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We all remember our first year of teaching. If yours was anything like mine, keeping learners focused and engaged wasn’t one of my stronger skills. In fact, I didn’t know how to implement a classroom management plan, let alone a successful one. That first year, my learners didn’t make much progress, and I was often stressed. Over the years, though, I figured out how to create a productive environment where students wanted to learn. Classroom days transitioned from chaotic to enjoyable.
In a digital environment, it can be even tougher to keep everyone away from distractions and interested in learning. So how do you develop a classroom management plan that works for face-to-face teaching and digital learning? Let’s break down how to start and the tools that will help you.
What is a classroom management plan?
A classroom management plan is an organized yet flexible set of strategies that help you ensure learners are engaged and focused. With an effective plan, disruptive behavior is minimal and students are involved in learning from the start to the end of class.
Why is it important?
It’s important because students need a positive learning environment in order to succeed. With few distractions and a safe and supportive environment, they’re more likely to dig into class activities and care about their progress. If students feel unsafe or the environment has too many distractions, they can’t meet learning goals.
According to Learning for Justice, in a 2016 Teaching Tolerance survey, “45 percent of teachers who responded indicated that they had wanted to leave the profession at one point because of classroom management and behavioral issues.” Without a classroom management plan, your stress, anxiety and likelihood of burnout may increase. But when your students want to learn in your environment and have respectful relationships, you’ll be happier in your role day to day.
What are the common challenges?
Students don’t always come to us ready to learn. They may be distracted by relationships with friends or other kids in the school. They may have home life issues on their mind. They may not have had enough to eat or had too much sugar before class. They may be tired from staying up too late or from a restless night of sleep. The list could go on.
Each child also has their own personality, academic strengths and weaknesses and language skills, which contribute to the learning environment. This also makes it challenging to support each student. Other issues include online distractions and safety issues, large class sizes, and varying school schedules day to day. High school learners may also deal with exam anxiety, AP classes, stress about plans for post-K-12 or working a job while going to school.
Elements of effective classroom management
What should be included in a classroom management plan?
There are often misconceptions about managing a class. Whether in a room or an online environment, an educator should not be the one ultimately controlling everything. Managing a class should not be based on punitive measures either.
While learners do need structure and boundaries, educators should guide them, rather than try to control them. Learners are people after all. They will make mistakes and need to hear positive feedback when they make the right decisions. It’s best to proactively set learners up for success so they feel safe and empowered to make positive choices.
What are the five components of a classroom management plan?
There are five main components to include when setting up your plan. It’s important to be flexible, though, based on your class and your strengths as an educator.
- Relationship building
This is one of the most crucial parts of a classroom management plan. Spend time building student relationships when you start a school year or semester and then continue to build them throughout the year. Taking the time to get to know students and helping them develop supportive connections with each other motivates them to learn. Relationship-building also helps create a respectful and trusting learning environment.
- Routines, expectations, rules
Kids want to know what’s expected of them and have consistency day to day. When they don’t know what’s expected of them, it creates stress and confusion. That’s why it’s important to go over daily classroom routines, expectations for behavior and activities and a short set of basic rules. You can also involve learners when creating rules so they feel like they are part of the process and have buy-in to follow them.
- Positive feedback
According to two studies, as noted in New York University’s Opus, “Teachers’ feedback has been found to influence their relationships with students and students’ outcomes, including their academic engagement and aspects of their self-perceptions.” Positive feedback leads to learners displaying more positive behavior in class. It gives them clear direction about what they’re doing well, and they’ll be more likely to repeat the responsible behavior.
Hāpara Highlights helps you give learners positive feedback about digital behavior and browsing choices. This Chrome browser monitoring tool gives you visibility into what learners are doing online. With that visibility, you can use the message feature to send a learner feedback when you see them make a responsible choice online. Or take a “Snap” of their focused online behavior and email it to them with a note.
- Intervention strategies: If learners act out, remember that it’s not personal. Try to pinpoint why the behavior is happening and provide the appropriate intervention. The goal is to be proactive going forward rather than punish the child.
For example, I had a seventh grade learner who had a tendency to be disruptive. I figured out that it was difficult for him to sit in an uncomfortable classroom chair for long periods of time. So I let him walk up and down the hall (or skip or dance, whatever he felt like!) when he started to fidget, keeping my eye on him while guiding activities in the room. This stopped the disruptive behavior. Rather than punish him for disrupting, there was an intervention that turned the behavior around.
In a digital environment, you need intervention strategies, too, because it’s so easy for learners to get distracted online. Hāpara Highlights gives you the ability to set up guided browsing sessions for learners who need more structure. Or you can instantly share a link to a learner’s screen if they need a brain break. If needed, you can close a learner’s off-task browser tab and then have an intervention conversation about digital citizenship.
- Explicit instruction: Learners of all ages need to be explicitly taught whatever you expect them to do. For example, educator Jim Tobin taught sixth grade science. He asked learners to staple a set of papers together for an assignment. Straight-forward, right? When he saw the stack of stapled work, there were staples on the side, on the top, in the middle. He realized that many of the kids didn’t know that he wanted a staple in the top left corner. He realized he needed to explicitly teach them what he wanted.
If you introduce a new digital tool to learners, it’s also a good idea to show them step-by-step how to use it. For instance, Jim’s learners use the online student planner Hāpara Student Dashboard. He gives them a step-by-step tour, which empowers them to manage their own activities and class communications.
