Classroom management is a tricky one! Our 6 tips come from Susan Phillips, she's been teaching high school science classes for over 30 years. Her approach has worked well for her style and her students. Let us know your thoughts!
I like to start my classes with a firm, no-nonsense tone. This makes it clear to my students that I take class time seriously and expect them to do the same. There’s no unfriendliness or overbearing rules, just a clear set of standards I expect from my students.
It’s worked best for me to start with a firm impression and relax my tone over time. Trying to start out with a more relaxed style is tempting, but it can come back to bite you in the long run. It’s so much harder to move from relaxed to strict; it’s like dragging boulders up-hill!
Keep in mind that high school students need discipline and direction, but they also need to hear respect in your voice and see it in your manner. As young adults they deserve this from you. Don’t come across like you’re training wayward puppies. Be genuine, clear, and honest about your expectations. Never expect students to uphold a standard that you don’t meet yourself.
An important first step in my class is starting with a clear agreement between myself, my students, and their parents. Instead of tossing it in as a paragraph in another document, I’ve found that a standalone course description works well for this.
With a little forethought, course descriptions can be an effective classroom management tool. I recommend including your expectations for the class and outlining the most important points of class behavior and rules. Don’t let your message get lost in too many details. The students won’t remember them and you’ll be tying your own hands. Keep things general so you can fit specific issues under the umbrella of the course description as they arise throughout the year.
My students take the course description home to be signed by a parent or guardian. I have them keep a copy in their class binder and I keep one for any future disciplinary issues. Referring back to this signed agreement has saved me from many headaches over the years.
As you talk to your students about your course description, consider spending some time going over your highest priorities and discussing the progression of consequences if behavior gets out of line. Of course, this means you’ll need to have a series of consequences outlined before you talk to your students. I always run these by my administrators and show them my course description so I know my position is supported. You don’t want to set up a consequence that doesn’t have any backbone!
Don’t make your expectations sound like threats to your students. Your guidelines should be simple facts that govern your classroom. If a student crosses the line, it is important that you consistently follow through with the specific consequence you outline at the beginning of the year. As tedious as this process can be at first, students are much less likely to push your boundaries once they’ve seen your consistency.
You should keep in mind that most students will not be accustomed to a course with this much structure. It may be a surprise to them that you have rules and standards you expect them to maintain – and even more of a surprise when you actually enforce those standards! If this is the case for you, be ready for complaints from the students and possibly their parents. Don’t take the complaints personally; it’s 100% normal for people to complain when something is new and uncomfortable. Humans have a difficult time with change and you’re going to be the focus of their unhappiness while they adjust. Keep an objective mindset and realize that they’ll learn to respect you and your standards as long as you’re consistent and fair.
The complaint period will probably last through the first couple of weeks as issues come up and your students realize you mean what you say. You’ll need the support of your administrators during this time, so don’t neglect talking with them before school starts. Let them know your plan and show them your documents. If you’ve cleared things with them and prepared them for what might be coming, they’ll be ready to back you up and support your standards.
Something as simple as a good seating chart can make a world of difference for a smooth classroom experience. Those two goofy clowns sitting next to each other and disrupting the class with their totally off-topic, albeit hilarious, chatter? Handle the problem before it starts! Talk with other teachers and administrators about your class roster. Find out which students are likely to need more management and what they’ll respond to. Think of a new class as a mini-research project. Putting in a small amount of work upfront can pay off for the entire year.
Part of effective leadership and management is having a log of issues and how you handled them. When something happens in class, make a record of it as soon as you can. Keep parents and administrators updated with what’s going on in a matter-of-fact way. It is particularly important to keep the tone of any message you send to parents informative rather than accusatory. Ideally, you want parents to be on your side. Most parents will respond well if they understand that your goal is for their child to have a successful year! Maintaining an ongoing log can get tedious, but I’ve found it to be very effective in getting the support of parents and administrators. It’s really worth the effort to keep your class running smoothly.
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