Classroom Management Strategies: Build Relationships

You’ve heard it before and I’m going to say it again: success with classroom management can essentially be boiled down to your relationship with your students. If you have a good relationship, so they say, you’ll succeed in the classroom. If you’re not able to build a solid relationship with the students, then you’ll have trouble. I have a hard time unpacking this well respected tenet. Are you trying to tell me that if my kids like me I’ll have an easy time in the classroom? Or worse, are you saying that if I’m struggling it must mean that I don’t connect well with kids?

I’ve always gotten along quite well with my student in a one on one setting. Even in my darkest years, I think (the majority of) my student liked me as a person. I was a lifeguard, a babysitter, and a tutor before I became a teacher. I have always had strong relationships with kids, but behavior in my classroom was still in shambles. The “be nice to them and they’ll be nice to you” strategy was not pulling through for me. So what was I missing?

If you’ve been working with children for any number of years I think you’ll agree that there seems to be a spectrum of relationships between adults and children. I find that they tend to range from too close to too distant with a million other factors in between. Perhaps there is more to the advice. Perhaps a “good” relationship, one that translates to good behavior from the student, is a little more complex than it first appears. Let’s try to break it down.

Adults Do Not Expect Children to Meet Their Needs

This first one is probably the point I’m the most passionate about. You, as the adult, meet your own needs or you find another adult who can help you. Adults should never look to children to have their needs met. You don’t need children to cheer you up or encourage you. You don’t need a child to weigh in on a difficult decision you’re facing. And most importantly, you do not need children to validate you.

We’ve already discussed that in order to build the foundation for a positive classroom environment, you need to show up healthy. You are already a whole person, but your students are not. I think this one is a bit tough because many of us come into the field of education looking for something. Attention, perhaps? Our own little kingdom, or (dare I say) control? The chance to be the “coolest” person in the room? It’s not about you. It’s about the kids and making sure they get the best of what you have to offer everyday, so please leave your own insecurities and emotional baggage at the door.

Adults Set and Enforce Boundaries

As the adult in the relationship, part of your role is to define the limits of your relationship with students. The student will not yet be mature enough to know where to draw the line or what to do when someone crosses it. When you’re interacting with students you’re also teaching them what is acceptable. You’ll have to strike your own balance between lenience and strictness.

I’ll open myself up for criticism on this one by sharing with you my own personal limits and boundaries when it comes to interacting with students. You can, of course, determine your own. I don’t allow students to connect with me on any of my personal online accounts, but I do have a teacher Instagram where I’m friends with them. When they privately message me, I respond in daylight hours and in a way that I would be comfortable having published in the newspaper. I talk to my students about pop culture, but I remove myself from the conversation if I feel the topic is too closely related to drugs, alcohol, sex, or other adult topics. I don’t, however, scold my students for discussing these things with one another in private settings. I occasionally let a “bad word” slide in class, but I casually make it known that I didn’t wholeheartedly approve. My goal is to be friendly and approachable, but to clearly define what kind of friend I am. I’m not a peer, but I am a trustworthy and safe adult.

Adults Can Differentiate a Child from Their Behavior

A big part of your relationship with your students will come from their perception of how you perceive them. Despite knowing that our students are immature and often volatile, everyone is happiest when we don’t point that fact out. Our students want to know that we see their value and their importance. They are more than their behavior, and even with the worst kids its critical to let them see that you know that.

Find ways to interact with your students in settings that don’t require you to be the disciplinarian. Sit with them at lunch or let them join you in your room during a period off. Attend sporting events after school. I know this takes energy, but a little investment will go a long way in building a quality relationship with your students.

Adults Accomodate the Needs of the Child

Once you’ve mastered all the basics, the final stage of creating a healthy relationship with your students is to simply find ways to meet their needs. It’s not nearly as difficult as it sounds either, because their needs are relatively simple. Kids just want to have fun with and to feel accepted the adults they admire.

As you get to know your students, the relationship will progress like any other relationship. You’ll discover common interests and perhaps even be swayed to try new things that you can do together. Maybe you’ll start a new series on Netflix that your second period loves to discuss. Or you’ll play Fortnite. Or you’ll create a Tiktok account. This is the part that veteran teachers always refer to when they say their students “keep them young.”

Bonding is give and take. Your students will notice your interests too. They’ll show that they care by bringing you your favorite candy or drawing a picture of you wearing your favorite color. Do the same for them. From the nicknames they pick in Kahoot to the profile pictures they select, they’re constantly giving you clues about themselves. Small references show that you care and notice.

Benefits of A Strong Relationship

Not only is building relationships with your students enjoyable for everyone involved, it should eventually pay dividends in classroom management success. Your strong connection with students will make disappointing you something they strive to avoid. Your clear with expectations and fairness in determining consequences means students will feel shame when reprimanded. They will know it wasn’t personal.

Over time, your reputation will grow. This group will tell their younger siblings how much they love your class and the next group will come up with a soft spot preprepared in their hearts for you. Students will be willing to work hard for you because they trust you to determine what’s important for them. Gradually, you’ll gain confidence too. Bad days will still come, but the foundation you have in your relationship with your students will prop you up and make coming back and doing it again the next day easier. You can do this!

Classroom Management Strategies: How to Win Over the Bad Kid

If I ask you to think of one student who causes the most classroom management headaches for you, does a face come to mind? I’ve had several, usually one or a even handful per year. I can still remember back to the first kid I had like this in my first year of teaching, I’m going to call him Kevin.

Kevin seemed to delight in ruining my day. When my back was turned he liked to throw little scraps of paper at me. I could never catch him at it, and the rest of the class defended him too. His little game worked. Everyone could see how infuriated and embarrassed I was. I was begging for a camera in my room as if catching him would have stopped the torment.

