation, supporting kids with anxiety, support strategies for conditions like autism ADHD and PDA. Practical ways of helping pupils deal with strong emotions, assertive behaviour management techniques for managing the whole classroom, setting out your classroom environment for success, resetting behaviour with tricky classes, and more. Our online videos walk you through practical solutions step by step. Just like Netflix, you can turn an Inner Circle subscription on or off whenever you need to, with no minimum contract. Plus, you can now get your first seven days of Inner Circle for just one pound, get the behaviour answers and you've been looking forward today with Inner Circle, visit And click on the Inner Circle picture at the top of the homepage for more information. 

Okay, so we spent a lot of time talking about the importance of relationships. Let's move on to our next point.

Emma Shackleton  10:49  

The next point to make then, is really being conscious about the way that we use our body language and our tone. So being really intentional about that, if you think about it, teaching requires top class acting skills on a day by day basis, great teachers develop their teaching persona, that side of themselves that they bring to the classroom every day. We become aware that we are being watched, just like actors on a stage at all times. So remember, even when you're having a conversation or an interaction with one person, there's usually going to be other children or other adults around who are seeing and hearing and picking up on the subtle cues in that interaction. So it pays to check out your body language, your tone of voice and your facial expressions, and be aware of how you are presenting to the world. The funny thing is that sometimes what we think we look and sound like is not the same as what we actually look and sound like to others. So I'd urge you to be brave and ask a trusted colleague to observe a lesson and give you some honest feedback on the way that you come across to others. This is incredibly powerful in getting your teaching persona just right. So that you can make effective pupil relationships and communicate with crystal clarity. It's not about being fake, because kids can sniff that out a mile off. But it's a by refining and tweaking your presentation and your manner, so that you really communicate the messages that you want to communicate.

Simon Currigan  12:34  

I would go as far as to say that videoing yourself and looking back at the footage, however hard it is, is the fastest way to improve how you use your body language, how you use your tone of voice in the classroom, we think back to our actor, an actor will open the script and he will look at each scene in turn. And he will think about how I need to portray myself in this scene. And in the classroom, we have a number of different scenes. So let's think about whole class time. That's when we're addressing the whole class. That's one form of scene. Another form of scene might be where we're addressing a behaviour issue with a student. Now what we need to do when we're approaching those situations, usually we need to approach those situations using assertive body language. do go back to Episode One, our very first episode of School behaviour Secrets, because in that episode, we go into the detail of how to look and sound assertive. Assertiveness is all about looking and sounding confident, speaking in a way as if you expect the kids to follow the instruction that you've just given them, standing in a way that says I'm confident I'm not nervous. I'm not scared of you. This is different from being aggressive. This is about having a presence and when you have that presence, children will naturally tend to follow what you do and say

Emma Shackleton  13:51  

So as well as mastering being assertive, teachers also need to master being neutral. And this is especially useful for de escalation situations. So when things are heating up when emotions are riding high, for example, teachers being able to look and sound neutral is really effective for not accidentally escalating a situation. This links nicely back to raising awareness of what we look like and what we sound like to others. It's really good to learn a good poker face, particularly in situations where students might say or do something that we find shocking, for example, and it's important to remember that when students are triggered, they are likely to be hyper vigilant and they are scanning for further threats. And this can actually lead them to misinterpret other people's gestures and behaviours because their signal reading systems go a bit awry. It is a good idea to practice neutral stance, neutral facial expressions and tone try it in the mirror at home, try it on the cat. The more you practice the better you'll become

Simon Currigan  15:07  

and be aware that when we're trying to be say more assertive we can tip over into aggression if we don't practice these things and get them right assertive language is the language of i'm calm and i'm in control so use that video recording practice at home practice on the cat, speaking and looking either confident or neutral because those are the two key body language postures that you're going to need to really boost behaviour in the classroom with your whole class management

Emma Shackleton  15:37  

another really great skill that i've noticed many effective teachers doing is light housing- sending their beam or their vision, their view all around the room so you know that wherever they are in the room whoever they're talking to or working with they are consciously actively scanning the rest of the room to keep an eye on what's going on and also to let the pupils know that they are keeping an eye on what's going on. So constantly monitor what's happening and pick the right language for the right situation. Don't leave any of this to chance, it really is an art that needs to be practiced and reflected on and it will have a huge impact on classroom behaviour

Simon Currigan  16:22  

okay then so we've looked at forming relationships with kids and we've talked about being intentional with our body language the next thing we're going to look at the next skill is de- personalising conflict. Now when a child presents challenging behaviour or the whole class presented challenging behaviour it's easy to turn that disruption or defiance into a personal power battle between you and the child. When you get into a power battle it erodes relationships with pupils. We need the pupils on side, we need to lead for the pupil so that they will follow us. Neutralising that power battle, that kind of me versus you conflict is all about making the behaviour that you've seen in the classroom or the consequences that you have to give. Make it all about the rules a bit like a referee on the pitch. The referee confines the conversation about what's just happened to the rules, they never make it personal and the minute you start making that conflict personal you're going to sort of kill your relationship with a child or the group of children that you're working with so when something goes wrong bring it back to the rules. Back to what will happen next, not about your personal relationship with the kids or about your authority or a personal power battle

