Student Management Techniques from an Education Expert

February 6, 2018
Open book in a classroom setting

Student Management Techniques Are Cultivated with Experience

The evidence is irrefutable. Surveys of graduates of education schools and colleges indicate that the #1 area of concern of new teachers is their feelings of inadequacy in managing classrooms. Despite clinical experiences, practicums, student teaching, and other observations in classroom settings, this problem has persisted for decades. There is no magic elixir that will confer skill in this area of professional responsibility. We only wish there were.

Classroom and student management are skills that teachers acquire and hone over time. These skills almost never "jell" until after a minimum of few years of teaching experience. To be sure, effective teaching requires considerable skill in managing the myriad of tasks and situations that occur in the classroom each day. Skills such as effective classroom management are central to teaching and require "common sense," consistency (an oft-undervalued teacher behavior), a sense of fairness, and courage. These skills also require that teachers understand in more than one way the psychological and developmental levels of their students, and are only acquired with practice, feedback, and a willingness to learn from mistakes. Sadly, this is often easier said than done. Certainly, a part of this problem is that there is no practical way for education students to "practice" their nascent skills outside of actually going into a classroom setting. The learning curve is steep, indeed.

As previously mentioned, personal experience and research indicate that many beginning teachers have difficulty effectively managing their classrooms. While there is no one best solution for every problem or classroom setting, the following principles, drawn from a number of sources, might help. Classroom teachers with many years of experience have contributed to an understanding of what works and what doesn't work in managing classrooms and the behavior of students. The following information represents some of the things that good classroom teachers do to maintain an atmosphere that enhances learning. It is written in straightforward, non-preachy language, and will not drive you to distraction with its length. I think most students appreciate that.

Establish the Context for Effective Classroom and Student Management

There are four fundamental elements that support successful classroom and student management:

  1. Know what you want and what you don't want.
  2. Show and tell your students what you want.
  3. When you get what you want, acknowledge (not praise) it.
  4. When you get something else, act quickly and appropriately.

Situate Your Classroom for Success

While good classroom arrangement is not a guarantee of good behavior, poor planning in this area can create conditions that lead to problems. Create a higher likelihood for success with these strategies:

  • The teacher must be able to observe all students at all times and to monitor work and behavior.
  • The teacher should also be able to see the door from his or her desk.
  • Frequently used areas of the room and traffic lanes should be unobstructed and easily accessible.
  • Students should be able to see the teacher and presentation area without undue turning or movement.
  • Commonly used classroom materials like books, attendance pads, absence permits, and student reference materials should be readily available.
  • Some degree of decoration will help add to the attractiveness of the room.

Set Expectations—And Communicate Them Effectively—For All Classroom Activities

Teachers should identify expectations for student behavior and communicate those expectations to students periodically. Rules and procedures are the most common explicit expectations—keep these best practices in mind:

  • A small number of general rules that emphasize appropriate behavior may be helpful.
  • Rules should be posted in the classroom.
  • Compliance with the rules should be monitored constantly.
  • Don’t develop classroom rules you are unwilling or unable to enforce.
  • School-wide regulations—particularly safety procedures—should be explained carefully.

Because desirable student behavior may vary depending on the activity, clear expectations for specific activities are helpful in supporting classroom and student management. Examples of such activities might include:

  • Beginning/ending of period
  • Attendance procedures
  • Use of materials and equipment
  • Teacher-led Instruction
  • Seatwork
  • How students are to answer questions
  • Independent group work and projects

Remember, good discipline is much more likely to occur if the classroom setting and activities are structured to enhance cooperative behavior.

Take A Focused Approach to Managing Student Academic Work

Effective teacher-led instruction is free of ambiguous and vague terms, unclear sequencing, and interruptions. Students need to be held accountable for their work.

The focus is on academic tasks and learning as the central purpose of student effort, rather than on good behavior for its own sake.