This isn’t a feel good story. I never got through to Kevin. We never once shared a joke or smiled at each other. I made it through his class every day on pure grit, and I rejoiced on the last day of school. I avoided eye contact with him when I’d see him in the halls the next year. I thought I was free! Unfortunately, Kevin has been reincarnated. He returns every year under a new name with new quirks and new ways to plague me. Kevin might be on your roster too.

To truly succeed with classroom management we are really going to need Kevin to fall in love with us. Even more so if he’s a ring leader. We’ve established by now that the only way to get a kid to do anything we ask is by convincing them that we are someone they want to impress, so we can’t simply spend the year scowling at him. Somehow we need the bad kid to want to impress us too.

So without further ado here’s my list of strategies for trying to get through to the kid you have nightmares about:

1. Find a soft spot in yourself for the child.

If you don’t like the kid, you can go ahead and forget about getting them to like you. Close this book and find a more authoritarian method. We need to remember that the person we’re dealing with is a child. This child wants to be seen, acknowledged, and to be considered good by the adults around him or her. Step one is to love the child. As you love them, get to know them. Be interested in them just as you would another adult that you valued.

2. Make your praise attainable.

I know they’re always bad and they never really do anything to deserve a gold star. And if they did earn a gold star then how would that be fair to all the students who follow expectations all the rest of the time? I know, but I simply can’t find a way around this one. Start by making your expectations ridiculously clear. When The Bad Kid follows along without causing a scene for a little while, make a big deal about it. Call her parents. Maybe he or she likes to be publicly praised or maybe not. Find something that feels rewarding for the student and work towards having a whole day of good behavior.

Another method for finding a way to praise this child is to find work that they can accomplish. Maybe a big part of the reason that Kevin decided to be a clown in my room was because the work was quite simply out of his reach and that’s embarrassing. Have a day where success is attainable and see if that changes things. Again, if it works, be proud and show that you are.

3. Choices

Maybe your student is acting out for a sense of control. Their home life could be chaotic. For plain old defiance, try incorporating some acceptable choices rather than demanding a uniform approach to completing the day’s assignment.

3. Give an inch. Use this for bargaining.

To be fair, many of the kids who have been my absolute favorites over the years have been somewhat poorly behaved in a classroom setting. Especially during whole group instruction. Learn to occasionally laugh off a small infraction. You can forgive without forgetting. In a private conversation, I often bring up my prior leniency when I have a non-negotiable demand. “Remember last week when I let you get away with popping a water bottle in the middle of my lesson? Yeah you owe me one. Today I’m going to need you to work silently for the entire period. Is that a fair trade?” There’s certainly a balance to be struck here, but I find it usually works.

4. Stay cognizant of your feedback loop.

No matter how perfect we try to be, we’re still going to have bad days. I think this is the most defining truth about my experience in the classroom. No two days are the same. Some days I feel like I’m getting somewhere with my bad class, other days I dismiss them early just to give myself 3 seconds of silence before the next group starts banging on the door. I can’t win them all. I can feel frustrated and defeated and still come back tomorrow with one tiny next step.

Keep an eye on your feedback loop with both the kid you’re focused on and the entire class. Make sure that if it does start to wind around in the negative direction that you muster everything in you to change the tide. Don’t start downward spiraling. Drink a bottle of wine, sleep it off, and get back in the saddle.

5. Make them special.

Sometimes misbehaving is the easiest way to be a standout student. Our kids don’t just want to be noticed, they want to matter. I have a couple little tricks for making a student feel special without them realizing what I’m doing.

1. Ask for a favor. I love this one. Ben Franklin said, “Someone who has done you a favor is far more likely to do you another than someone you have obliged.” I’ve thought a lot about why this works, and I think it really just comes down to the fact that asking for a favor implies that you need something that only that person can give you. What an honor for a child to be not only wanted, but needed by an adult.

Approach your Kevin with a special request. Something very specific that only this he would be able to accomplish. Let him know you’re in a pickle and you need help. It works every time.

2. Tell them a secret. Another option for putting your Problem Child in a position of respect an honor is to trust them with a (very benign) secret. Make sure to remind him that he’s the only one who knows, so if anyone else finds out your trust will be broken. Then simply wait and see what happens next.

3. Give them a job. Perhaps your Kevin is just bored to death. Give him a job! Ask him to count the number of times anyone gets out of their seat to sharpen a pencil during lecture. Make it clear that he is to record and not enforce. (Ironically, I find my bad kids really love helping me manage classroom the classroom behaviors of others.) Let him mark a multiple choice quiz. Send him on an errand. Let him be the one the teacher chose for an important task. When he feels that you see him as someone trustworthy and special, he will likely return the same sentiment.

6. Become an adult they admire. Be fair and calm. Be consistent. Smile. Be interested in your students. Show that you respect them as fellow humans. be transparent. Show your mistakes. Apologize. Be an adult who models appropriate relationships and boundaries. Your students will notice and fall in love with you. They will want to protect you and make your proud.


As you continue to practice new classroom management methods, you’ll slowly develop a toolbox of strategies that can be mixed and matched depending on the dynamics of the class.

Remember, you are the adult. Children cannot be expected to act like mature adults. When your relationship with a child has gone to a bad place, only you will have the social-emotional skills to right what is wrong. Not every technique is going to work with every child, and that’s ok. You are the professional here, and you get paid to approach each child with an individual and creative method.

Einstein said, “Creativity is intelligence having fun.” We get so much freedom to express ourselves and to impress our values onto children. We get to shape and mold young minds. Your skills and experience make you an invaluable asset not only to society as a whole, but also as a special person in the eyes of a child. Be creative and have fun. Don’t let one grumpy kid ruin your day or your year. Come back to him or her every day with a smile on your face and love in your heart until you succeed in bridging that gap.