Emma Shackleton  17:35  

I think the analogy of the referee is a really useful one because you see don't you good referees have got excellent assertive and neutral body language by bringing the emotion out of it and bringing it back to the rules and this is what we need to do as well this is super super hard but it can be done. In most cases the child's behaviour is the result of something underlying, something deeper. It could be due to stress from a diagnosis or from their family situation for example. What we need to do is to learn to shrug this off, not to take that personally or as a criticism of our teaching skills even when they make it personal and some children will do that they will try and goad you into a response but you are the adult so it's up to you to develop that teflon coating and the ability to let things bounce off. And this is really valuable for your own mental health and well being too

Simon Currigan  18:34  

and that goes for conflict from parents as well. Never take them personally often parents might have had a bad experience of school maybe deep down they feel nervous they feel worried about the conversation and that can sometimes spill over into a defensive aggression or maybe they feel their child's being attacked and they've got this protective urge to defend them so when they're on the phone or they come to you they're already highly emotional. And do be aware in terms of not taking it personally if you've got explosive kids in your class it's likely that they've learned that template from an explosive parent. So it's not a reaction to your individual teaching style and the parents reaction to you is not a reaction to you as an individual, it's a template that they've learned from their families

Emma Shackleton  19:19  

so it's about learning to be resilient and making classroom behaviour all about the rules not about your personal  authority and power battles you have the power in your response to make a situation bigger or smaller so decide that what you say and do is going to de escalate this situation not inflate it. This leaves everybody with their dignity intact and preserves positive rapport and relationships with pupils

Simon Currigan  19:51  

okay so we've covered the classroom management skill of de- personalisation, now let's move on to one that often gets missed and it's around out presentation skills, the key to keeping kids interested in a lesson is to have good presentation skills. There's something about watching someone who appears genuinely interested in a topic that pulls you into a lesson, you kind of start focusing on them. And then you know, because you're on task,  they're not engaging in disruptive behaviour, which means you don't have to do any classroom management.

Emma Shackleton  20:24  

It's a little bit of magic, isn't it when you get that class, and you feel like they're hanging on your every word, and they can feel the passion and interest about your subjects. And the kids who are interested and are on task are occupied. If they're bored, if they're disengaged, they're going to find their own forms of entertainment. And that's usually stuff that they shouldn't be doing. But kids who are drawn into the lesson, because of the content and the dynamic delivery, they're not mucking about. if you've got poor presentation skills, the fact is, kids are going to get bored quickly. And then I guarantee you're going to see low level behaviours creeping in.

Simon Currigan  21:04  

Think about how you use things like the rise and fall of your voice, to use your voice, speed up and slow down. How do you use  volume, you know, the loudness and quietness of your voice? And also, how do you use pauses..? Think about where you stand and how you move around the room. Or are you shackled to a laptop? Do you smile and laugh throughout the lesson? Do you look like you're enjoying yourself? A good thing you can do here is think about positive role models from your past. Think about teachers in your experience who did this well. But also think about people on TV. A lot of TV presenters, their stock in trade is looking interested in a variety of topics. So think about the kind of things they do, the kind of things they say, the way they paced their voice, to learn good presentation skills.

Emma Shackleton  21:56  

And the bottom line is that kids like fun. So we need to make it fun to keep it interesting. So fun killers and things to avoid then are endlessly repeating yourself. Children heard you the first time, they get it, they don't need you to say it again. And again. And again. Speaking in a monotone, I've noticed that sometimes people do this when they feel stressed or anxious. And what happens is they become a little bit like a talking statue, they get very still, they get very monotonous with their voice, it's got the same pitch, the same tone, the same speed. This is why we need to know our subjects inside-out and we need to be passionate about what we're saying. And we need to vary up the way that we say things to make it interesting and engaging. Another deadly sin, if you like, is speaking at the same volume throughout. Some teachers talk very quietly all the time. Some teachers talk very loudly all the time. This is a sure way to switch off kids brains, change the pitch, change the tone, change the volume, make it a sing song game, make it go up and down. And as Simon says, watch out for people who are good at this. I think some people are naturally talented in presentation. So watch out for them, and get in and observe some of their lessons, watch what they do. So if you're not naturally good at it, and you're not naturally charismatic and confident in your presentation, that's okay, you can learn this stuff, just by copying somebody who is. And like most of the behaviour management skills that we talk about, the more you practice them, the better you'll get at them.