Strategies for Managing Inappropriate Student Behavior

Effective classroom managers practice skills that minimize misbehavior. Monitor students carefully and frequently so that misbehavior is detected early before it involves many students or becomes a serious disruption. Proven strategies for effectively addressing and minimizing inappropriate behavior include:

  • Moving close to the offending student or students, making eye contact and giving a nonverbal signal to stop the offensive behavior.
  • Calling a student's name or giving a short verbal instruction to stop behavior.
  • Redirecting the student to appropriate behavior by stating what the student should be doing; citing the applicable procedure or rule.

(Example: "Please, look at the overhead projector and read the first line with me, I need to see everyone's eyes looking here.")

More serious, disruptive behaviors such as fighting, continuous interruption of lessons, possession of drugs, or stealing require direct action according to school board rule, but most inappropriate behavior in classrooms that is not seriously disruptive and can be managed by relatively simple procedures that prevent escalation.

Understand the Appropriate Use of Consequences—Positive and Negative

In classrooms, the most prevalent positive consequences are intrinsic student satisfaction resulting from success, accomplishment, good grades, social approval and recognition—students must be aware of the connection between tasks and grades. Frequent use of punishment is associated with poor classroom management and generally should be avoided.

When used, negative consequences or punishment should be related logically to the misbehavior. Milder punishments are often as effective as more intense forms and do not arouse as much negative emotion. Misbehavior is less likely to recur if a student makes a commitment to avoid the action and to engage in more desirable alternative behaviors. Consistency in the application of consequences is the key factor in classroom management.

Student Management and Limited English Proficiency—Supportive Strategies

A limited proficiency in English doesn’t make a student stupid—they can hear what’s being said. They don’t necessarily understand the context and culture of what they’re hearing yet. These students may come from a variety of backgrounds—schooled, unschooled, Westernized, etc.—even if they’re from the same country. And even if they don’t have a discernable accent, they may still struggle to understand common words or phrases.

It’s easy for teachers to misunderstand body language and certain behaviors from students who have an unfamiliar cultural or ethnic background—things like eye contact, for example. Don’t assume that what’s simple to you is equally clear to them, and correct repeated patterns or mistakes.

Remember, good ESOL strategies are good teaching strategies.

Understand Effective Praise

These apply primarily to praise associated with instruction and student performance:

Effective Praise Ineffective Praise
1. Is delivered contingently upon student
performance of desirable behaviors or
genuine accomplishment
1. Is delivered randomly and indiscriminately without specific attention to genuine accomplishment
2. Specifies the praiseworthy aspects of the student's accomplishments 2. Is general or global, not specifying the success.
3. Is expressed sincerely, showing spontaneity, variety and other non-verbal signs of credibility. 3. Is expressed blandly without feeling or animation, and relying on stock, perfunctory phrases.
4. Is given for genuine effort, progress, or accomplishment which are judged according to standards appropriate to individuals. 4. Is given based on comparisons with others and without regard to the effort expended or significance of the accomplishment of an individual.
5. Provides information to students about their competence or the value of their accomplishments. 5. Provides no meaningful information to the students about their accomplishments.
6. Helps students to better appreciate their thinking, problem-solving and performance. 6. Orients students toward comparing themselves with others.
7. Attributes student success to effort and ability, implying that similar successes can be expected in the future. 7. Attributes student success to ability alone or to external factors such as luck or easy task.
8. Encourages students to appreciate their accomplishments for the effort they expend and their personal gratification. 8. Encourages students to succeed for external reasons -- to please the teacher, win a competition or reward, etc.



Dr. Robert Kizlik has spent more than 35 years in education, as a classroom teacher, curriculum writer, program evaluator, researcher, consultant, college professor, and administrator. He began his education career after serving in the U.S. Army, earning his PhD from the University of Virginia. His evidence-based, interactive training programs have been taught to thousands of students in college courses, used in hundreds of workshops, and in-service training programs for teachers. This article is reprinted with his permission.

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