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Classroom Management: How to Personalize it

Penelope asks

I wish more people would write about specifics. All the advice that I get, online, in the faculty room, is too general for that moment when the student has just Done Something and I don’t know what to do.

This may not help her much, but she has already answered her own question – The secret to good classroom management is not what you do in the moment, it’s how you prepare.

After my first year, I spent all summer developing a management plan. Now that it’s going well, I only need to do a couple days at the end of each summer to review, to figure out whether anything needs to change, as well as to reset myself for the new year.

The process goes something like this:

1) Write down everything that bothered you about the kids’ behavior in the classroom.

2) Organize the list – group similar problems together.

3) For each group (and sometimes each item in the group) figure out what led to that behavior, and what you would have rather had them doing. At the same time, write down anything about their environment that might have contributed to that behavior.

4) Make a new list – this time of the behaviors you want to see, or the environmental factors you want.

5) Develop a lesson for each of those behaviors. It doesn’t need to be long, but it needs to be something you actively teach.

6) Spend the first couple of weeks of school teaching these lessons.


1) Kids are throwing paper at each other.

2) (group with airplanes and getting out of their seats to throw away trash)

3) I don’t want them to have ammunition – no folded or crumpled paper, or anything to throw away.

4) When they have paper they’d like to recycle, I want them to put it under their binder until the end of class, and then put it in the recycling bin on their way out of class.

5) Lesson involves going over the expectation, using whatever handout they have that day as their “recycling practice paper”, and actually putting it under their notebook. Explain that crumpling or tearing paper makes distracting noise, and that it takes up extra room in the recycling bin. Finally, explain that it’s normal to forget about this, and if someone does accidentally crumple up paper that they’re not in trouble, but that I’ll ask them to flatten it out and put it under their binders.

This attention to developing classroom behaviors at the beginning of the year preempts 95% of the issues you might have later on. The exercise also lets you note precursors of the behavioral issues, and lets you address things early on before the problem behaviors actually happen, meaning that it doesn’t turn into a showdown between you & the kids in front of the whole class.

If you are in the middle of the year, and an issue comes up, repeat the process again, for just that one item. It’s okay to change the rules in the middle of the year, as long as you (a) explain the rational for the rule, (b) allow for a lot more time for the change to happen, and© only do one thing at a time.

{ 5 } Comments

  1. dkzody | March 4, 2008 at 5:46 am | Permalink

    Expectations—that’s what it’s all about. When you expect great things from your kids, and you communicate that to them, they respond. I spend the first four weeks of class really setting up my expectations, talking about what good behavior looks like. Many of my inner city high school students have never had this done either at school or at home. They just get yelled at. I look at my students as my own children and think about how I want to raise them, how I want them to turn out in three years.

    Before I have a sub, I tell my students what I want from them, how their behavior should look to the sub, and then I tell them, “if the sub leaves your name, you are in really BIG trouble. I will call home and you may receive a conduct referral to talk to a vice principal.” I usually have good results, however, this year the sub left a note about the whole class acting up and not doing their assignment. I really came down hard on them. The next time, they behaved beautifully. One of my classes was so good that not only did the sub leave a positive note, but I got an email from a visitor to the class while I was gone telling me how hard working they were. I took them donuts the day I returned. Word of that spread fast and all the other classes wanted to get such a reward. By the way, my subs love my classes and ask me to call them.

  2. Mr K. | March 4, 2008 at 6:43 am | Permalink

    Expectations—that’s what it’s all about.

    Very much so. and I think those expectations need to be internalized to the point of habit by the teacher – it’s why you can’t just discuss a problem. That end of summer review for me is visualizing (using the bad students hall of fame i’ve accumulated over the years as my virtual adversary) the whole series of issues i’ve developed, and how I can prevent them.

    When those procedures are internalized, I don’t need to worry about being consistent – it’s built into me. I just need to worry about everything matching up with the template of how I want my classroom to look inside my head.

  3. Penelope Millar | March 4, 2008 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

    This is actually one of the most useful pieces of advice I’ve gotten on the whole classroom management thing. I might not go through exactly the same year-end ritual as you, but you know what? No one ever told me “this is how I figure out how to do better next year” OR (and this is the big one I was just starting to figure out for myself three years in) “this is how you do a good job of communicating those high expectations people tell you you should have.


  4. Mr K. | March 4, 2008 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

    communicating those high expectations

    For me, part of it was even knowing to communicate those at all. First I was astounded that kids did not have an innate knowledge of how to behave during a test. Then I was astounded that just telling them wasn’t enough. It wasn’t until I drew them a picture, and had them practice, that they eventually got it. Now I know that I need to do that with everything, from where they put their backpacks to how they sharpen their pencils. Most of the kids are more than happy to do what you want, they just have no idea what it is. That leaves you a lot of energy to deal with the other ones who want to actively fight you.

  5. Penelope Millar | March 7, 2008 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    Yeah…that’s one of those things no one makes clear. And it’s weird, because I teach 10th and 11th grade, so the first couple of years I underdid it on explaining expectations because I felt embarrassed to be explaining my expectations to them—surely they knew how school worked by now?

    I was so wrong.