Classroom Management Strategies: Praise Publicly, Criticize Privately

Upon reading the title of this blog post, I’m sure your first thought was “Duh.” It’s a relatively simple and well known concept: make your praises public and your criticisms private. I searched Google and found this advice attributed to every great thinker from around the world. So okay, we’ve heard it before. But how many people do you know that actually follow this rule?

Praise Publicly

Can you remember the last time someone crafted a sincere compliment for you? Was it so dear to your heart that you saved it in a box or took a screenshot of the email? (If you don’t already, I advise that you create an archive like this. I have an album on my phone full of images of notes from students, parents, other teachers, and admin. Anything and everything that makes me feel like I’m doing a good job.) Recognition keep me going. I’m not the only one, either.

Teachers and students alike want to be recognized. When we take time to praise each other, everyone benefits. Upon being recognized, our students are reaffirmed that they are doing something worth being proud of. This positive feedback will reinforce all the expectations you’ve worked so hard to drill down. Additionally, it’s likely they will feel warm feelings towards you for noticing, strengthening your relationship at the same time.

To make things even better, when you praise you get to enjoy the second hand effects of making someone’s day. Don’t knock it til you try it! Pick a couple students or colleagues and tell them how much you admire their efforts. Enjoy the smiles and beams of pride that you create.

When it comes to classroom management, I like to make my praises very direct in order to reinforce my expectations while also keeping the focus on students who are behaving appropriately. Here are some examples of phrases you would hear from me during an average class period:

  • Everyone look at Sung! He came in, got his pencil out, and now he’s waiting quietly. I wish we had more students just like Sung! *cue everyone now trying to get my attention to show that they are, in fact, just as good as Sung*
  • I’m noticing people who want my attention, but I really like it when people follow expectations by raising their hand. Look at how Sara is nailing it! Her hand is raised and she’s sitting patiently and quietly waiting to be called on.
  • I see a lot of hands raised, but I’m going to call on Omar because he was also sitting quietly in his seat without waving his hand everywhere. Thanks Omar!

As much as it’s possible, (and I do acknowledge that this takes a lot of time) I also try to embed a little recognition into my every day classroom procedures. One that the kids really like is reverently known as The Blue Line of Excellence. I make a big deal about this. We keep a running excel spreadsheet of assignments (classwork, homework, anything that isn’t an assessment) that have been submitted throughout the unit. Anyone who submits everything receives “The Blue Line of Excellence” meaning I highlight their row blue and I rave about it. We use a standards based grading model which means I can’t give any actual “credit” for homework. Instead, I just laminate the names of people who earned The Blue Line and hang them on the wall at the end of each unit. Surprisingly, or perhaps unsurprisingly, this works.

As you can see, I even post about the assignment checklist on my social media, making praise as public as possible.

If you’re still unconvinced, just ask yourself. Would you be more motivated by a boss who constantly criticizes your work, publicly shames you, and constantly demands more OR would you like to work for someone who sees your strengths, makes a big deal out of success, and takes the time to compliment you? I think the answer is obvious.

Criticize Privately

On the other hand, let’s try to make sure we keep our criticisms as private as possible. Again, I know this takes time. When a student is constantly interrupting me, more than anything I just want to scream, “Hey Jeremiah, COULD YOU STOP BEING SO RUDE DURING MY LESSON!?? Ok thanks!” Ahhhh. In those two seconds I released some stress and I feel good now. Got him back, didn’t I? Success. Right? Wrong!

Unwittingly, I just created a new problem for myself. I have now embarrassed Jeremiah in front of his friends. Jeremiah has a lot less to lose than I do. He’s going to get me back, and most likely he’s going to get me better than I’ll ever get him. He might remember the slight for weeks or years and even tell students coming up to my class next year that I’m a rude b-word. All this grief for one little moment of retaliation simply isn’t worth it. Especially when there’s another, more adult solution.

When it comes to correcting misbehaviors, I try my absolute best to simply ignore the offending student. I review my expectations with the entire class. Everyone knows who I’m doing it for, and the students will often take on the job of scolding Jeremiah for me. I try really hard not to make the student obviously the center of my attention, especially if it’s negative attention. I direct my positive attention to students who are doing the opposite of Jeremiah, stating (without so much as a glance in his direction) to the next student who raises his hand, “Thank you, Fred. I really appreciate you waiting to be called on to share.” Hopefully these tactics will get the message across.

When the subtle steps don’t produce results, I try to look as unassuming as possible as I make my way to Jeremiah’s seat. I don’t stomp or yell. Hopefully I’ve already got him positioned on the outer edges of the classroom in anticipation of these little chats. When I get there, I crouch down. I’m not trying to intimidate him or shame him. I speak quietly and calmly. “Hey, I noticed you’re calling out a lot in class today. Is there anything you need that could help you follow expectations?” Perhaps I give him a choice: Two options that are both completely acceptable. Tomorrow I most likely follow up with him using my entering the classroom strategy. I keep him outside long enough that I can have a chat with him alone so he doesn’t need to posture for his friends. I ask him for a favor: Can you raise your hand today, for me?

In my interactions with the offending student, I do not seek to shame him or to release any of my own stress. I approach the situation in an emotionally neutral state. If I can’t do these things, I ask for time. I’m not looking to enter into a power struggle with the student, and I acknowledge that the situation involves only him and me. I keep it that way.


In conclusion, public praise and private criticism is definitely a habit that I believe is worth cultivating not only in the classroom, but throughout all areas of life. Taking the time to notice people and their efforts will continue to build warm feelings between you and everyone you meet. Similarly, keeping the corrective remarks subtle and respectful will greatly increase your chances of receiving a positive response.

Using this strategy in the classroom is critical to maintain your image as a fair and friendly teacher whom everyone wants to impress. Behavior management is a part of our job, and I believe that we can do it primarily with positive feedback. When corrections are necessary, we can handle them with grace that does not go unnoticed by students.

