If you’re like me, right now you’re feeling like this winter is never going to end…never! And in Michigan, the unusual amount of snow days we have had are starting to take a toll. Teachers are feeling worn down, students are talking non-stop, they haven’t been outside in weeks, and the routine…what routine? It has completely gone out the window. So, it’s time to remind ourselves that we need to re-evaluate our classroom management routines. What’s working? What’s not?
We need to review the rules and expectations as a class and practice, practice, practice. And we might even need to switch it up and try something new and fresh. Whatever you choose is up to you, but here are 15 ideas to regain control, get back into routine, and tighten up the reins on your classroom management. These are quick, easy, and help me to stay consistent, while holding students accountable. Your routine shouldn’t be something that takes up too much time throughout the day that you can’t keep up with it.
1. Think About Your Space
Your classroom setup may have worked at the beginning of the year, but may no longer be working and need some tweaking. Think about how your tables/desks are setup and how students use each area of the classroom. Is it working well? Are there other ways you could implement the same routine but in a different way that would work more efficiently?
I like to set my student desks up in groups of 2 or 3 where they can discuss ideas with a partner/partners, but not get distracted by too many students by them. Some teachers like individual rows while others like table groups. It depends on your teaching style and preference and how you expect your students to communicate about their learning in your classroom.
2. Revamp Your Daily Schedule
Last year, after reviewing my middle of the year data, I completely changed my classroom schedule. I had student needs that were all over the place, and whole group reading instruction just wasn’t working. We started a new routine from scratch that allowed more opportunity for students to work in smaller groups (Daily 5) while I was able to meet with individual students more often. Though it scared me, I needed to do something drastic to meet the needs of all of my students and they still made progress.
3. Plan Your Transitions
Transitions can often be difficult for students, especially if they are doing something they love to do (centers, for example). I usually give them a 5 minute reminder and a 1 minute reminder before we transition, so they know what to expect and can finish anything that isn’t done (or put it in the unfinished work basket to be finished later). Then, I start a visual timer on the projector during clean up so they know how much time they have until the next activity. If there are directions to follow, such as turning to a page number in a book, I have it written on the board before starting the transition.
I have seen that other teachers will write a focus question on the board for students to copy down and answer while the teacher is preparing for the next lesson. Having something for students to do while others are still cleaning up and getting ready for the next activity will save time and help to control negative behaviors.
4. Team Building Activities
Since classroom management routines have already been in place for several months, this doesn’t need to take several weeks. Depending on your students it may only need to take a day or two. Focus on team building activities. Have students get in groups to discuss and write down the rules and expectations for each part of the day. For younger students, they could act out what they are expected to do. They can write a few words on sticky notes and post on an anchor chart to view for the next few days as the class is reestablishing a routine.
5. Identify Students that Need More Attention
These students may be different than the beginning of the year due to a new classroom dynamic and behaviors you have already addressed. Then assign them another student or buddy to help them when they get frustrated. Other students will love the responsibility. Check in with them frequently to see how things are going and if they need additional help.
6. Check Behaviors
This seems like a no-brainer. It’s something that experienced teachers usually do on auto-pilot. But, we sometimes get lazy as the year goes on and we establish a routine. It’s easy to assume they know the rules and expectations and we expect them to make good choices and do exactly what they’re supposed to do. We learn which students push our buttons and we have to stay on top of. We end up spending all of our time focusing on their behavior to neglect the positive reinforcement the other students in our classroom need to hold them accountable too. Scan the room for different behaviors, the goal being to focus more on positive behaviors you can reward than negative behaviors that hold most of our attention.
7. Rewards and Consequences
Be sure you know what you are going to do when you have to deal with student discipline. The system that I like to use is the stoplight system (Red, yellow, green cards they flip with they are making poor choices. With kindergarten, I have also added a white card to give them one more chance since they’re still learning school behaviors). Something visual for young students helps them to see their behavior.
When a student has some poor behaviors we know what we’re going to do. But when they have good behaviors, often their parents do not hear about it enough. We don’t want to be the teacher that only communicates with parents and families when their child does something wrong. This is the reason when parents don’t like to answer the phone when the school calls (sigh). Here are some ideas I have used for positive reinforcement:
- Write a note
- Fill out a monthly calendar
- Apps (Remind, Seesaw, or Class Dojo are a few examples)
Write a note in the student’s folder or have notes that are already filled out for certain expectations that you can slip in their planner. Simply write in their name and the date and you’re all set!
At the request of some parents, I have also used a calendar in the past to record the color my students were on at the end of the day. The calendar was sent back and forth throughout the month, and at the end of the month, I filed it away to keep track of their behavior.
