Classroom Management Strategies for Educators: Fostering Academic Success

May 7, 2022
Open book in a classroom setting

Imagine a classroom where the teacher was as knowledgeable—and capable—in creating, sustaining, and effectively managing a successful learning environment as they were in teaching the curriculum in their lesson plan.

We might describe that teacher as an expert in classroom management strategies. Classroom management strategies could be defined as the methods and processes through which a teacher controls their classroom environment so that student learning prevails because student misbehavior is effectively minimized and redirected.

With a classroom environment like that in place, a teacher would have time to teach.

In this interview, CPI’s Senior Training Advisor Dr. Randy Boardman talks with Rick Dahlgren of the Center for Teacher Effectiveness and Dr. Johnny Alvarado, the Executive Director of Central Valley Promise, a community-wide effort to promote college as a viable option for youth in the Fresno, California region.

These veteran teachers, administrators, and Time To Teach!® trainers discuss tools to help you bring your focus back to teaching.

The Time To Teach!® program defines itself as “a consistent classroom management system that recovers precious instructional time and improves a school’s climate.” Tens of thousands of teachers across the nation have been using the evidence-based and proven classroom management strategies system presented in the program for over four decades.

Many teachers come to class unprepared.

Randy prefaces the interview with the observation that “the research consistently suggests that most teachers who leave teaching within the first three to five years leave because they're just not prepared to manage disruptive or challenging classroom behaviors. Many veteran teachers also simply get tired, frustrated, worn down by the same students with the same behaviors and the same issues day after day.” (0:05)

Teacher screaming in front of a class

So if you’re listening to the interview, you’re on your way to learn about effective classroom management strategies backed by rigorous research that will teach you to handle difficult and challenging behavior in your classroom. You may find yourself inspired and rededicated to effective teaching through the expertise and passion present in this conversation between Randy, Rick, and Johnny.

Time To Teach!® is born

Rick Dahlgren began his career over 25 year ago as an educational psychologist. His job then involved conducting testing and programming for at-risk kids who exhibited challenging behavior. As he tried to improve outcomes, he scoured the available literature for best practices in management techniques for kids exhibiting these behaviors. Along with graduate students helping to find similar resources, Rick wrote a grant proposal to conduct his own research that was rejected and received no financing. The district believed enough in Rick and his vision that they allowed him to develop a training program that grew into Time To Teach!®; soon it was in demand across the United States.


One of the most basic classroom management strategies is called a diffuser, and in simple terms it is what a teacher might say to effectively contain and redirect a disruptive student. Rick explains: “A diffuser is that thing that you can say when challenged by a student. So for example, how to not take the debate bait. How to, when challenged, elegantly remain the leader in the classroom. How to treat kids with dignity and move on. So here's an example. If I'm challenged and I hear, ‘This is boring,’ I might, rather than saying, ‘Oh, this certainly isn't boring, John Smith. This isn't boring. This is very important and you're going to need this.’ . . . I might say, ‘I understand,’ and I keep rolling. Here's another diffuser. If I hear, ‘This is boring,’ I might say, ‘Nevertheless,’ and I keep going. Now there's just two. We've got so many of them that you're going to share with the listeners, but in both cases, what I just said is, I said, ‘I hear you,’ but I continue to teach.” (4:54)

Rick is emphatic that a teacher’s tone should never be condescending when using a diffuser. This is important because it is often the paraverbal message, more than the words spoken, that will have the greatest impact on the other students in the classroom. Rick explains that if you stay matter-of-fact in your tone, you will eventually extinguish challenging statements in the classroom.

Randy points out that one of the prime benefits of these kinds of classroom management strategies is that they diminish or eliminate student debates and challenges, allowing teachers to recapture lost time and teach more efficiently.

What’s in a name? Respect and regard.

Another strategy Rick recommends is that teachers use a mnemonic device to memorize the names of each of their students. Then when the teacher meets students at the door when school starts, they can say things like "’Mr. Johnson, how you doing? Fred, how you doing today? Samantha, how are you?’ Because one of the most powerful signals you can send a human being is that you know their name. They're important to you and you send that signal by memorizing that name. We refer to that as unconditional positive regard.” (6:52)

Teacher standing behind a happy group of student

Discovering Time To Teach!®

Dr. Johnny Alvarado has been in education for over 20 years and has taught at the elementary, middle school, high school, and collegiate level. He has also served as an administrator in the roles of principal and assistant principal. Today, he serves 32 different school districts and hundreds of schools through a mentoring program that helps schools improve their climate and culture.