Implementing and maintaining a classroom management action plan
Get to know your learners
What improves student performance? The first step in implementing a plan is getting to know your learners. Educator Jim Tobin spends at least three days at the beginning of the new school year or semester getting to know his learners.
During the first week of school, I gave my seventh and eighth grade English learners a survey that helped me understand them better. Some of the questions included:
- Do you enjoy reading? If so, what do you prefer to read when you have a choice?
- Do you like to write? Why or why not?
- Do you have a quiet place to do your homework?
- What are your favorite things to do outside of school?
- Do you like working with others, or do you like working by yourself?
- What did you like best about English class last year?
- Do you have internet access at home?
- Are you an organized person? Explain.
- What is your strongest subject and why?
- What is your weakest subject and why?
You can send a Google Form with the survey questions directly to learners’ screens with the “Share links” feature in Hāpara Highlights. Or you can add it to a Hāpara Workspace for learners to access, along with other back-to-school activities.
Help learners get to know you
It’s also important for learners to get to know you. You don’t have to tell them everything about your personal life, but if you share a bit about your interests, your learners will start to feel comfortable around you.
Remember, you want to create an environment where you are a guide, rather than the person controlling everything in the class. If learners see you as a person with interests beyond the subject you teach, they’ll start to trust you, which will help you build positive relationships.
Have learners get to know each other
In his current high school classroom, Jim Tobin starts off the year or semester with activities that encourage learners to work together and solve problems. This is when kids really get to know each other, beyond a “getting-to-know-you” bingo game. They start to understand each others’ strengths, and communication styles and have some laughs.
If you’re in the classroom, have learners get up and work together on a problem-solving activity. In a digital environment, have learners collaborate online in groups.
In Hāpara Workspace, you can easily add student groups and differentiate resources and activities by group for a lesson, unit or project.
Remind about class expectations
How can you continue to have strong classroom management throughout the year? After you go over class expectations with your learners at the beginning of the year or semester, it’s a good idea to continue to remind them when needed.
When I taught, there were certain times that a particular class, which had been running smoothly, started needing those reminders. Although my goal was to be friendly and fun, I still was their teacher. That meant that I held true to the class expectations and stayed consistent with consequences when needed.
In a digital environment, it’s easy to use Highlights to send quick reminders to a learner or the class that appears immediately on their screen. Or if you send a class announcement in Google Classroom, learners will see it in their Hāpara Student Dashboard notifications.
Continue to build relationships
How can educators ensure that learners behave? First, don’t let behavior from prior years cloud how you interact with a learner. They may have had behavior issues in another classroom, but that doesn’t mean they will in yours. One student of mine apparently acted out in his classes the year before, but I put him in the front of the room next to my desk and he became my class helper. I didn’t experience issues with him because I gave him the chance to have responsibility. In a digital environment, you can assign learners roles in collaborative groups, and give them different levels of responsibility.
Continuing to build the positive relationships you put effort into at the beginning of the year is also a major factor in maintaining class behavior. I had a bright learner one year who loved to crack jokes. The problem was that he had started to joke at other kids’ expenses. I pulled him aside one day while the class was collaborating in groups, as I didn’t want to draw attention to calling him out.
I let him know that I appreciated his quick wit. But I also explained how he was hurting his classmates’ feelings by directing jokes specifically at other kids. Together we decided he would use his humor in appropriate ways instead. I didn’t want to shut down his personality altogether, but he needed to understand the boundary. Because he felt respected in the way I approached him, he stopped the jokes aimed at his classmates, was excited to come to class every day and raised his grades.
In a digital environment, it’s easy to check in with learners privately by sending them an instant message in Highlights. It pops directly up on their screen, and you can include emojis to personalize the message.
Minimize distractions and teach digital citizenship
It’s also important to take away distractions, especially in a digital setting. It’s so easy for kids to get off task and wander over to Cool Math Games or read about last night’s football game when they’re supposed to be exploring a class activity online. Teaching digital citizenship helps learners understand how to stay focused and make responsible decisions online.
Highlights makes it easy to keep learners engaged online. You can focus learners on certain websites or filter out certain websites to keep them from being distracted. If you need to close a learner’s browser tab, you can provide a digital citizenship reason that they’ll see on their screen.
Educator Melissa Teagarden says that Hāpara is a “lifesaver in middle school.”
Edtech specialist Jessica Burnette says, “I have seen such a huge difference in my students’ productivity and digital citizenship already. The thing I love the most is that if students need redirecting, I can send them a private message to address the issue and not have to ‘call them down’ in front of everyone. I have also used this tool to motivate students and praise them when they are doing well. I feel these factors have enabled me to protect my relationships and communication with my students.”
With Workspace, you can also give learners digital citizenship lessons to help them make better choices during class time.
- Digital citizenship: Grades K-2
- Digital citizenship: Grades 3-5
- Digital citizenship: Grades 6-8
- Digital citizenship: Grades 9-12
Keep parents and guardians in the loop
Use an app like Remind to send home phone calls or send a class email newsletter. There’s no need to give parents your personal cell phone (it’s important to set boundaries and expectations with families, too). But consistent communication ensures that parents and guardians feel like they are part of their child’s learning experience.
Hāpara makes learning visible for parents and guardians, too. They can view their child’s activities in Workspace at any time. Or they can check out their child’s upcoming due dates, overdue assignments and class announcements in Student Dashboard.
✔ ️ Spending time on developing positive class relationships is most important for classroom management.
✔️ Be proactive with clear expectations, explicit instruction and positive feedback.
✔️ Tools such as Hāpara Highlights make it much easier to manage your digital classroom.