Classroom Management Strategies: Positive Framing

If you’re struggling right now with classroom management, it’s very likely that you’re also struggling with your mindset about your job or your students or both. Again, I’m going to have to be the one to come in with the unfortunate news: you’re going to have to change your attitude before you start to see changes in the classroom.

Sure it would be great to stop having problems in the classroom, and to improve your attitude after that, but that’s going to take some time. Your attitude, on the other hand, can be fixed before tomorrow. Henry Ford famously said, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.” This quote honestly gets on my nerves. It’s the last thing I want to hear when I’m fully absorbed in my defeatist attitude, but you must admit he has a point.

Trust me, I know how hard it is. I’ve spent sleepless nights dreading the horrors that tomorrow’s classroom would likely bring me. We’ve all had the “disaster at school” dreams. Rather than counting the infinite number of ways that tomorrow could turn out badly, I finally forced myself to start using positive framing, or the practice of working things in a positive light rather than a negative one. For example, which mindset would lead to you enjoying fitness more?

Option A: I have to work out or else I’ll be fat.

Option B: I enjoy feeling healthy so I make time for exercise.

Positive framing

Yeah.. So personally, I’m a happier person when I’m using phrases more like B. Even when I’m talking to myself inside my own head, it helps to keep my mind focused on good things and keep a positive mental attitude.

To apply positive framing to the black hole that is the dreading a bad class, I developed a mantra: “I will continue to try new classroom management strategies until something works. And something will work.” In some of my darker times, I would repeat this phrase to myself over and over again in the middle of the night when I couldn’t sleep. Anything to stop my mind from inventing a million new worst case scenarios.

If we’re ever going to succeed, the first step is definitely going to be thinking that success may be possible. If you start your day with feelings of dread and defeat, it’s very likely that that’s what the day will give you. Dig deep and find a better way to approach the day.

How to Frame Your Thoughts More Positively

The way I was taught to do this is to speak only in terms of what you do want to happen. Don’t say, “Today will not be bad.” In that sentence you’re still referencing the things you do not want, specifically the “bad.” Rather, say “Today will be good.” This is the same way you state your expectations to your classroom. You don’t say “no talking.” You say “I will begin the lesson when it’s silent.” Work on this kind of framing all the time, and I promise you’ll begin to see the effects.

Rephrasing Examples

“Can’t wait to see what happens in 3rd period today. Groan.” —> “I’m confident I will find solutions for third period.”

“I’m sure Bob is going to disrupt my lesson again.” —> “If I respond differently, maybe I can make some progress with Bob today.”

“I hate 4th period.” —> “I have to be creative with my lessons in 4th period.”

“Admin isn’t going to back me up anyway.” —> “It’s important that I find ways to solve things within my own classroom.”


According to Albert Einstein, the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results.” My entire purpose for writing this is to help you and me break out of the insanity cycle. We deserve to enjoy our jobs and our lives. Take an honest look at your situation. Are you stuck in a cycle of negative thoughts with no real attempt at finding solutions? It doesn’t matter which came first: the thoughts or the problems. To break free, we have to interrupt ourselves. Injecting some positive thinking will lay a strong foundation for success as we work on finding and testing solutions for our problems.

I know this won’t happen over night, and we shouldn’t expect immediate results. As we simultaneously learn to look on the brighter side of things as well as building our repertoire of classroom management techniques, bumps in the road will gradually lose their power to ruin entire days. Eventually, we’ll handle every classroom issue with grace and level headedness. Even the most riotous disruptions will no longer trigger anxiety and we’ll retell the story later in the staff room with a smile on our face as we have finally accepted that it’s not our fault. Kids will be kids, and we can continue to live our lives happily as we guide them towards maturity.

Classroom Management Strategies: Cherish The Child

I’m very excited and honored to be writing this chapter. This could be the most important words that I type throughout the entirety of this project.

Some of the teachers reading this book might be on their last straw. You’re reading my words looking for a sign. I know the question you’re asking, because I’ve asked it too. Should I quit this job, or should I stay and try to make it work?

There’s a lot of things I can’t speak for. I don’t know your administration and whether or not they support teachers. I don’t know what your workload looks like or how many IEP meetings you’re in. I don’t know if you feel physically threatened or unsafe in your building. If any of those things have you pushed to a breaking point, then maybe it’s time to throw in the towel or at least look for a new job somewhere else.

What I can speak for, though, is your relationship with children. If you come to work every day (well, most days, hopefully) and you love those kids, you see their potential, then we want you to stay! On the other hand, if you’ve been pushed to the point that you’re losing respect, you feel resentful, or if you’re edging towards hateful feelings for the students, then let’s look for new career paths.

Why Cherish the Child?

In Pia Mellody’s book, Facing Codependency, she defines the role of children and adults in the maturation process. Although this is more of a self help book, I found within it a lot of takeaways on how a functional relationship between an adult and a child should look like. Most of these can be applied in the classroom. First and foremost, let’s look at what children are, and what we can realistically expect of them.

Children are:

  • Valuable 
    By simply existing, a child has value. Period.
  • Vulnerable 
    Children are not capable of setting or enforcing their own boundaries. This makes them vulnerable. When a child’s boundaries are being disrespected, they will not be aware that what is being done to them is wrong. As adults, we must protect and respect the boundaries of children.
  • Imperfect
    Naturally, children are not adults. They will make many mistakes as they learn, grow, and test the limits of the world they live in.
  • Dependent
    Children are not yet capable of meeting their own needs. Most of the time they are not capable of even articulating what their needs are. Adults must help children learn what their needs are and how to get them met in a functional way.
  • Immature 
    A child cannot be treated as a mature adult. There are many implications of this fact for those of us working with children. The child should not be punished for acting their developmental age.

