For Teachers

Middle School Classroom Management Strategies

By The Room 241 Team October 13, 2012

Managing the middle school classroom is a notoriously difficult task. After all, middle school teachers face, on average, 125 students per day, most of whom are dealing with some level of social, personal and cognitive challenges due merely to the fact that they are reaching the precocious stage of early adolescence. Beyond that, many will also experience, in tandem, a drop in their self-esteem during this time.

Research shows, however, that middle grades teachers who are able to effectively foster personal interactions, thereby developing personal relationships with each of their students, achieve a far-reaching benefit. In fact, studies show that teachers who are able to develop positive relationships with students not only achieve an increase in academic performance from those students but also experience far fewer behavioral challenges. With those kinds of results, the next question becomes very simple and clear: How does a middle school teacher develop those types of relationships? Here, we’ll explore some proven effective middle school classroom management strategies.

Why Is Relationship-Building Important?

All interpersonal relationships require getting to know another person in order to better understand their needs. This is also true of middle school teachers, who face the unique challenge of creating high-quality, interactive lessons at a critical time in their students’ own personal development. In fact, the Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development reported that multiple studies on adolescent development showed a significant drop in both academic motivation and academic achievement during the early adolescent years, especially when students reach seventh grade.

At the same time that this drop in academic interests reaches its height, the desire for positive social interaction (with both their peers and adults) intensifies. Truly, at the adolescent stage students are attempting to create self-definition and to carve out a meaningful place in their own sphere, which includes their families, their community and yes, their school. It will take an out-of-the-box approach to reach students at this stage in their development. In effect, the relationship-development approach deals with developing the whole person, not simply focusing on them academically.

This is not, however, meant to suggest that teachers must work to become well-liked by students; instead, the teacher takes a personal interest in his or her students, establishes clear learning objectives and models positive behavior in an equitable fashion. In effect, reported S. Wolk in a 2003 report entitled “Hearts and Mind,”  by effectively implementing this strategy, “their relationships are their teaching.”

Behavior Modification Strategies

Even with the best possible implementation of relationship-building, the fact is that certain students are just going to be a bit more difficult to reach. In these circumstances, one of the best strategies you, as a teacher, can take is to simply demonstrate empathy toward the student. Empathy is not to be misconstrued as putting forth effort to demonstrate caring; empathy is simply to see things through another’s perspective. Thus, the other person, in this case the student, feels understood. This is a highly effective tactic to employ with a difficult adolescent.

Another effective tactic, which comes directly from the discipline of positive psychology, seems counter-intuitive at first. The skill involves acknowledging the negative behavior as a skill rather than as a disciplinary problem. Though the student may be well-developed in an area that could be destructive in the classroom, by acknowledging it as a skill, the teacher can then reframe and redirect the skill. For example, the class clown could be complimented for his comedic skill; that skill could then be redirected to a more positive use. The result is often a greater sense of respect and loyalty to the teacher, thus diffusing the previous disruptions. The result is often a greater sense of respect and loyalty to the teacher, thus diffusing the previous disruptions.

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