Being proactive is a key classroom management strategy to ensure the classroom remains a safe and productive environment

5 classroom management strategies to try this year

Being proactive is a key classroom management strategy to ensure the classroom remains a safe and productive environment

A rise in harassment and violence against teachers is taking a toll on already-exhausted educators. A recent survey from the American Psychological Association found that 6 in 10 teachers reported student violence or verbal aggression during the pandemic, with nearly half expressing a desire or plan to quit or transfer schools.

To create a teaching environment where educators feel safe, school leaders may want to consider adding evidence-based behavior management strategies to their back-to-school plan. The more preventative maintenance teachers can do through proactive strategies, the less likely they will encounter problem behavior.

Here are five classroom management strategies to help educators regain control of their classrooms: 

1. Understanding students 

Getting to know each student individually will enable teachers to better evaluate the nature of the problem behavior when it occurs and respond appropriately. Additionally, challenging behaviors are much less likely when a teacher and student build a rapport based on trust and understanding. To build this rapport, teachers’ nonverbal behavior and paraverbal communication need to reflect their compassion for each student.

2. Practicing patience

An important de-escalation skill is what the Crisis Prevention Institute (CPI) terms “Rational Detachment”–the ability to manage one’s behavior and attitude and not take the behavior of others personally. When faced with student misbehavior, instead of thinking something like, “I can’t take this disrespect anymore,” teachers can use positive self-talk such as, “I’ve seen this before. This behavior is not about me. What is it about, and how can I help?”

Many educators know that not taking disrespectful or defiant behavior personally is a skill acquired through practice. Every challenging incident allows teachers to demonstrate that they are in charge, calm, and assured (even if they do not feel that way in the moment). As educators practice the strategies suggested below, they will become inoculated against student challenges to their authority.

3. Staying Calm

The first step in practicing rational detachment is remaining calm. When teachers encounter disrespectful or challenging behavior, starting with a deep breath will help them relax and remain silent, allowing them to further assess the situation at hand. Conversely, if a teacher overreacts, the entire class will take note of the cause, which virtually guarantees that some students will try it again. However, remaining calm does not mean ignoring the problem. From the students’ perspective, a teacher will have backed down and relinquished authority. Consequently, both overreacting and ignoring the situation result in the loss of control and authority.

The second step is simply to wait calmly and silently while assuming a supportive stance (i.e., standing askance or sideways to the student who issued the challenge) and “model cognition” (i.e., the teacher acts like they are thinking). An example of the latter action is standing with a hand on one’s chin, perhaps tapping the index finger to give the impression of thinking. These body positions are supportive, non-confrontational, and, most importantly, signal a willing determination without adding any more tension to a volatile situation.

The simple act of waiting, combined with a supportive stance, often solves the problem without the teacher ever having to say a word. Teachers have reported experiences where the silent period (usually lasting only five to nine seconds) causes the student to throw up their hands in defeat and say something like, “Fine. I’ll do it even though it’s dumb!” and storm back to his seat. Teachers can later address the student’s misbehavior on their own terms and set effective limits.

4. Setting effective limits 

Establishing clear, consistent classroom expectations can help students monitor their own behavior. Post the expectations where they are clearly visible so they can serve as reminders. Additionally, they should be stated in simple and positive terms that address what students can do. For example, instead of saying, “No side talk,” the posted expectations should say, “Please raise your hand to add to the conversation.”

5. Being aware of the causes of misbehavior

In all cases, a proper response to student misbehavior begins early in the chain of events. Being mindful of precipitating factors–preexisting circumstances that cause distress behavior–and early warning signs can prevent an incident. For example, if a student seems consistently irritable or inattentive in the morning, could hunger be causing the behavior? Can steps be taken to ensure the student gets breakfast in the cafeteria before class, or can the teacher keep granola bars on hand? Classroom management is not just about avoiding student disruptions. It’s also about creating an environment that enables students to focus on learning.

A common saying at CPI is, “Conflict is inevitable, but combat is optional.” Being proactive is the key to reducing the frequency and intensity of incidents so that the classroom can remain a safe, productive environment for students and teachers.

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