Seven years ago, Johnny assumed the principalship of an intermediate school serving grades 7 and 8. After the first few months, he asked about 15 teachers what their primary concerns and desires were regarding their classrooms and the school culture in which they worked. Their answers? "We want a safer school. We want more consistency in regards to behavior. We want less discipline issues. We want less fights on our campus. And we just want, all around, a safer, more positive school climate and culture." (9:00)

Given the mandate to find a resource to meet those concerns, Dr. Alvarado came across the Time To Teach!® system, and before long the school was being trained on the Time To Teach!® strategies.

Why narrow parameters matter

According to Johnny, consistency and predictability are central to the success of the program. A key question and discovery strategy teachers and even entire school systems can begin with is "What are the parameters of our school regarding behavior?" When those parameters are defined, both for kids and adults, people begin to internalize the limits—both narrow and broad—that define the behavioral expectations and behavioral management of the system.

Johnny explains, “What our goal should be is to shrink that scope of parameters to where it's very narrow. Where kids know exactly how the behaviors in the classroom and outside of the classroom are supposed to be. And what will happen when we step outside of those boundaries. And I think what tends to happen here is that we begin to create an environment of consistency amongst all adults and therefore all kids.” (10:58)

This consistency brings with it the added benefit of predictability: “When a kid is misbehaving in the classroom and we are being consistent on how we address that, it tends to create an environment of predictability and therefore less stress and less frustration,” explains Johnny. (11:42)

Turning the shoulder and not taking the debate bait

Randy shares an episode where he took what he terms a student’s debate bait. The student raised his hand, and in front of 27 other middle schoolers, asked, “Hey, dude. So, like, where'd you get your degree anyway?" (12:36) Randy was enraged and says he felt like a hooked fish flopping around helplessly on the end of the line. He asks how teachers can avoid getting caught up in that kind of power struggle.

To avoid a debate bait, Rick offers a strategy that he calls turning the shoulder. He describes a scenario where a statement like the one that so frustrated Randy comes from somewhere in the middle of the classroom. Rick’s strategy is to turn his shoulder to where the baited question came from, and move on.

Rick explains, “And by showing the shoulder, what I mean is, I take that stance and I now engage with a student. I'm modeling the questions for her. I'm checking on her work and here we go. The quiet signal that I'm sending all the kids is ‘Yes, I heard it. But Mr. Dahlgren doesn't engage in those petty arguments.’ Now a lot of people might be thinking, ‘Boy, you put up with that?’ No, I'm not lowering my standards. All I'm doing is changing my timing. So folks, if this is a middle school student that says that to me, I show the shoulder. I continue to work with some other students. I continue to model; I continue to teach,” says Rick. (14:12)

Teacher bending down to help student at a desk

Teach tubes and “before, during, and after” structures

Johnny picks up on the idea of changing the narrative that happens in a classroom by emphasizing how important and worthwhile it is to have a dialog before classes begin that involves teachers and administrators all the way up to the superintendent of the district. The group can then discuss the before, during, and after behavioral strategies essential to effective classroom management.

When these strategies are agreed upon, teachers have a method, such as a diffuser, to replace their potentially inflamed emotions with Rational Detachment and model productive behavior for students. This is a strategy that Johnny refers to as a teach tube. He explains, “See, the idea of teach tubes is that we're teaching our kids all of the behaviors that we want them to exhibit. And at the same time, we're teaching them the behaviors we do not want them to exhibit.” (17:47) By agreeing beforehand on classroom management strategies such as diffusers, teachers and other staff are all similarly scripted to model behavior—and create a teach tube—that is comprehensible and repeatable by all the professionals involved in creating the school culture, before, during, and after the school year.

That’s one . . . or why tallying strategies don’t work

Randy remarks that although it’s important to avoid talking pejoratively about other people or programs trying to improve teaching and learning, the field is riddled with strategies that produce the opposite effect. To illustrate this pitfall, he talks about a strategy that involves writing the student’s name on the board and then putting a checkmark next to it when they exhibit challenging behavior.

In this scenario, after the offensive behavior, the teacher says something like “That’s one,” and then writes the student’s name on the board and puts a checkmark beside it. If it happens again, the teacher says “That’s two.” The teacher has explained to the class that with a third checkmark comes a punishment. Rick picks up on why this strategy is ineffective: “When you say, ‘That's one,’ and then, ‘That's two,’ and of course the consequence comes after ‘That's three,’ or the third check on the board, Randy, what you really just told the child is ‘Go ahead and misbehave twice for free and on the third check or, you know, the third number, then the consequence happens.’” (20:58)

The 5 core components of the Time To Teach!® course

According to Rick, there are 5 core components that every teacher needs to understand and master in order for the Time To Teach!® lessons to create maximum positive impact in the classroom. They are:

  1. Always give adequate, timely, and fair consequences for disruptive behavior.
  2. Teach to expectations.
  3. Arrange the classroom for maximum performance.
  4. Never take the debate bait.
  5. Convey an unconditional positive regard for all.