Last year, I began using the Remind app, which sends text messages or emails to parents. I was also able to snap a quick photo of my students and send it to them. It kept my contact information private (I never give out my personal phone number) and was a quick way to communicate with families in a way they feel comfortable.
8. Deal with Small Behavior Before They Get Out of Control
This can be sooo hard to do at this point in the year and when we’re tired! My first few years of teaching I let the small stuff go because I wanted to be the “nice” teacher. I soon realized the small behaviors – interrupting me while I was teaching, or making rude comments – quickly snowball into bigger behaviors that are much more difficult to deal with. Then, before I knew it, they were talking out of turn constantly, doing whatever they wanted, and I struggled to regain control all of the time.
So, deal with problems while they are small. It could be as simple as a look, a hand gesture, saying their name, or giving them a quick reminder. As long as you and they know what the consequence is if they do it again, it usually helps to maintain control.
9. Introduce a Behavior Plan
No matter how hard we try or what system we use, no one thing works for every student. This is highly frustrating! Typically the most challenging behaviors are the ones that take us the longest to figure out and the system we use with the other children just doesn’t work. However, we need to do what each student needs, and these are also the children that are begging for attention.
So, get the whole class involved. Have the other students point out that child’s positive behavior and encourage them. Then celebrate! Do a class cheer, start a reward jar, give them a coupon for good behavior, and like I said earlier, I always write a positive note home. It’s important these families, along with your difficult students, know that you care about them and are trying to do what is best for them to succeed. I know it’s hard when they are screaming in your face “You don’t care about me! No one cares about me” at the beginning of the school year, but it will get easier.
10. Offer Incentives
Students not handing in their work on time? Is their attention slipping at a certain time of day? If you’ve tried everything else, another way to reward good behaviors is to offer incentives. It could be a homework pass to students who turn in a week’s worth of spelling assignments on time. If students are late, offer a free day to use the iPads at the end of the day for students who are on time for a month. Make sure parents are informed of these incentives too to get the whole family involved!
11. Practice, Practice, Practice
Treat this time of year like the first day of school and review your classroom rules and routines. If you need to, you can take out rules you don’t need because they are working or unnecessary at this point in the year. Then you can add to your rules to focus on the ones your students are struggling with.
12. Get Their Attention
After much trial and error, I have found that conscious discipline is what works for me the best to get my students’ attention. Some teachers still use the turn out the lights trick, and some ineffectively keep telling their students to be quiet. In the past, I have said “One, two” and students respond “Eyes on you.” This year, I have been saying “Class class” and clap twice. They then clap twice and respond “yes yes.” This does two things. It provides a signal they don’t hear all of the time, so they listen for what is coming next. It also gets their hands off of any materials they are using. They then know to put them in their lap, look at me, and be ready to hear the directions.
For a comprehensive list of 25 attention getters to calm a noisy classroom, check out this post from Education to the Core.
13. Stay Organized
It’s easier to deal with student behaviors when you know where everything is, can find everything easily, and students know where to find everything and put it away. This is probably the most time consuming of the classroom management routines to set up initially, but an organized classroom helps reduce behaviors by focusing students’ attention on learning and not all of the clutter. And, following a consistent daily routine as much as possible will make everyone’s day run smoother. Children thrive on routine! If students know exactly what they are going to do and what happens next less behaviors will arrive because they won’t be wondering about the unknowns. It also allows you more time to focus on teaching and learning, and in classroom management routines.
For a quick tip on how I store all of my copies for the week, check out this post on Classroom Organization.
14. Student Portfolios
If you haven’t started one already earlier in the year, now is a great time to encourage students to do their best work with their own portfolio. I allow my students to select the work they want to put in their portfolio at the end of the year (with, I typically select two assignments and give them a choice between this or that). Some teachers make specific projects with their students (monthly calendar pages, writing pieces, etc.) to share with families as an end of the year keepsake.
15. Out with the Old
If you’ve ever heard the expression “Out with the old, in with the new” then you understand how sometimes we just need to take down our decorations and put up a new bulletin board. I am constantly changing them to reflect what we are learning with learning charts (I keep the old one easily accessible to we can refer back to them when needed). I have a few holiday or seasonal decorations I put out to make my classroom feel warm and inviting. So, those get put away to make room for new ones. If possible, I get my students involved to help me freshen things up. They love it!
Hopefully these tips will help you to tighten up your classroom management routines to finish the year out strong! Although these are just small things to help you, there are many things we do as teachers to help our kids learn and grow. If you have any great ideas on how to tighten up your classroom management, be sure to comment below!