Classroom Management for Elementary, Middle School, and High School Students
Teaching is a tough profession. Although some educators walk in and take control with that “je ne sais quoi” attitude, it’s not so easy for others. There’s no one-size-fits-all classroom management magic either, because student behavior is so complex. Luckily, teachers are great collaborators and love to share classroom management ideas. Regardless of the age group or grade level you’re teaching, keep reading for our comprehensive list of classroom management tips, all the way from elementary school to high school.
Classroom Management Strategies for Elementary Teachers
Elementary school kids have the largest range of skills and cognitive development, it’s difficult to compare a first grader and a fifth grader. The former is still learning to count by twos while the latter can understand basic algebra. However, elementary school is a good time for students to establish good habits and hopefully continue to do so in middle and high school. Let’s take a look at some general techniques to plant those seeds early on.
General Classroom Management Techniques
Most of the techniques listed below focus on organization, clear boundaries, and positive reinforcement. Because students at this age are unable to set boundaries for their own behaviors, it’s important that classroom expectations are clear.
Tip #1: Keep the classroom organized
The first step in catching disruptive behavior before it happens is through seating charts, well-labeled drawers and bins, and being able to see all the kids in one scan. Unorganized supplies means more time spent finding materials for projects, but a physical organizational system can help curb this issue.
Tip #2: Be clear about rules
Whether you’re an authoritarian or you run a more democratic classroom, the classroom rules should be clear to everyone. Hang a poster with expectations and rules at the front of the classroom, and refer to that list often. For example, if one of the rules is to line up before leaving for recess, teachers can ask students to read it aloud before they get up from their desks.
Tip #3: Be consistent
There’s no use in posting and referring to rules if students realize that they don’t need to follow them all the time. Just like anyone who finds a loophole in the system, students will push the boundaries to see how far they can go before the teacher says something. There may be that one student who inserts herself at the front of the line for recess. A nice but firm request for her to please move to the back of the line is all a teacher needs to do to reinforce the rule.
Tip #4: Learn students’ names
The faster you know each student’s name, the sooner you can start forming a more personal connection with each kid. Keeping in line with the recess example, if a student cuts the line or misbehaves, knowing that student’s name makes it easy for you to quickly request that he/she re-read and follow the rule. In this case, “hey you!” just doesn’t have the same impact.
Tip #5: Get their attention first
If students aren’t paying attention to instructions, they cannot complete a task. If they don’t know what they’re supposed to do, well, that’s just prime time to chat with Bobby (who paid attention and is trying to work). There are many ways to do this, from the “I raise my hand, and everyone who sees me stops talking and raises their hand too” to asking to see everyone’s eyeballs. Whatever you do, make sure students are paying attention before you start talking.
Tip #6: Praise in public, correct in private
Kids just want to fit in. To help them avoid standing out in a negative way, avoid singling out a kid and correcting him/her in front of the entire class. This is the surest and fastest way to lose trust and corrode the learning environment.
Tip #7: Have a back-up plan. Or get help
Some students might require an alternative behavioral plan, so don’t be afraid to reach out to parents or other teachers for ideas. It can be useful at times to ask a colleague to come observe the class and provide objective feedback. You might teach with the classroom door closed, but you’re not in this alone.
Specific Daily Classroom Management Procedures
Practice makes perfect, and in order to learn, one needs to take action (and make mistakes). The following list includes specific daily procedures, tasks, and activities for students that help make the classroom run more smoothly. Remember Tip #3 about being consistent with general classroom management techniques? These small, but not insignificant, procedures provide that consistency to both teachers and students.
Raise your hand before speaking
Practice this procedure early and often because it’ll be impossible to correct students shouting out answers later in the semester. Raising their hands before speaking also helps students practice self-control and patience.
Line up for ______
Whether you’re going on a field trip or just out to lunch or recess, having a large group of overly excited children run out the door is disorganized and unsafe. Have students practice lining up quietly, no matter where the class is going.
Remind students of the concept of time
Aside from learning how to read time, students need to practice time management skills. As an activity or project is coming to an end, announce how much time is left so students start to get a feel for when to wrap things up.
Write the agenda on the board
The unknown is a scary thing, even in school. Writing the day’s or week’s agenda on the board lets students know what is coming, when homework is due, and helps them organize their planners.