To Rick, unconditional positive regard is critically important. “If a child knows that you value them as a human being first and a human doing second—doing math, doing science, doing technology, all important, and it's our job—but if you send the signal that you value them as a human being first and a human doing second, here's what the research says. Kids will challenge less and work harder. So for those reasons, we have a lot of strategies that we teach teachers on how to form relationships with students so that your most difficult students become your best allies,” says Rick. (25:24)

Johnny is quick to pick up on the importance of unconditional positive regard, but notes that it is a difficult topic to bring up in conversations with administrative and other staff, because it is perceived as a “touchy-feely thing,” and the teaching world is hard. With so much time spent on lesson design, it’s a challenging job to bring a prominent focus to classroom management strategies. “Even if you look at the educational programs that our future teachers are coming from, very little time is spent on classroom management strategies, hence why we probably struggle the most in classrooms and in school systems in the area of classroom management,” says Johnny. (27:08)

What worked 40 years ago works today

In regard to the five core components of the Time To Teach!® system, Rick is emphatic in his conviction that the values and strategies present there have a history of success in the classroom. “Good teachers have always taught to expectations. . . . So [for] every one of the strategies that we talk about that surround the five core components you're going to find that there's been meta-analyses done . . . and just tons of research has been done on all of the strategies that we talk about. Everything that we provide and present has been in the literature; it's been in peer-reviewed journals, and as I said, it worked 40 years ago and it works today as well.” (33:15)

Final thoughts

Randy concludes the interview by asking Rick and Johnny to provide a closing thought. Both provide compelling and novel ideas about teaching and teachers.

Rick’s thought begins with a quote that grows more powerful as it sinks in: "A teacher plants the seed of a tree under which they will never sit." Then he expands on the idea: “The power of a teacher's hand is immense. So folks, go back to your class. Yes, have rules, have regulations, teach to expectations. Do all of those kinds of things, but I want you to look at the student in the eye, and maybe rather than give a certificate, look at him and smile and say, ‘Job well done.’ Let them feel it in their heart. Make that connection that they're a human being first and a human doing second.” (46:05)

Johnny’s response takes the listener to one of the last places they might imagine visiting when they began listening to the interview: “I think of Death Valley, and Death Valley [is] appropriately named, because nothing grows there. In 2004 there was an incredible flood that took place, and in 2005 in the spring, Death Valley was covered with flowers. The seeds just underneath the layer of dirt there that had been dormant for 30 years received what they needed in order for growth to occur. Now, that's a simple analogy. I do understand that. But my point being is this: when you change the environment, you really do change culture and climate, even on a campus.” (47:16)

So for those listening to the interview, go back and re-evaluate your school, review the behavioral management system in place, and consider whether the environment you provide is healthy, consistent, and in line with the 5 core components of the Time To Teach!® program.

Want more classroom managment strategies from Time To Teach!®?

The training and take-away books were full of practical strategies that can help me as a Behavior Specialist, and any teacher.” —Jodi Chesman, Montgomery County Public Schools

Guest Biographies

Randy Boardman
Randolph M. Boardman, Ed.D. was a senior training advisor for CPI. Boardman is a senior trainer of Life Space Crisis Intervention, and a national trainer of Time To Teach!® for classroom management and differentiated instruction. Before joining CPI, Randy was a teacher and a principal for 27 years in elementary, middle, and secondary schools. He also has experience in residential care working with adults with developmental delays.

Rick Dahlgren
Rick Dahlgren is an experienced educator at the elementary, middle, high school, and university level. He is especially known for helping teachers stop chronic patterns of aggression, defiance, apathy, disruption, and hostility. School districts in nearly every state have requested his expertise as a behavioral consultant to improve classroom behavior. In addition, Rick is an inspiring trainer who has presented to over 400,000 teachers. He has authored or coauthored many education trade books including Time To Teach: Encouragement, Empowerment, and Excellence in Every Classroom.

Dr. Johnny Alvarado
Dr. Alvarado is the Time To Teach!® vice president of business growth and development. He is also the executive director of Central Valley Promise, “a community-wide effort to promote college as a viable option for youth in the region. The Promise will ensure that if children and their parents pledge to do what it takes in middle and high school to prepare, college will be there for them in the future, guaranteed.”

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