Download the Ultimate Guide to Classroom Management in Middle School in PDF format here.

The Role of Adults Working with Children

In short, our role is to guide our students towards becoming a functional adult. It’s important to remember, throughout every step of this process, that it is a work in progress. Do whatever work you need to do within yourself to squash any resentment, anger, blame, or disappointment in a child for being all of the things that I listed above. Instead, cherish these qualities. These are the things that make children great. Children bring joy into our lives and give us hope for the future! Let’s take a closer look into our role as adults.

In our journey to raise functional adults, one very important job you have is to model the process of setting healthy boundaries. You can do this through classroom management. First, you’ll model the process of setting your behavioral expectations. All functional adults should have acceptable standards by which they insist on being treated. You can teach your students a lot simply by showing them that functional adults have a line and they respond calmly and appropriately when that line is crossed. They do not allow themselves to be repeatedly disrespected.

Additionally, model to your students the process of communicating boundaries. When your expectations in the classroom are not being met, you refuse to proceed. You do not become angry or irrational, you simply restate the expectation and wait. Do you think your children are getting to see this at home? I suspect that many of our kids are coming to us each day exhausted by the emotional atmosphere in their homes. Let’s show them that there is a way to respect others while healthily limiting your involvement in their drama.

Remember, also, that it is part of the nature of a child to make mistakes and test limits. Doing so allows them to grow into the change makers that we want them to be. Children need consequences as a natural part of their learning process, but avoid punishing or blaming a child for simply being a child. Children who are not allowed to be children develop various dysfunctions.

I’ve found Instagram to be a gold mine of useful psychological content, and I’m including one helpful post here. I’d encourage you to dig deeper into this topic if it interests you. What I’ve learned is that many adults are unsuspectingly participating in the cycle of abuse. As children, we were not protected. Our boundaries were disrespected. We have grown into imperfect adults, and that’s ok. We now have a responsibility, though. We can grow and learn. We can provide a safer environment for the kids we meet today. The child cannot cherish or protect himself. It is our job to cherish and protect the child.


In conclusion, I have to admit that several of my favorite children have been badly behaved in class. I’ve loved them not for their obedience, but for their fire. Their personalities and energy. I developed this attitude knowing that their actions weren’t always about me, and they usually don’t mean any disrespect to me. They are simply kids. They don’t know how to get what they want or need, and they’re going about it all wrong. I admire these kids for their willingness to be vulnerable. For their look of shame when they know they let me down and their determination to come back better tomorrow. I like their silliness and their love of fun. Some of my “worst” students have been the ones I am the closest with today. (Not going to lie, it is much easier now that they’re out of my room!)

Remember that classroom management is not about achieving a silent room. It’s not about military tactics, punishments for disrespectful students, or rigidity. Classroom management, especially in middle school, is about setting high expectations, and clearly mapping out the path to meeting them. It’s about making every day a new day and an opportunity to try again. It’s about being an adult that kids want to work hard for. It’s about creating relationships where children can feel dignified and respected. Teaching and learning should be fun, and they can be! Likewise, teachers and students should enjoy one another. It’s not impossible. With a baby step every day, we can get there.

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Classroom Management Strategies: Getting A Head Start

We all know that teachers talk. More importantly, though, we know that the conventional wisdom recommends that, for your own good, you do everything you can to avoid staff room gossip. But, honestly, who isn’t up for a little vent sesh? Throughout my career I’ve sat around the lunch room table with the 6th grade teachers (I teach 7th.) and listened to stories about the terrors coming my way in the next school year. If there’s a particularly bad kid, I’m going to know it well in advance.

One year in particular the sixth grader teachers really had me shaking in my boots. I saw them cry over this class. I knew the names and faces of the students who caused the bulk of the problems. Just hearing the stories was enough to overwhelm me, and I even went to my administration and said that I might have to quit. There was no way I was going to inherit that class.

In short, I overreacted. We all need a chance to blow off steam with adults. Particularly ones who can sympathize with the unique struggle of teaching middle schoolers. Our coworkers become our cheerleaders, our shoulders to cry on, and sometimes our misery’s company.

I’m not going to spend a lot of time here addressing the type of culture that your school has or the way that teachers you spend time with choose to talk about children. I will briefly say, though, that if there’s a generally negative “vibe” coming from the people you’re spending a lot of work time with, I’d recommend that you make a change. It’s going to be very difficult to create the kind of classroom that we’re hoping to build if you’re surrounding yourself with negative energy.

That all being said, sometimes the teachers in the grade below have some really helpful tips. Those key hints are what I’m going to focus on here.

Download the Ultimate Guide to Classroom Management in Middle School in PDF format here.

What to do When you Know You’re Inheriting Bad News

When your fellow teachers tip you off to a rather challenging child or group coming your way, don’t despair! Think of it as a favor. To continue my story, I didn’t quit. I eventually chose a wiser path. I started to get to know the students who were causing trouble. I’d sit at their lunch table or toss a ball with them at recess. I began developing my relationship with these students before they entered my class, so that when they did find themself in a desk in my room, I already had something to build on.

It’s been well established that the core of classroom management is based in relationships. I think it’s also fair to say that relationships are a lot easier to build when you’re not directly responsible for the discipline of the other parties involved. Be proactive! When you get a tip about some exciting personalities coming your way, get a head start. Here’s some things to remember as you do so.

