Set a Tone for Classroom Discipline

Effective classroom management reduces student misbehavior

Good classroom management goes hand-in-hand with student discipline. Educators from the novice to the experienced need to consistently practice good classroom management to reduce student behavioral problems.

To achieve good classroom management, educators must understand how social and emotional learning (SEL) influences the quality of teacher-student relationships and how that relationship influences classroom management design. The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning describes SEL as "the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions."

Classrooms with management that meets academic and SEL goals require less disciplinary action. However, even the best classroom manager can use a few tips at times to compare his or her process with evidence-based examples of success. These seven classroom management tactics reduce misbehavior so teachers can focus their energy on making effective use of their instructional time.

01
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Plan for Blocks of Time

Classroom
Chris Hondros/Getty Images

In their book, The Key Elements of Classroom Management, Joyce McLeod, Jan Fisher and Ginny Hoover explain that good classroom management begins with planning the time available. 

Discipline problems generally occur when students become disengaged. To keep them focused, teachers need to plan different blocks of time in the classroom. Allocated time accounts for the total span of teacher instruction and student learning. Instructional time covers the time teachers spend actively teaching. During engaged time, students work on tasks on their own. And in academic learning time, teachers prove that students learned the content or mastered a particular skill.

Each block of time in the classroom, no matter how short, should be planned. Predictable routines help structure blocks of time in the classroom. Predictable teacher routines include opening activities, which ease transitions into class; routine checks for understanding and routine closing activities. Predictable student routines work with partner practice, group work, and independent work.

02
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Plan Engaging Instruction

Classroom and Teacher
Engaging instruction is a key component to good classroom management. Fuse/Getty Images

According to a 2007 report sponsored by the National Comprehensive Center for Teacher Quality, highly effective instruction reduces but does not fully eliminate classroom behavior problems.

In the report, Effective Classroom Management: Teacher Preparation and Professional Development, Regina M. Oliver and Daniel J. Reschly, Ph.D., note that instruction with the ability to encourage academic engagement and on-task behavior usually has:

  • Instructional material that students find educationally relevant;
  • A planned sequential order that is ​logically related to skill development at students' instructional level;
  • Frequent opportunities for students to respond to academic tasks; 
  • Guided practice;
  • Immediate feedback and error correction.

The National Education Association offers these recommendations for motivating students, based on the premise that students need to know why the lesson, activity or assignment matters:

  • Give students a  voice.
  • Give students a choice.
  • Make instruction fun or enjoyable.
  • Make instruction real or authentic.
  • Make instruction relevant.
  • Use the technology tools of today.
03
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Prepare for Disruptions

Paper Plane in a Classroom
Getty Images

A typical school day is loaded with disruptions, from announcements on the PA system to a student acting out in class. Teachers need to be flexible and develop a series of plans to deal with anticipated classroom disruptions, which rob students of precious in-class time.

Prepare for transitions and potential disruptions. Consider the following suggestions:

  • Place lesson objectives and resources in an area of the classroom where students can see them. Tell students where they can find lesson information online. In the event of a fire drill or lockdown, students know where to access information.
  • Identify the typical times for student disruptions and misbehavior, usually at the start of the lesson or class period, when topics change or at the conclusion of a lesson or class period. Be ready to re-task students when they get off the established routine(s).
  • Greet students by name at the door to get a feel for their moods/temperament. Engage students immediately with independent opening activities.
  • Diffuse conflicts (student-to-student or student-to-teacher) in the classroom with a series of steps: by re-tasking, by engaging in dialogue, by temporarily relocating a student to a designated  "cooling off" area or, if a situation warrants, by speaking to a student as privately as possible. Teachers should use a non-threatening tone in private talks with misbehaving students.
  • As a last resort, consider removing a student from the classroom. But first alert the main office or guidance department. Removing a student from the classroom gives both parties a chance to cool off, but it should never become a routine practice.
Classroom Layout
Classroom layout can help reduce discipline problems when teachers can easily access all areas to supervise. Getty Images

The physical environment of the classroom contributes to instruction and student behavior.

As part of a good classroom management plan to reduce discipline problems, the physical arrangement of furniture, resources (including technology) and supplies must achieve the following: 

  • The physical arrangement eases traffic flow, minimizes distractions and provides teacher(s) with good access to students.
  •  The classroom setup assists with transitions between various classroom activities and limits distractions. 
  • The classroom setup supports quality student interactions for particular classroom activities.
  • The design of the classroom physical space ensures adequate supervision of all areas. 
  • The classroom setup contains clearly designated areas for staff and students.
More »
Disciplining a Student
For successful classroom management to work, educators must be perceived as being fair and consistent. Fuse/Getty Images

Teachers must treat all students respectfully and equitably. When students perceive unfair treatment in the classroom, whether they are on the receiving end of it or just a bystander, discipline problems can ensue.

There is a case to be made for differentiated discipline, however. Students come to school with specific needs, socially and academically, and educators should not be so set in their thinking that they approach discipline with a one-size-fits-all policy.

Additionally, zero tolerance policies rarely work. Instead, data demonstrates that by focusing on teaching behavior rather than simply punishing misbehavior, educators can maintain order and preserve a student's opportunity to learn.

It is also important to provide students with specific feedback about their behaviors and social skills, especially after an incident. More »

People looking up
Setting high expectations is important to good classroom management. JGI/Jamie Grill/Getty Images

Educators should set high expectations for student behavior and for academics. Expect students to behave, and they likely will.

Remind them of expected behavior, for example, by saying: "During this whole group session, I expect you to raise your hands and be recognized before you start speaking. I also expect you to respect each other's opinions and listen to what each person has to say."

According to the Education Reform Glossary: 

The concept of high expectations is premised on the philosophical and pedagogical belief that a failure to hold all students to high expectations effectively denies them access to a high-quality education, since the educational achievement of students tends to rise or fall in direct relation to the expectations placed upon them.

In contrast, lowering expectations -- for behavior or for academics -- for certain groups perpetuates many of the conditions that "can contribute to lower educational, professional, financial, or cultural achievement and success." More »

07
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Make Rules Understandable

Classroom Rules List
Students should have a voice in creating classroom rules. Thinkstock/Getty Images

Classroom rules must align with the school rules. Revisit them regularly, and establish clear consequences for rule-breakers.

In making the classroom rules, consider the following suggestions:

  • Involve students in all aspects of creating the classroom management plan.
  • Keep things simple. Five (5) simply stated rules should be enough; too many rules make students feel overwhelmed.
  • Establish those rules that cover behaviors that specifically interfere with the learning and engagement of your students.
  • Keep the language appropriate to the developmental level of the students. 
  • Refer to rules regularly and positively.
  • Develop rules for various situations in and out of school (fire drill, field trips, sporting events, etc.).
  • Use evidence-based practices to see how rules work -- or not. Monitor the effectiveness of school-wide rules using data.