Be clear about technology rules
Make sure that you’re consistent about how you enforce technology rules. If Sammy can call his mom on his cell phone, why can’t the rest of the class? Technology should make retrieving information more efficient, not become a distraction.
Have a system for organizing supplies
It’s great to give students the independence to retrieve and put away their own supplies, however, make sure they are following your organizational rules. Labels and easy-to-remember systems (colored pencils are stored in the rainbow-colored bin) are good ways to organize supplies.
Lock down a bathroom policy
When nature calls and a student has to go, s/he has to go. Having a procedure in place for bathroom breaks prevents a giant line of dancing children in front of the toilet stalls.
Set up an in-and-out box
Have a designated folder or box for students to hand in their homework assignments and another for them to pick up graded assignments.
Have students highlight their name before turning in work
Students might forget to put their names on their assignments. This small procedure is a little reminder for those who forget, and it’ll save you from playing the “whose handwriting is this?” game.
Greet all students at the door
Teaching and learning is all about the teacher-student relationship. For some students, acknowledgment and acceptance from a teacher is enough for them to “buy in.”
Create a procedure for students to follow when asking for help
When students need help, they need to let teachers know in an obvious, but non-disruptive way. Students need to know that help will arrive soon, but maybe not in this very instance. What procedure you choose depends on what you’re comfortable with and your classroom dynamics.
Create a routine for preparing for lunch
Like any other fun activity, a trip to the cafeteria can quickly deteriorate into chaos. Have students practice lining up, waiting politely and quietly, and any other behaviors you want fellow diners to have at your local restaurant.
Have a routine for turning in lost items
Finders are not keepers. Help students practice being good citizens by creating a fun routine for turning in lost items. This routine could apply to the finder (such as writing an inquiry letter to the class) and the owner (who will then write a “thank you” card to the finder).
Implement signals for attention
Students need to understand that it’s okay to interrupt the teacher in certain situations, but they need to do so politely without disrupting the class. The signal could be as simple as quietly raising a hand.
Have a procedure for what students should do during free time after finishing an assignment
Different students work at different speeds. For those who work fast, make sure they’re not sitting around bored, or idleness will quickly settle in.
Middle School Classroom Management
Middle school is a crucial and important transition period for students. They enter as elementary students and exit as high schoolers. This is the time when puberty starts to happen, when testing the rules is practically a given, and cliques begin to form. Your classroom management style for middle school students may need to change a bit if you’re coming from teaching elementary or high school. Take a look at the list below to see which classroom management strategy works for your classroom.
Classroom Management Strategies for Middle School
For middle school students, it’s all about building skills that they can use in high school (and life). These strategies help maintain a learning atmosphere in the classroom. They also foster positive relationships between teachers and students.
1. First Procedure: Set clear rules
Be clear about what your expectations and rules are. If you use an online learning management system, you can pin classroom expectations at the top of the page. Teachers can also post the rules around the room, as a reminder. Of course, since no one likes a dictator, getting some input from the students helps make the process feel more democratic.
2. Second Procedure: Encourage student input, then accept it
If you’re going to ask for input and advice, then it’s important to consider and implement it. To build goodwill and get the biggest stakeholders—the students—invested in their own learning, teachers could benefit from asking students for their input on what rules should be put in place. Some rules the students come up with are a no-go (ice cream for breakfast!), but others are worth considering. Once the teacher and the class have decided to adopt these rules, they should be enforced just like any other rule.
3. Third Procedure: Be consistent
Rules that cannot be followed consistently are not going to be followed at all. Remember, middle school is a time when rules are meant to be tested, bent, and broken. All the better if kids can get away with it and not have repercussions. If one of the rules is that you won’t accept homework assignments over a week late, don’t make exceptions to this. Unlike rules such as “raise your hand before you speak,” there are many gray areas about what is considered late, extenuating circumstances, and other creative excuses. Create rules that are clear, and then follow through.
4. Fourth Procedure: Students are not your friends
There’s a fine line between creating a healthy relationship with your students and overstepping that boundary to being their friends. Do not insert yourself or your opinions into middle school social drama, but keep an eye out to make sure no one feels bullied or left out for a long period of time. If students want to talk to you about their life, then listen; but you’re not obligated to reciprocate.
