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  • by Blaine Helwig

Effective Daily Classroom Management – Come Rain or Shine!

Updated: Sep 22, 2023

Half a century ago, my father, older brother and I watched a herd of horses driven into a rectangular corral from an open field. My father was raised in rural America; thus, he possessed intimate knowledge about livestock that my brother and I did not. As the horses neared the corral entrance, my father said, “Watch what the horses do when they first enter the corral.” My brother and I watched the horses with keen interest.

As the horses entered the corral, they ran in a doughnut shape along the perimeter of the corral’s fencing for several minutes. Slowly, the horses began to trot and disperse throughout the rectangular pen. My father asked us what we saw, and my older brother responded that the horses ran alongside the fence before moving to the middle. He then asked me why I thought the horses ran alongside the outside fences. I did not know. He explained, “The horses are testing the boundaries of the corral – the limits.” He turned to me and said, “Both you and your brother do the same thing to me every time I set rules.”

Children are NOT Horses, but…

Given rules, children test limits. Students want to know how far they can press, and like horses, they analogously run around the outside of a rectangular classroom to understand their boundaries. The first thing a teacher of any experience level should do is set classroom rules of conduct by creating clear boundaries and expectations. It is much easier for the teacher to let the reins out than it is to pull them in. AFTER setting classroom rules and behavioral expectations, the teacher must be consistent and equitable with the established rules. Inconsistency hinders a trustful classroom relationship. If classroom rules appear or actually vary from day-to-day, students are unsure if similar actions carry similar consequences. A teacher may be more structured than another teacher, but as long as a teacher is equitable and consistent with the established rules, children invariably view their teacher as fair and just. Of course, a seasoned teacher infrequently makes this mistake, but most novice educators usually learn this lesson the hard way. Surprisingly to many entry-level teachers, the vast majority of children desire structure and consistent rules because they afford inherent safety; however, elementary aged children are often too young to developmentally comprehend this fact.

Basic Management Rules Provide Social and Academic Classroom Success

Setting up classroom rules and expectations on the first day of school is one of the first and most important actions teachers undertake. If this task is done poorly, then a challenging school year will be a likely outcome both socially and academically. Another byproduct of inconsistent rule enforcement is the eroding away of the strong teacher-student relationship as students perceive unfairness or inequity. Additionally, ineffective routines, procedures and student disruptions cost valuable instructional minutes throughout the school year. Consequently, it is essential that teachers set-up efficient classroom routines and effective class management.

As a former elementary principal, I expended at least half a day of August professional development carefully going over the importance of establishing clear and concise rules in the classroom. I am a strong advocate of affording teachers the latitude to make their own rules that fit their personality and instructional needs. However, those classrooms rules and daily routines must be both efficient and effective! As the teachers set expectations in the classroom, I believe the principal needs to convey their common expectations to all staff and faculty. Listed below are a few focused areas that should be stressed during that PD session, so teachers are mentally prepared for the most common issues of effective classroom management.

1.) In an unobstructed visual sight of all students, the teacher should have a placard listing between 3 to 5 classroom rules, maximum. The teacher should systematically go over the rules and provide sufficient explanation and modeling so students clearly understand the rules. The teacher is beginning on day one to create a safe and respectful learning environment. Visit related Blog for more detail: Classroom Rules! Why and How Many?

2.) Consistent and equitable application to the classroom rules. Children’s perception of unfairness and inconsistency is the undoing of a teacher’s respectful relationships with their students. Visit related Blog for more detail: Why is Teaching So Difficult.

3.) Organization and Preparedness are central elements to effective management of a classroom. If an elementary teacher is not adequately prepared to rapidly move through their core lessons and lesson transitions, students will discover ways to use this time that waste instructional and learning minutes. This requires the teacher to expend valuable time redirecting students. Lesson plan preparedness and a ‘work table’ to store documents and manipulatives abate many of these issues.

4.) Early finishers and efficient daily routines. Students finish independent activities at different times. A teacher should establish a list of 3 to 5 tasks displayed on the classroom’s white board so students can continue independent learning engagements. In doing so, students understand the teacher’s behavioral expectations, and they are not in need of assistance – allowing classmates to complete their work undisturbed. Finally, efficient and predictable routines for distribution and collecting student work, so instructional minutes and downtime are preserved. Again, the teacher does not expend valuable time redirecting students, and she or he can focus their attention with students that require more individualized attention.

5.) Do NOT begin (the lesson) until ALL students’ attention is secured. This is a major pedagogical error, and the teacher has to expend unnecessary time and energy redirecting students. Visit related blog for more detail: Class, Do I have Your Attention?

6.) Entry-level elementary teachers should use highly structured activities when they begin instruction at the start of the school year, especially Title 1 teachers. It is advisable to maintain controllable management of the classroom, and as the confidence and ability grows, so can the complexity of your lessons.

7.) One or two disruptive students can cause an entire classroom to tailspin into a chaotic learning environment. Furthermore, other students often feed off and emulate the poor conduct of a few. Thus, react appropriately, address the disruptive student’s behavior and curb/prevent copycat behaviors.

8.) Deescalate whenever possible – Keep a minor problem from becoming a major one. Teachers need to be mentally prepared for this event to react, appropriately. Visit related blogs for more detail: Keep a Minor Student Disruption – Minor! and Baiting Educators for an Emotional Response. On the flip side, the teacher needs to keep a major student disruption from becoming bigger than it already is. Thus, a preset plan with classroom teachers and the administrator is should be in place for this situation. For instance, if the teacher summons for administrative assistance and the child refuses to leave the classroom with the principal or assistant principal, the teacher should know to immediately and calmly take the remaining students to the library or some other school location. Concurrently, the administrator should telephone for an additional person for assistance - counselor, administrator, etc. The administrator should step back and wait until additional support arrives, so there are TWO people in the classroom with the student for both personal and professional safety. However, usually, the student will leave quietly when the audience has left the classroom. Visit related blog for more detailed preparatory planning on major student disruptive behaviors: Major Student Disruption - Identify Triggers, Plan and Deescalate.

9.) Student redirection should be as private and direct as possible. Redirection should also be as short as humanly possible. Most students will not listen for longer than 30 seconds to a minute, or they will lose the thrust of the message in verbosity. Visit related blog for more detail: Student Redirection – Shorter is Better.

If there is not effective classroom management, student learning suffers significantly. A teacher’s ultimate goal is to empower children to CHOOSE to follow the rules. The related blogs Student Empowerment but with Personal Responsibility and Handling a Student’s Silent Treatment with Student Empowerment expatiates on student empowerment in detail.

Even the most structured and seasoned teacher loses 15 minutes each day in transitions from arrival to dismissal. This cumulative time loss per day equates to more than 9 total instructional days lost for the school year. The related blog breaks down the ineffectiveness of classroom management and inefficient daily routines in 15-minute increments to instructional days lost. When 15 Minutes is Lost, It is Expensive.

High social and academic classrooms require dynamic structure, and this structure must be a predictable and well-managed system. Schools and classrooms are open systems with many variables of input in one classroom. Thus, elementary classroom dynamics will always be complicated because they are full of many small human beings.

All classroom educators of any experience level must master the classroom management phase to possess pedagogical effectiveness. But, they are not alone at the campus; the elementary principal must support classroom teachers with year-long assistance, as needed. But, the process begins during August PD when the campus administration convey that effective classroom management is directly related to student learning and heightened outcomes.

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