  1. Avoid developing biases.
    The first and most important reminder I can give you is to avoid bias. A student who gives another teacher grief could, and may very well be, an angel in your class. Different personalities clash and compliment in unpredictable ways, so avoid jumping to conclusions. When you get to know the child, assume that they’re going to be your best student. Start the relationship in a positive feedback loop by coming forward with positive energy and assumptions.
  2. Build on mutual respect.
    Treat all students with respect. Sometimes our students who have the most behavior problems are the ones who are craving respect the most. They aren’t getting it, and they likely don’t know how to get it. Jump the gun and give them your respect before they earn it, and it’s much more likely that they’ll be willing to work to keep it.
  3. Take advantage of your role.
    I don’t know about you, but I have a lot of fun with my students when I get to just hang out with them and play. I love having the opportunity to spend time with them as a mentor/friend and not a disciplinarian. It might be difficult to get these chances with your current class of students, but it’s very possible to have these moments with the students in other classes or grades. Spend time with the student and developing your relationship before you have to start seriously dishing out consequences.

Benefits to Getting a Head Start

All in all, it’s a good thing that we have other teachers who can lend an ear when we get overwhelmed. We can all make a greater effort to keep our gossip positive and solutions oriented, too. When it comes to classroom management, though, do your best to avoid the pitfalls of developing a negative attitude towards students you’ve barely met. Instead, take the initiative to be the adult in the situation. Become a friend to the kids you’ll eventually teach. Show them the side of you that likes to have fun. It won’t take a huge amount of time or effort to build a solid foundation of mutual friendliness that can really go a long way for you in the future.

Remember, classroom management is a delicate psychological dance between you as the authority and the students, most of whom are seeking identity and autonomy. When you ask someone to do something, and especially when you have no way to make them do it in the first place, a history of friendly interactions can be the deciding factor for a student who has the capacity to become a major thorn in your side. If you’re struggling with behavior in the classroom, go ahead and get a head start for next year by introducing yourself as a kind and trustworthy adult to the grade below in some low stakes situations.

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Classroom Management Strategies: Positive Parent Contact

In 2004, a study was conducted by Losada and Heaphy on the power of positive connection in teams. The study was focused on business, but their findings have been applied to every kind of relationship from parenting to marriage to friendships. I’m here to convince you that these results also extend that to your relationship with the parents of your students.

Losada and Heaphy found that the ideal ratio of positive to negative comments is 5 to 1. Additional studies have even posited that the analysis of this ratio was a very strong determining factor for whether or not a couple would get divorced or remain married. Even though these results are fascinating, they are not surprising. No one wants to work with, hang out with, or do almost anything with someone who constantly criticizes. I’d be willing to bet that you already know where I’m going with this.

Applying the Ratio with Your Parents

Maybe you’ve completely given up on contacting parents when it comes to issues in the classroom? Not like they’ll do anything to help, you might think. Or maybe you’ll occasionally send an angry email as a Hail Mary in a desperate moment. Trust me, I was once exactly where you are.

For several years, I simply did not contact parents. I groaned when I saw an email from a parent in my inbox. I responded in whatever way I thought would get them off my back. I’m regret now all the years I wasted not working with my parents. We should be a team, and we can be!

Now, I know the secret to maintaining a relationship with parents that will result in helpful action on their end. I do my best to maintain the 5 to 1 ratio.

In any relationship, people will not respond positively when they only hear criticism from the other party. The parents of your students are the same. Fortunately, according to the research, the definition of a positive comment is relatively broad. Even little phrases like “I agree with you” or “Good idea!” are considered positive. Similarly, though, comments like “I disagree” are in the negative category.

I know what you’re thinking. Who has the time to contact parents five times for every one bad call!? I do not, and neither do you. In order to keep this endeavor manageable, I recommend embedding the positive parent contact in your regular classroom management strategy. Like it or not, you will have to spend some time and energy in order to develop an orderly classroom. Especially if you don’t have one at the moment. We can just fold parent contact into that process.

Suggestions for Incorporating Positive Parent Contact

There are a million ways to incorporate positive rewards for your students, as a quick Pinterest or Instagram search will show. You could require students to earn a certain number of positive points or enter a raffle with positive behavior tokens. I’ve seen a lot of very cute and fun ideas on the internet.

Regardless of how you decide to structure it, I find that incorporating positive parent contact as a reward for good behavior makes it a lot easier to follow through on. Usually at the end of the week, but randomly as well, I send out a couple parent emails for kids I’m especially proud of. Sometimes I talk about academics, but I usually focus on behavior.

I have a coworker who calls the parents right in front of the class at the end of the week. The kids go nuts. Most importantly, though, she reports this as a highly motivating strategy in her classroom. I can assure you. The effort required to increase your positive parent contact ratio will undoubtedly pay off.

Download the Ultimate Guide to Classroom Management in Middle School in PDF format here.

Why it Works

Classroom management gets easier when students learn that the adults in their life are a part of a cohesive team. Communication with other teachers and parents about how to best motivate a difficult student will minimize the opportunities that the student has to play two adults against one another. Keeping everyone in the loop when it comes to progress and goals will only reinforce to the student that the expectations are not negotiable.

Additionally, parents will be much more willing to come to your aid when they see you as an ally instead of an adversary. Parents are insecure about what they’re doing, just like us teachers. They want to hear praise that they’re doing a good job and affirmation that their child is a star! When you eventually do need to send that SOS message on a bad classroom management day, you’re going to find much more receptive ears on parents who have interacted positively with you a couple times before.

Students, too, love the chance to make their parents proud! As we’ve discussed in other installments, our kids really just want to be seen as good and worthy by all the adults they admire. Who could be higher on that ladder than a parent? Connecting your classroom expectations to an opportunity to make mom or dad proud is sure to be a motivating factor. Even the toughest kids want to be praised.

And, I’ve been saving the best part for last. Kindness is contagious! Spending a few minutes in your week reaching out to share compliments usually brings such a happy response from parents that it’s almost impossible for me to walk away from these interactions without a smile on my face. I’ll never forget the time a student came to my class after the weekend and reported, with a shy smile on his face, how “terrible” it had been to come home to proud parents after my email reached them. “They were kissing me all over!” he complained.