5. Fifth Procedure: Stay positive even when correcting a student
Even more so than elementary kids, middle school is a time when students just want to fit in. The teacher, being an authority figure, is someone they want to please. We’ve all been in a class where we felt like the teacher hated us. This isn’t to say you can never point out a mistake, but do so privately and add some positivity. For example: “It’s great that you got your homework in on time. Nice job! There are some things that I want to see for next time, so let’s talk about it.”
6. Sixth Procedure: Model good behavior
If you want to see good behavior, you have to model good behavior for the students. If one of the classroom rules is, “No cell phones out during class,” make sure your own phone is put away. No one likes a hypocrite, and students will be the first to pick up on your modeling. Unfortunately, the old adage of “Do as I say, not as I do” doesn’t fly when it comes to middle school students.
7. Seventh Procedure: Even teachers make mistakes
If you make a mistake, own up to it. If you don’t know something, own up to it. Students need to know that teachers are not perfect either, but it’s also important to show them what to do if they make a mistake or don’t know something. A mistake is a learning opportunity, and classrooms are a place to learn. Encourage students to fix their mistakes and hand in a better version of what they have already written or completed. Encourage them to look up a fact they don’t know or model for students the art of a proper Google search.
8. Eighth Procedure: Love what you teach
If you find your subject uninteresting, so will the students. Ask questions and encourage students to ask questions. If no one knows the answer (procedure 7) or you’re unsure, look it up and encourage the class to do so as well. Find ways to make the content relevant to your life so that you find it interesting, because it’s impossible to make the content interesting only for students. Good classroom management starts with good engagement, and no one wants to engage in boring topics that even the teacher is unenthusiastic about.
9. Ninth Procedure: Give students options, but not too many
For middle school students, too many choices become overwhelming (just watch them do a Google search with no direction or instruction). Too few choices feels constraining and suffocating. This is a time when students want independence, but are not cognitively mature enough to handle full autonomy. Instead of asking students what they want to do, give them two or three options and have them choose. Let them work independently, but assess the learning afterwards and hold them accountable for their own learning process.
10. Tenth Procedure: Don’t forget about the “good” kids
A lot of time is spent in faculty meetings and department meetings going over behavioral strategies and plans. Teachers spend most of their efforts trying to wrangle that one kid who is somehow able to disrupt the entire class. Other students who don’t make waves are often forgotten. Make the time to talk about them in meetings, to write home to their parents about what a great job they’re doing, and to praise them directly.
11. Eleventh Procedure: Figure out the root cause
This procedure is more aimed at students who need some extra attention. Why a child is acting out is always a mystery at first, and it’s the job of the teacher to collaborate with parents, learning specialists, school counselors, psychologists, and other teachers to figure out why. If a student is severely behind in math, perhaps only the math teacher experiences disruptive behavior. If a student experiences trouble at home, the disruptive behavior might exhibit itself in all classes, but in a different way. Whatever the reason for the behavior, it won’t go away until you understand what’s causing it.
High School Classroom Management
High school is a difficult time for both teenagers and the adults charged with their development. However, it’s important to remember that teenagers are people with underdeveloped frontal lobes, surging hormones, and a still-budding self-identity. Good classroom management techniques for high school students and teachers involve redirecting the first two problems to something more productive and giving guidance for the last one.
Classroom Management Strategies for High School
Confidence in your abilities is not only a good model for students, but it also allows you to be authoritative without seeming like you’re “telling them what to do.”
You can’t be anymore than who you are. Teenagers need to see adults who are authentic and true to themselves. It’s the best way to teach students to ignore peer pressure.
Own all of your mistakes
No one is perfect, not even teachers. Own all your mistakes and fix them so that when you ask your students to do the same, they won’t be surprised or find it hypocritical.
Teenagers have the best lie detector—something about those surging hormones, perhaps. They want to know what’s going on without the sugar coating.
High school isn’t a pleasant experience for most students. Sometimes, the straw that breaks the camel’s back is an insensitive comment from a teacher.
Be the adult, not their friend
High school students have their own friends; they don’t need to be yours. Plus, friendship implies equality, and student are still in a very different stage of life than you, not to mention the teacher-student dynamic that requires relationship boundaries.
Establish classroom rules
These are the boundaries and expectations that you set for your classroom.
Have clear boundaries and behavior expectations
The operative word here is “clear.” Your expectations for student behavior are not up for negotiation.
Not being consistent with a rule is basically saying, “Go ahead, break that rule and do whatever you want.”
