Before learning can take place, young students must be helped to settle down and be ready to listen. Disruptions are a constant challenge in any room that’s full of children, and over the years certain elementary classroom management ideas have evolved. According to Kate Ortiz, the National Education Association‘s classroom management expert, the following five tips can give any teacher a great start on creating a productive classroom environment:
1. Keep parents engaged
This may seem surprising as a tip for managing classrooms, since parents aren’t there with you in the class. Even though parents aren’t present at school, however, the students’ investment in learning activities is directly related to their parents’ opinions. A Department of Education fact sheet points out, “The most consistent predictors of children’s academic achievement and social adjustment are parent expectations of the child’s academic attainment and satisfaction with their child’s education at school.”
Methods of engaging parents recommended by the NEA include sending home bright postcards showing student decorations at the school, providing parents with treats in order to make school conferences a pleasant experience, and meeting parents out in the community where they shop.
2. Avoid favoritism
Even though teachers may not be aware of practicing favoritism, it must be guarded against on an ongoing basis. Elisha Babad, the author of The Social Psychology of the Classroom, explains:
“Favoritism in a larger sense has not to do with the teacher’s pet, but with the fact that teachers transmit different kinds of emotions to different students and students absorb that and interpret it and their feelings are influenced by that.”
Methods of countering favoritism include using Popsicle sticks or index cards to keep track of who has been called on. Teachers write one student’s name on each Popsicle stick, and then transfer that stick from one container to another after that child has been asked to speak. All children in the class will be called on once before the cycle begins again. Another method of helping avoid habits of favoritism is to request an observer to spend time in the class and give the teacher feedback about whether specific students are invited to participate more frequently than others. Having an extra set of eyes viewing the classroom can result in surprising insights.
3. Promote students’ respect for each other
Cynthia Moore, a Virginia teacher and NEA mentor, describes her “Dignity Bulletin Board.” With help, she created a bulletin board with photos of each student in the school. Above the photos were the words “Respect, Protect, and Promote.” The bulletin board also included flags of the world, as well as a list of the 15 language spoken at home by students’ families. Classroom discussions focused on the concept of dignity, and how the school represents one small piece of a world in which each person must be treated with kindness.
4. Keep your attention on the disruptive students
Dave Foley, author of the Ultimate Classroom Management Handbook, points out that speaking the name of a distracted student in a neutral manner will get the student’s attention without activating the resistance that disciplinary measures can cause. For example, a teacher can pause in the midst of a lecture and say, “Caitlin, would you agree that mammals are the most endangered type of animal?” Just hearing her name will cause Caitlin to suddenly tune back into the conversation without making her feel embarrassed.
5. Stay in control of your class
This tip may sound glib, but it’s actually easy for teachers to lose track of. If a teacher doesn’t feel fully confident to demand attention, students will sense this and take advantage of the situation. Dave Foley places this tip at the very top of his list, since nothing else useful can happen if the teacher is not in control.
His suggestion for initiating the right climate within the classroom is that the teacher makes clear that nothing will begin until everyone’s attention is on him or her. One way to begin is to ask a friendly, engaging question of the whole class, or make a few attention-getting comments. These methods of corralling the students’ interest are more positive than shouting, and will be equally effective.