Simon Currigan  23:39  

This comes down to even if it's the like 172nd time you've taught photosynthesis or linear equations, or Henry the Eighth to the kids, it should feel like the first time you've ever taught it, because for them, it is the first time they've ever heard it. So it's capturing that enthusiasm again. Okay, then let's move on to flexibility. And this really is a core classroom management skill. There's a quote, and I think it's from Mike Tyson. But I might be wrong. And he said, no plan ever survived a punch to the face. If your lesson isn't working, we need to be flexible enough to adapt. And we can adapt in several ways. So I remember teaching a lesson once. It was a collaborative task with a bunch of eight year olds, it was a chaos. They were working in groups of five or six on a project. They were trying to build something and they were arguing and they didn't have the skills and it was falling apart. And at that point, we could have persisted with that lesson. But what we had to do to make that lesson work was adapt the presentation of the lesson. So we moved it from being a social task, a collaborative task, to a more formal individual task and then we walked away from that thinking right the next time we teach a task like that, what we need to do is teach them the key social skills they need before they get there because I've realised that some building blocks that simply aren't there so we need to be flexible enough to adapt the lesson or just bin it! if the work's too hard, if really explaining didn't work, if the kids are frustrated, if they're just not getting it, just drop the lesson in the bin entirely and move on to something else

Emma Shackleton  25:17  

So as well as adapting and being flexible with your lesson it's also crucial to be able to be adaptive and flexible for different children's needs so here's where the first thing that we spoke about comes into play that building relationships and knowing the children as individuals and not just treating them all as one block. Your job is to be fair and consistent and tailor your approach to meet the individual child's needs. What i invite you to do is try not to fall into the trap of thinking that being fair means everyone gets the same- it doesn't. Being fair means everyone gets what they need to be able to succeed. When we teach children with reading or maths difficulties, for example, we happily give those children more time, more resources, more support, so that they can grasp those concepts and it's exactly the same for children with behavioural special needs. They need something different and their need is around behaviour

Simon Currigan  26:25  

And the last aspect of being flexible is being flexible in how you present from class to class. So in secondary schools that will be changing how you present from, you know, the class you have at nine o'clock to the class you have at 10 o'clock. In primary schools that's going to be how you present to a class you have one year to the next year. You can't have one single form of you, right? The kind of teacher you are depends on the kids you have got in the room or classes are different. We have to look at what our classes needs. Some classes will do very well with social tasks and collaborative tasks and other classes won't so we have to adapt and change and be flexible in how we present from group to group

Emma Shackleton  27:08  

So to round up our top five classroom management skills then they are the ability to form relationships, using body language and tone intentionally, being able to de-personalise conflict, presentation skills and flexibility. If you think we've missed anything out then why not let us know on our facebook page or in our facebook group so if you haven't joined us already you can search for us on facebook it's called Classroom Management and Student Behaviour

Simon Currigan  27:41  

But of course if you're experienced problems with behaviour during lesson time from the whole class there may be some simple tweaks you could make to the way you've organised the environment or the format of your lessons or the routines that could improve behaviour in class

Emma Shackleton  27:56  

And if that sounds interesting to you we've got a completely free download that goes with this episode called the Classroom Management Score Sheet. Inside the score sheet you'll find a list of 37 factors that all have an impact on classroom behaviour

Simon Currigan  28:11  

The score sheet is a list of things that you are clearly doing or not doing. Think of it as a roadmap to improve your presence in the classroom and it's based on 1000's of observations that Emma and I have conducted between us, so you know it's based on sound classroom practice

Emma Shackleton  28:27  

And the good thing is if you're supporting a colleague with their classroom management it can really help to make your feedback and action points even more clear and objective

Simon Currigan  28:37  

Get it now by going to, clicking on the free resources option in the menu and you'll find the Classroom Management Score Sheet near the top of our free resources page. It's completely free. i'll also put a direct link to the score sheet in the episode description

Emma Shackleton  28:54  

Next week we're going to be talking to Kevin Hewitson, author of the book 'If you can't reach them you can't teach them'. He's going to explain how to build relationships with challenging pupils or all pupils in fact using his four step framework labeled PBCF if you want to find out what each of those letters stand for tune in to the next episode

Simon Currigan  29:18  

And that episode is full of practical tips you can start using with your kids straightaway so make sure you hear it by taking out your phone and opening your podcast app then don't just stare at the subscribe button actually connect your index finger to it in a firm tapping motion, not only will you be telling your podcast app to automatically download that episode you might even make your phone buzz with excitement too and there's nothing wrong with that

Emma Shackleton  29:43  

And don't forget if you're new to our podcast and you find today's session useful you can go back to the start of the series and listen to all of our previous podcasts including our very first episode where we talked about the importance of being assertive all that's left for us to say Thank you for listening to today's episode, and we look forward to see you next week. Bye for now. 

Simon Currigan  30:08  


(This automated transcript may not be 100% accurate.)