Struggling with classroom management? You’re not alone. Whether you are a first-year teacher or you’ve been teaching for a while, taking time to review and revamp your classroom management strategies for middle school is a great way to start the school year off on the right foot.
As you are putting together (or revising) your management plan for the upcoming school year, here are a few of the most effective classroom management strategies I’ve found and used within my own middle school science classroom.
Establish a procedure for entering the classroom.
Did you know that your classroom procedures begin outside of your classroom? It’s true! Students’ attention is often gained or lost before they even walk through the door.
Entering the classroom is an absolutely critical first step to a productive and calm period. Students arrive at your door with a lot of jitters and excitement. It’s really important that they pass through the door’s frame with only the energy level that you’re going to be able to deal with for the school day. How can this be accomplished?
Have students begin by gathering in a line outside your door. This allows you to moderate the behaviors you will allow within your classroom. Before students can be welcomed into the room, they must display appropriate behavior. Bring in students in small groups (no more than five at a time) who are behaving appropriately. As you call out names, offer praise for their behavior. This is a great way to reward students for adhering to classroom routines and expectations in the first precious moments of each class period. Starting class off this way is one of my favorite classroom management strategies for middle school.
Set Specific Expectations…for everything!!!
Setting expectations is one of the first and most important steps to an effective classroom management plan. If you’re consistently not getting you what you want from your students, ask yourself: Did I clearly communicate what I expected?
A lot of the time, you’ll find the answer is no. Even though most teachers have already mastered the art of setting expectations at the start of the school year, many of us forget that students need constant, friendly reminders of how to do each and every one of the variety of tasks that you’ve set out for them. Communicating classroom expectations is something that will need to be revisited throughout the year, sometimes on a weekly or even daily basis.
That’s okay! It doesn’t mean you are doing anything wrong as a teacher, it simply means you are teaching middle school students.
I recommend creating a living document of “how to” slides that clearly outline your expectations for, well, everything. As the year progresses, pull out the slides and review topics as needed, or add to the slides when your students inevitably create a new situation that requires some clarifying of behavioral expectations.
Topics may include expectations for:
- Listening while others are talking
- Sharpening pencils
- Using art supplies
- Asking questions
- Using the bathroom
- Doing art projects
- Turning in assignments
- Lost materials
- Early work completion
- Moving around the classroom
Reach out to parents about GOOD things.
This strategy is helpful for so many reasons! Firstly, communicating with parents can often be a stress point for middle school teachers. After all, we dread those conversations about a student’s behavior problems or academic challenges as much as their parents do.
I’ve found that taking the time to share positive feedback can go a long way toward establishing positive relationships with your student’s parents or caregivers. When those harder conversations do come up, they are often better received when “bad news” isn’t the only news parents are receiving from you.
Secondly, and most importantly, all students want to be recognized for doing a great job.
Whether they will admit it or not, they do want their parents to be proud of them. They want their achievements to be noticed and celebrated.
I recommend sending an intentional parent email for each of your students within the first month of school. Yes, I know that probably means a lot of emailing and it takes some time…BUT, taking the time to recognize even the tiniest act of good behavior at the beginning of the year is a great way to start the year off on the right foot.
don’t forget to smile.
Alright, this sounds simple in theory, but it does require some intentionality. One of the most effective ways to elicit positive behavior from your students is to show them that you actually enjoy being their teacher. A simple smile is one of the easiest forms of positive feedback you can give to your students. It tells your whole class, “I am happy that you are here.”
Why is this important?
Children are like sponges. They are quick to absorb the mood in the environment around them. They lack the personal maturity and self-control to direct their own emotional responses, but rather, they simply react to whatever is happening around them. As the adult in the room, it is your responsibility to set the tone for the classroom culture.
This means being aware of and intentional with your own behaviors, yes, even on hard days. You are the one with the self-control to resolve negative situations and conflicts peacefully and respectfully. You are the one who needs to let go of annoyances and grievances and choose positivity again and again. This is displayed not only through words, but also comes out powerfully through body language (i.e facial expressions, posture, arm positioning, etc.)
Your commitment to setting a consistently positive tone for the learning environment is a key component of any classroom management system. So, friend, put that smile on! Your middle schoolers need to see it.
Plan days of “doable” work.
Fact: Most kids would rather be bad than stupid. Oftentimes, students begin displaying disruptive behavior when the instructional activities are becoming increasingly more difficult. It’s easier (and less embarrassing) for middle school students to act out than to show that they are struggling with the work. Sometimes, this challenging classroom behavior can overtake an entire class, unraveling your classroom management.
This is an excellent opportunity for a “doable work” day!
These are days when you choose an activity that every student in the classroom will be able to complete successfully and without help. It’s an “easy win” for all. Now, I’m certainly not suggesting that you avoid challenging or rigorous instruction, but every once in a while, you may find that planning a day filled with activities that everyone can do independently will be the classroom management “reset” your class needs. Sometimes, behavior gets out of hand simply because our students can’t find any other way to enjoy the class. And everyone enjoys feeling smart. If you make a clear path for your students to succeed, they’re guaranteed to at least try it.
