Yes, having engaging lessons is an important element of good overall classroom management, but it's not enough.
We live in the world as it is, and not as we'd like it to be. No matter how good of a teacher you are, not every lesson is going to be engaging to every student. Not only might the content or the process not hit the mark, but our students experience stress both inside and outside of school that affects how they see and act in the world - just as we all do. If a student is having relationship troubles, or his parents had a big fight the night before, or she is having a toothache and is without dental insurance -- all these challenges can affect how a student will behave in the classroom.
So, then, what might be some guidelines for a long-term and effective classroom management strategy?
Here are my suggestions:
1. Teach engaging lessons:
As I mentioned, it isn't all you need, but it is an important part of it. Happily, the publisher of one of my books, Helping Students Motivate Themselves,
has made the chapter titled "What Are The Best Things You Can Do To Maximize The Chances Of A Lesson Being Successful
?" freely available online. Though it's too complex for all but advanced English Language Learners, I also have my students who are English proficient read it when they prepare to teach lessons to their classmates.
2. Build relationships with students:
Study after study has found that not only are good student relationships important for classroom management, they are also critical for student academic progress (see The Best Resources On The Importance Of Building Positive Relationships With Students
). Think about it - are you more likely to do what someone asks you to do if you trust and like that person, or if you have negative feelings about him/her? On top of that, knowing a students' interests, hopes and dreams makes it easier to help tailor lessons to engage them.
3. Focus on intrinsic motivation:
Forget any kind of points system (for the vast majority of students). Few want to feel like rats in a maze. Plenty of research demonstrates that extrinsic motivation is effective in encouraging work that is mechanical, but has a negative impact on developing higher-order and creative thinking (see The Best Posts & Articles On "Motivating" Students
). Emphasize the four qualities that researchers have found
encourages intrinsic motivation:
- Autonomy: having a degree of control over what needs to happen and how it can be done
- Competence: feeling that one has the ability to be successful in doing it
- Relatedness: doing the activity helps them feel more connected to others, and feel cared about by people whom they respect
- Relevance: the work must be seen by students as interesting and valuable to them, and useful to their present lives and/or hopes and dreams for the future.
You can read about practical actions teachers can take in the classroom to implement these characteristics at my Edutopia article, Strategies For Helping Students Motivate Themselves.
4. Apologize when you make a mistake:
I can't count the number of times students have told me that one of the ways I'm different from many other teachers is that I apologize when I screw-up, and it happens a lot. Teachers are human, and humans make a lot of mistakes. Not only can we diffuse a tense situation by apologizing for our role in the problem, but we can be great role models for our students for behavior in and out of school (see The Best Resources On The Importance Of Saying "I'm Sorry"
5. Punish only when absolutely necessary:
There will be times when negative consequences are appropriate. However, there have also been many times when every fiber of my being has wanted to punish, but restraining myself and, instead, expressing how student actions have made me feel and discussing alternative ways to act in the future have often resulted in clearly better resolutions. When a consequence is required though, inviting students to share their ideas about appropriate ones can make a big difference in long-term lessons they carry with them (see The Best Posts, Articles & Videos Explaining Why Punishment Is Often Not The Best Classroom Strategy
What guidelines would you add?
Larry Ferlazzo teaches English and Social Studies at Luther Burbank High School in Sacramento, California. He has written eight books on education, include three on teaching English Language Learners, writes a teacher advice blog for Education Week Teacher, and has his own popular resource-sharing blog. He writes a weekly post for the New York Times on teaching English Language Learners.