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Classroom Management Strategies: Rewards for Students

To reward or not to reward students for good behavior? A quick Google search will convince you that this is a hotly debated topic amongst parents, psychologists, and teachers. The primary argument for the anti-reward group basically states that children who are rewarded for good behavior will revert to bad or worse behavior in the inevitable event that the reward is no longer offered. On the other hand, the pro-reward team argues that providing rewards is a harmless way to facilitate the acquisition of positive skills.

You can decide for yourself which side you’re on. That being said, every teacher and parent I know does reward their class/child for behaving in line with expectations. If you don’t want to use rewards feel free to skip this post.

Reward vs. Bribe

There’s definitely a difference between a “good” reward and a “bad reward for students. In my opinion, rewards feel a bit icky when they start to edge toward bribery. So what’s the difference?

What is a bribe?

A bribe is usually offered when the current behavior is bad. It’s a deal between you and the child that says something along the lines of “If you quit doing that I’ll give you something.” Bribes are, in a sense, a reward for bad behavior. It will not be lost on the students that the bribe would not have come about if it weren’t for the misbehavior.

Bribes also make you look powerless. It seems like you can’t figure out any other way to change the child’s behavior than to spend your own money or time to give something they wouldn’t have gotten if they hadn’t been bad in the first place. Bribes give the power and control to the child.

Finally, bribes will likely not lead to long term good behavior. Students will start demanding their “reward” every time they exhibit good behavior. Let’s avoid this pitfall, and do everything we can to avoid bribing our students.

What is a reward?

Rewards, on the other hand, are rooted in good behavior. Absolutely nothing needs to be said about bad behavior when giving a reward. You can narrate which expectation was followed, and how you’re going to honor that for that student or group. The rest of the class will perk up at the positive attention, and they may even decide to try to earn some for themselves as well.

Rewards can be clearly defined ahead of time, which helps you keep the ball in your court. Preplanning rewards can help you steer clear from bargaining with a child. Just like you shouldn’t argue with students about consequences, you don’t need to argue with them about rewards either. Your expectations are clear, and what the child gets for following them is clear too.

Rewards are also natural. Just like paycheck is your reward for coming to work every day and doing your job correctly, a child can earn some positive feedback when they do a good job too. A little extra motivation never hurt anybody!

Some tips for giving good rewards to students:

  • Be fair.
    Students have a 6th sense which allows them to detect even the faintest hint of inequality and injustice. Be clear with your expectations and what you’re willing to do if they’re followed.
  • Follow through.
    Just like with negative consequences, you’ll have to be diligent as you follow through on rewards. Don’t make promises you don’t plan to keep.
  • Be timely.
    Try to be quick with your rewards to the best of your ability. We really want to build a strong mental connection in kids’ brains that their good choices lead to good results and that can’t happen if they’ve forgotten why they’re being rewarded.
  • Teach and encourage.
    Guide your students in reflecting on the consequences of their actions. Help them to see that rewards are a consequence just like punishments, but that this time they made a different choice. Remind them that they have the power to choose. Encourage them to continue making choice that lead to favorable outcomes.

Intrinsic Rewards for Students

The best rewards are not material. You want most of your rewards to be based on the joy of positive interaction between the students and the teacher. Kids like to be accepted and encouraged.

When you’re clear with your expectations, what you’re really doing is teaching your students a clear path to earning your favor. When they follow those expectations, don’t be selfish with your praise. Let everyone know that you approve of the student. These intrinsic rewards are more meaningful than any free time, candy, or trinket.

In my classroom, if I’m having a difficult time with a particular group of students I like to begin the day with a list of everyone’s names on the board. When I catch students behaving appropriately, I put a check beside their name. I will not remove checks as a form of punishment (though I do sometimes erase one if kids ask for more checks, simply to send a strong message that I won’t reward beggars).

At the end of the period I try to snap a quick photo of the board for later reference. Then, when I get the chance, I call or email the parents of the students who earned a lot of marks. Parents do not get enough positive feedback from school about their children, and I consider this a little random act of kindness that affects the student, their family, and (in the long run) myself.

I usually get really happy responses from parents, but the best part is the face of the kid when they come to class the next day. One student told me (sounding frustrated) that his parents “wouldn’t stop kissing me all over.” Other students become jealous and ask me how they can get an email home of their own, to which I reply with my expectations and how they can earn their own reward.

Even if parent contact isn’t the reward you’d like to use with your students, try to find something special you can do for kids who come to class and work diligently for you. It doesn’t have to be tangible, but an acknowledgement that they’re seen and appreciated will do wonders for your classroom management.

I am compiling all the blog posts in this series in an E-Book. If you feel that PDF format will be easier to read, or you’d like to donate to my efforts in supporting new and struggling teachers, please:

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Classroom Management Strategies: Consequences for Students

Sometimes, behavior gets out of hand. A lot of the time, earlier interventions were possible and the behavior could have been de-escalated before it reached a point where formal consequences were absolutely necessary for the students involved.

The following interventions are steps I learned and adapted from the Love and Logic methods of classroom management. If you haven’t read their book, I’d highly recommend it as a guide to how to have better dialogue with students and avoid power struggles while administering discipline. Try these first, and you may be able to head off the need for a strict disciplinarian response at all.