Activities that can be helpful include:
- Coloring activities
- Copying definitions
- Worksheets leveled a few grades down
As the students work hard to complete the task, PRAISE THEM for their good behavior. Offer to call or email their parents with a note of praise. This positive reinforcement can really help in getting a problematic class back on track. All of this might sound a little babyish and really lacking in rigor, but boy does it work.
Another benefit to this day of doable work will give you a chance to step out of the role of “Answer Giver.” I use opportunities like these to spend time sitting down with my students and building relationships. Not having to spend the entire time talking about content gives me a chance to learn more about the child.
Here are a few of my favorite “doable work” activities:
Call out positive behavior rather than negative behavior.
Have you ever heard of positive narration? It is a classroom management strategy that requires the teacher to focus on the positive behaviors and actions of students rather than the negative ones. As veteran teachers can probably attest, middle school students often respond to attention. They are likely to do more of the things that are getting them attention.
So, that begs the question, what is getting attention in your classroom?
Are your public call-outs primarily reprimands or reminders to “get back on task” or “keep your eyes on your own paper?” Or are they words of praise and encouragement for students who are behaving appropriately?
As a new teacher, I tended towards the former, and let me tell you, it didn’t work well for me. Student learning was constantly being interrupted each time I took time out of instruction to correct misbehaving students.
When I began to use positive narration practices within my classroom, I’d make comments like, “Hey everybody! Check out Hamdi! He’s already got his pencil and his notebook out! Nice job Hamdi!” I noticed quickly that student behavior improved. I was using my “teacher voice” to call out students who were following expectations rather than those who weren’t.
Get out of your seat.
I know it’s comfortable and convenient, but can I be honest with you for a second? You will have zero control of your classroom if you remain seated in your desk chair. Even the best classroom management strategies for middle school will prove largely ineffective if you aren’t up moving and engaging with your students.
Why is this helpful?
Walking around your classroom as you teach makes it easier to:
- Notice sneaky misbehaviors, such as cell phones hidden beneath desks or videogames being played on Chromebooks.
- Offer a quick word of encouragement or praise to on-task students.
- Identify students who may be falling behind or struggling before this struggle turns into a behavior problem.
- Redirect students as they begin to cross lines by simply standing near them as you teach.
I cannot stress enough how important it is to incorporate movement around your classroom into your teaching style.
Avoid making threats.
We’ve all been there. Student behavior is starting to get a little out of hand. Whether the class is getting too loud or individual students are displaying inappropriate behavior, these classroom management issues can quickly turn into power struggles when we fall into the habit of making verbal threats.
“If you don’t quiet down, I’ll…”
“Stop that or you’ll lose…”
“If I have to ask one more time…”
Here’s the problem…words don’t mean much. Sometimes they even serve to encourage curious students who like to test boundaries and see how the teacher will react.
Don’t give drawn-out warnings or make promises about what’s going to happen. Instead of making a threat, offer a quick reminder of the behavioral expectations and administer a consequence if the expectations continued to be ignored. Your actions will speak much louder than any words you could use.
Don’t punish the whole class.
It’s a generally accepted rule of classroom management that whole group punishments do not work. Large group punishments, such as long lectures about misbehaving, taking away classroom technology privileges, or putting to end fun activities such as cool science experiments, only serve to ruin the day for those who are actually behaving and allow the students who truly are acting out to get away fairly unscathed.
To the best of your ability, single out the problem and deal with it one on one. This will build the trust of the students who do behave and help you to get to the core of the issue with the students who are struggling.
Don’t forget to take care of yourself!!
Effective classroom management requires you, as the teacher, to be patient, positive, calm, understanding, and so much more. You simply cannot be any of these things if you are burnt out, stressed exhausted, or sick.
As a teacher, you have young people relying on you to be a trustworthy, consistent, and healthy adult. For this reason, it is essential that you make taking good care of yourself (physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually) a priority.
The energy you bring to the classroom each day will be palpable. The question is, will it be attractive and warm energy that draws people in or negative and chaotic energy that causes stress? You will not be able to hide the energy you show up with. Just like you absorb the moods of the people who live in your home, your students will reflect the energy you bring to the classroom each day.
Self-care can help make it a good one.
Did you find these strategies helpful?
If so, I’ve written a classroom management guide packed with additional classroom management strategies for middle school aimed at empowering you as a teacher to feel confident in your classroom management approach.
The 118 pages of this book are the result of my 8 years of teaching middle grades. Every tear I‘ve cried and every conversation I’ve had with other educators has contributed to the production and publication of the words you’re reading here. I’m passionate about teachers who are new or struggling because I know what it feels like.
In my writing, I aim to be incredibly frank. I know your time is precious, so my purpose is to provide you with clear takeaways; strategies you can implement tomorrow.
- Teacher self-care
- Feedback loops
- Setting expectations
- Enforcing boundaries
- Parent contact
- And more!
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