Don’t confuse fair with equal. Listen to your students, get to know them, and understand where they are coming from before giving a final verdict.
Don’t play favorites
The justice system is supposed to be impartial, and teachers must be as well. Rules apply to everyone, including the smartest kid in the room who always stays late to help you clean up.
Don’t talk down to students
You might not think it’s obvious, but a patronizing tone is something that everyone picks up on, no matter how old they are. Talk to your students like the young adults that they are.
Earn student respect
There’s no formula for earning respect—you either do or you don’t. But it helps to think about the people you respect and how they earned your respect...and then emulate that behavior for your students.
You have the lesson plans and the curriculum all planned out, so stick to what you know is next on your action list. Being decisive translates to being confident, and that is what students need to see in their teachers.
Set high academic expectations
Not everyone will get an A or have an easy time in your class. Give students the challenge and push them to do more. For those who struggle, you can scaffold, differentiate, and accommodate as needed.
Set high behavioral expectations
High school students want to be treated as adults, so hold them to high behavioral standards and help guide them if they have trouble. Not addressing bad behavior is silently acknowledging that it’s okay.
If you make a promise to show a movie on the last day before winter break, then do it. Modeling this type of behavior builds trust and respect and shows students that you have integrity with your word.
Manage outside distractions (phones, tablets, social media, etc)
This can be as simple as a rule that says “all phones on silent in your backpacks.” Or you can use technology, such as GoGuardian’s classroom management solution in Teacher, to combat technology (unsupervised browsing and instant messaging).
Parents are your partners in all of this. Keep open communication with them about what your rules and expectations are so that they help with the consistency at home.
Follow the Golden Rule
No, don’t bribe the kids. Treat them as you would like to be treated. It’s that simple.
There’s always a reason for why someone does something. Listen to what students say to you and to each other. It will help you to understand why they behave the way they do.
Don’t be dismissive
Just because you didn’t have issues with _________ as a teenager, doesn’t mean no one should. If a student comes to you with a concern, listen and respect what they have to say.
But learning is its own reward! The easiest type of reward is something like a pizza party or a grade that looks like a triangle. The hardest and best type of reward is the feeling of satisfaction when a student finally understands what is happening. Structure your classes and your lessons for less of the former and more of the latter.
Create a welcoming community
According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, it’s not possible to learn and self-reflect if one feels unsafe or uncomfortable. Create a classroom that makes everyone feel like they belong.
Would you be comfortable telling a judgmental person about your insecurities? High school students probably wouldn’t either. Don’t expect them to open up to you if your behavior and reactions make them feel as though you’re judging them.
Embrace the chaos
It’s a different kind of chaos with high school students than elementary kids. When kids come in tired and unenthusiastic, roll with it. It happens to all of us.
Be prepared to ask for support
Co-workers, counselors, parents, and learning specialists all work together to help students make the most of their time at school. If you run into a problem, ask for help. You’d want your students to do the same, right?
Believe in yourself
If you don’t believe in yourself, who will? You’re an adult with a fully developed frontal lobe, reasoning skills, and real world experience. If you don’t even believe you can teach, then students definitely won’t.
Know what you want students to learn
The occasional off-topic question or discussion is part of the learning process, but be clear on what skills you want students to walk away with. Even if the class is off topic, they can still practice research and critical thinking skills.
Plan and follow a timeline
Like pirate laws, timelines are more of a guideline than a strict structure. But it helps to know what topics you’re going to tackle in the next few weeks, just so you’re prepared. A prepared teacher is a confident teacher.
Become knowledgeable on school policies
It’s impossible to fully enforce a school rule if kids keep arguing with you about it. Keep the school policy handbook handy and refer to it at the first sign of student pushback.
How GoGuardian Makes Classroom Management for K-12 Students Easy
With technology becoming a more centralized part of our lives, it’s natural for schools and students to rely on technology. From word processing to online classrooms, technology is streamlining assignments and assessments. However, with all this technology, there comes a host of distractions.
GoGuardian helps teachers manage these distractions. We know it’s impossible to constantly walk around the room checking the screens of every student. Our product lets you focus on your job with quick glances at students’ screens, as well as the ability to walk around the classroom once you have your students on task. You define the sites that you want students to go to. You can see all the websites that your students are on without having to roam the room.
Classroom management isn’t easy, but GoGuardian can help shoulder some of the responsibility. Visit our Teacher page to see a demo today!