Classroom Management 101: Setting Expectations for Students

As any teacher will tell you, after the first month of summer break, the brainstorming happens. You begin searching the internet for classroom themes, décor, open-house activities, and “getting to know you” games and worksheets. You want the upcoming school year to be better than the year before, and there’s nothing wrong with that! But pump the brakes. You need to make sure your beginning-of-the-year activities address classroom management and build culture and community.

What Is Classroom Management?

Classroom management is a broadly used term in education. It all boils down to the variety of skills and techniques that teachers use to ensure their classroom runs smoothly, without disruptive behavior from students, and builds a community in which each student has a sense of belonging. Seems simple, right? I began my career as a longterm substitute. It was an absolute disaster! There was no plan. At the end of the school year, when I was hired on permanently, I took the summer to create my classroom management plan.

Unit Zero: Culture Camp

In my classroom, the first two weeks are Culture Camp. Before I can even get to teaching my first unit, students must understand my rules, procedures, and expectations and be part of the classroom’s culture.

Take time to get to know your students.

I am a firm believer that classroom management is not mainly about having the right rules, but having the right relationships. Get to know each student and family individually. What do they like to do in their free time? What motivates them? What makes them frustrated?

QUICK TIP: My first contact to parents is positive. I enjoy sending postcards featuring a student’s positive behavior or academic achievement.

Create a Welcoming Environment

Students want to feel like they belong and this is their classroom, and they are not just a guest passing through. How can you make students feel welcomed? How can they take ownership of the classroom?

QUICK TIP:

  • Instead of sitting at my desk, I stand at my classroom door in the morning, welcoming each student.
  • Having jobs in the classroom helps students take ownership of their community and creates a greater investment. Some jobs in my classroom include:
    • Floor manager: Sweeps at the end of a messy activity or the end of the day
    • Pencil manager: Sharpens pencils at the end of the day
    • Trash collector: Collects scraps at the end of the day or after a messy activity
Decide What Kind of Structure You Want in Your Room

Do you want your classroom highly structured? Do students have to ask before moving about the classroom? Do you want low structure in your classroom, where students can move freely and can sit wherever they would like? Or would you like something in the middle? This is something you need to decide well in advance of the first day of school. If you have no idea what kind of structure you would like in your classroom, students will be confused and will be unable to meet your expectations.

Enlist Students in Establishing Classroom Rules

Students are more likely to buy into your classroom management plan if their voice is heard. Work with your students to come up with a list of classroom rules and consequences.

QUICK TIP: Brainstorm a list of desired behaviors and rewards with students. Once classroom rules and consequences are created, write them on chart paper and have all students sign it. Then display it in the classroom (on a wall or bulletin board).

Practice Transitions

How will students transition from one activity to another? This seems extreme, to the point of micromanaging, but it isn’t and will pay off in the long run. For each transition in my classroom—lining up for lunch and recess, switching classes, getting materials out, and getting into groups for collaborative work—I have asked myself: how does this sound, and what does this look like? After I have played out these scenes in my mind, I teach my students how to execute these transitions.

QUICK TIP: Have students act it out! After setting expectations for transitions, I have my students practice. It seems silly, but it truly works and allows students to receive feedback in a low-pressure situation. They get to have fun with it as well, acting out proper and improper transitions.

Set Expectations for Classroom Activities

Similar to transitions, students also need to be taught about what to expect when it comes to different activities in your classroom. Independent work, partner work, self-grading, group work, and indoor recess are all activities that will take place in your classroom. Setting the expectation for how students will perform these activities is key. What is their noise level? Body movement?

QUICK TIP: Try using a call and response to get students’ attention during an activity. Some of my favorites are: 

  • Teacher (T): Class, Class!
    • Students (S): Yes, Yes!
  • T: Hocus Pocus!
    • S: Everyone Focus!
  • T: Red Robin!
    • S: Yummmm!
Address Equity Vs. Equality in the Classroom

This can be a huge culture builder (or ruiner)! With students who have special needs and students of different ability levels, children are quick to jump to a judgment of unfairness. When accommodating students at different ability levels through differentiation, students will see others completing different work from their own. Building an understanding of equality versus equity into your classroom culture will curtail this kind of behavior. I tell students that not everything is fair, but everyone in our classroom will get what they need to succeed.

Whether you want a high-structure or low-structure classroom, plans must be made. You should plan on how you will share your expectations with students, because if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. You must have a game plan before students arrive on the first day of school. Your Unit Zero should be thoroughly thought out and followed with fidelity in order to succeed. So, as you are relaxing this summer, don’t forget to give some thought to your upcoming school year’s classroom management plan. Happy teaching!

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This blog post originally appeared as a chapter in an HMH back-to-school eBook for teachers. Get your free copy when you subscribe to the Shaped monthly newsletter.

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Brittany Mamphey is the fourth guest on our new podcast series, HMH Learning Moments: Teachers in America! Listen to Brittany's episode.

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