4 Principles of Classroom Management and Social Emotional Learning

Planning, Environment, Relationships, and Observation for Classroom Management

The connection between social emotional learning and classroom management is well-documented. There is a library of research, such as the 2014 report Social Emotional Learning is Essential to Classroom Management by Stephanie M. JonesRebecca Bailey, Robin Jacob  which documents how students' social-emotional development can support learning and improve academic achievement. 

Their research confirms how specific social-emotional learning programs that "can help teachers understand children’s development and provide them strategies to use with students effectively."

The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) offers guides to other social emotional learning programs that are also evidence based. Many of these programs establish that teachers need two things to manage their classrooms: knowledge about how children develop and strategies for dealing effectively with student behavior. 

In the Jones, Bailey, and Jacob study, classroom management was improved by combining social emotional learning with the principles of planning, environment, relationships, and observation.

They noted that across all classrooms and grade levels, these four principles of effective management using social emotional learning are constant: 

  1. Effective classroom management is based in planning and preparation;
  2. Effective classroom management is an extension of the quality of relationships in the room;
  3. Effective classroom management is embedded in the school environment; and
  4. Effective classroom management includes ongoing processes of observation and documentation.
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Planning and Preparation -Classroom Management

Planning is critical for good classroom management. Hero Images/GETTY Images

The first principle is that effective classroom management must be planned especially in terms of transitions and potential disruptions. Consider the following suggestions:

  1. Names are power in the classroom. Address students by name. Access a seating chart ahead of time or prepare seating charts ahead of time; create name tents for each student to grab on their way into class and take to their desks or have  students to create their own name tents on a piece of paper.
  2. Identify the common times for student disruptions and behaviors, usually at the start of the lesson or class period, when topics are changed, or at the wrap-up and conclusion of a lesson or class period.
  3. Be ready for the behaviors outside of the classroom that are brought into the classroom, especially at the secondary level when classes change. Plans to engage students immediately with opening activities ("Do nows", anticipation guide, entry slips, etc.) can help ease transitions into class. 


Educators that plan for the inevitable transitions and disruptions can help avoid problem behaviors and maximize the time spent in an ideal learning environment. 

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Quality Relationships- Classroom Management

Include students in creating classroom rules. Thinkstock/GETTY Images

Second, effective classroom management is a result of relationships in the classroom. Teachers need to develop warm and responsive relations with students that have boundaries and consequences. Students understand that "It's not what you say that matters; it's how you say it."When students know that you believe in them, they will interpret even harsh-sounding comments as statements of care.

Consider the following suggestions:

  1.  Involve students in all aspects of creating the classroom management plan;
  2. In creating rules or class norms, keep things as simple as possible. Five (5) rules should be enough-too many rules make students feel overwhelmed;
  3. Establish those rules that cover behaviors that specifically interfere with the learning and engagement of your students;
  4. Refer to rules or classroom norms positively and briefly.  
  5. Address students by name;
  6. Engage with students: smile, tap their desk, greet them at the door, ask questions that shows you remember something the student has mentioned—these small gestures do much to develop relationships.
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School Environment- Classroom Management

Conferencing is a strategy that is a powerful classroom management tool. GETTY Images

Third, effective management is supported by routines and structures that are embedded into the classroom environment. 

Consider the following suggestions:

  1. Develop a routine with students at the start of class and at the end of class so that students know what to expect.
  2. Be effective when giving instructions by keeping them short, clear, and concise.  Do not repeat directions over and over, but provide directions-written and or visual- for students to reference.   
  3. Provide an opportunity for students to acknowledge understanding of the instruction given. Asking for students to hold a thumbs up or thumbs down (close to the body) can be a quick assessment before moving on.
  4. Designate areas in the classroom for student access so that they know where to grab a slip of paper or a book; where they should leave papers.   
  5. Circulate in the classroom when students are engaged in completing activities or working in groups. Groups of desks together allow teachers to move quickly and engage all students. Circulating allows teachers the chance to gauge time needed, and answer individual questions students might have.
  6. Conference regularly. Time spent speaking individually with a student reaps exponentially high rewards in managing the class. Set aside 3-5 minutes a day to speak to a student about a specific assignment or to ask "how's it going" with a paper or book.
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Observation and Documentation - Classroom Management

Classroom management means recording patterns of student performance and behaviors. altrendo images/GETTY Images

Finally, teachers who are effective classroom managers continuously observe and document their learning, reflect and then act on noticeable patterns and behaviors in a timely manner.

Consider the following suggestions:

  1. Use positive rewards (log books, student contracts, tickets, etc) that allow you to record student behaviors; look for systems that provide opportunities for students to chart their own behaviors as well.
  2. Include parents and guardians in classroom management. There are a number of opt-in programs (Kiku Text, SendHub, Class Pager, and Remind 101) that can be used to keep parents updated on classroom activities. E-mails provide direct documented communication. 
  3. Take note of general patterns by noting how students behave during the assigned period of time:
  • When students are most active (after lunch? first 10 minutes of class?)
  • When to introduce new material (which day of week? what minute of the class?)
  • Time the transitions so you can plan accordingly (time for entry or exit slip? time to settle into group work?)
  • Notice and record combinations of students (who works well together? separately?)

Timeliness is critical in classroom management. Dealing with minor problems as soon as they surface can head off major situations or stop problems before they escalate.

Classroom Management is Central to Teacher Practice

Successful student learning depends on a teacher's ability to manage the group as a whole--keeping the attention of students, whether there are 10 or more than 30 in the room. Understanding how to incorporate social emotional learning can help redirect negative or distracting student behavior. When teachers appreciate the critical importance of social emotional learning, they can better implement these four principals of classroom management in order to optimize student motivation, student engagement, and, ultimately, student achievement.
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Bennett, Colette. "4 Principles of Classroom Management and Social Emotional Learning." ThoughtCo, Feb. 21, 2017, thoughtco.com/principles-of-classroom-management-3862444. Bennett, Colette. (2017, February 21). 4 Principles of Classroom Management and Social Emotional Learning. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/principles-of-classroom-management-3862444 Bennett, Colette. "4 Principles of Classroom Management and Social Emotional Learning." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/principles-of-classroom-management-3862444 (accessed September 24, 2017).