First Steps to Take with a Badly Behaved Student

  1. Proximity
    Unfortunately, managing a classroom is not going to be possible from a seated position. When a student begins to cross boundaries, the first thing you must do is move towards them. Don’t necessarily look at the student yet. Simply enter their space so that they become aware of your presence. Do not stop teaching.
  2. The Look
    If you’re a teacher and you haven’t yet mastered “The Look,” then you’re going to have to work on that one in the mirror tonight. If proximity doesn’t solve the problem, give the look with a possible side of head shake. This should be your first eye contact with the offending student. Continue teaching.
  3. Comment
    After you’ve moved in and given the look, if the behavior continues, lean down and whisper a quick comment. Don’t stop teaching. Ask the student, “What are the expectations for you during note taking?” or “Meet me after class so we can talk about what’s bothering you.” This should be as discreet as possible.
  4. Change Locations
    Perhaps it’s time to move the student to a new area. The change of space is a powerful psychological force. New surroundings and things to look at, even just on the opposite side of the room can interrupt major emotional episodes. Ask the student to please move their seat. “Will you do it for me?”
  5. Speak in “I Messages”
    Instead of “You’re being too loud.” say “I teach best when it’s quiet.” Keep the focus on yourself and your needs, not on the student and their disruptions.
  6. Restate Expectations
    “I listen to students who raise their hands.” Remind the student and the rest of the class what you do approve of and appreciate. Do not highlight examples of ways to frustrate the teacher by announcing them to the class. “Mahmoud, stop blurting out!” or “Noura can you please quit tapping your pencil!” only bring more attention to the student who is not in line with expectations.
  7. Give a Choice
    “Is it better for you to work here with your group or alone where you can concentrate?” Give students options in which both choices work for you. When they’ve chosen, feel free to further pile on the responsibility by asking, “How will I know that was the best choice?” The student should offer up reasonable criteria at this time. Things like “My work will be complete” or “I’ll be quiet” are great outcomes for the student to mention. Now you’re no longer telling him how to be, he is choosing for himself.
  8. Remove the Student
    In the worst case scenario, try to completely remove the student from the situation before a major behavior has a chance to happen. Send them on an errand for you. Some of our students have a very hard time controlling their emotions, and a quick time out can really help. This is not a consequence yet. This is simply a favor you are doing the student so that they have a moment to breathe and think.

When Consequences are Necessary

If you’ve been completely clear about your expectations, tried a few interventions, and a student chooses to not act in accordance, it’s time for a consequence. It’s important to remember that this is not a punishment. It’s a reminder to students that they have the ability to choose, and that their choices lead to logical consequences. This process can be very stressful for the teacher because, as we all know from our own developmental days, consequences can be painful. The child may react very emotionally when they begin to experience the outcomes of their behavior.

As teachers, we have two main goals when a behavior has continued despite all our intervention strategies:

  1. Remain calm. The emotional reaction of the child will be magnified if you are also having an emotional reaction. Everyone makes mistakes, and everyone experiences the effects of their actions. This is nothing to be shocked or angry about. Your face and entire demeanor should communicate this fact.
  2. “Keep” the rest of the class. The entire class may be stirred up by the actions of the child. As quickly and as gracefully as possible, restore calm in the classroom. You will want to send the message that this is but a minor inconvenience, and the rest of the period will be going as planned. A teacher is generally said to have “lost” the class when one misbehavior leads to another. Soon chaos takes over and the class is circling the drain. Sometimes this continues for the rest of the school year.

Tips for Providing Consequences

In the heat of the moment, providing a consequence to a child who is misbehaving can be stressful. A flutter of panic rises up in my throat and a tiny voice asks, “What if they refuse?” Fortunately, we can build a toolbox of skills that will help us deliver a meaningful consequence with minimal disruption to the learning environment. The following tips will help you accomplish the two primary objectives listed above.

  1. Remain calm.
    The consequence is designed to inconvenience the student, not you. Do not give the impression that the student’s behavior has affected you emotionally.
  2. Don’t make threats.
    There is really no need to inform a student of what you plan to do if their behavior continues. Don’t give drawn out warnings or make promises about what’s going to happen. Your actions will speak much more loudly than any words after you’ve followed through on discipline with the first unfortunate soul who decides to test you.
  3. Inform the student privately.
    Do not involve the whole class in the consequence by announcing it to the entire group. Ask the student to meet you after class, or speak to them in a whisper while others are not looking. Do not turn the consequence into a power struggle where the student feels the need to “save face” in front of their peers.
  4. Give yourself time.
    There’s no need to rush a decision during an emotional moment. Simply tell the student that you’ll need to take a little while to think of an appropriate consequence. Say, “Your behavior in class today is going to result in a consequence. I’ll get back to you tomorrow when I’ve decided what that consequence will be.” There’s nothing wrong with waiting a day.
  5. Get feedback from the student
    Dignify the student by getting their input about what an appropriate consequence might be. This is not a chance for the student to argue. You were clear about your expectation and the child chose not to follow them. Now they will experience the outcome of that decision. Maybe the student would like to offer a fair consequence involving apologizing to those affected or cleaning up any messes made. Give them a chance to display this maturity.
  6. Empower students to solve their own problems.
    You do not need to step in and “save” the student from the pain of their mistake. The situation created by the student’s behavior must be the students problem only. Remind the student that they are not being punished. Rather, they experiencing the reality of their own choices. Allow students to experience the power of choice. Do not clean up their mess. Resist the urge to save them or to brush the situation under a rug.
  7. Document.
    In order to protect yourself, document all behavior incidents in your classroom. To save time and further inconvenience the offending student, feel free to have them do a write up of the incident. This can be shared with parents or administration, but it doesn’t have to. Definitely keep these documents for yourself, though.
  8. Do not punish the class as a whole.
    It’s a generally accepted rule of classroom management that whole group punishments do not work. 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.

Download the Ultimate Guide to Classroom Management in Middle School in PDF Format here.

The Hardest Hitting Consequence

Perhaps it was once different, but today schools have lost the authority to truly create a powerful consequence for students. You may very likely be dealing with students who have legal documentation that limits the number of suspensions they can be given. Students may get passed on to the next grade regardless of how many assignments they neglected. This can be frustrating.

To truly make an impact on a student with bad behavior, one cannot rely only on the proper channels outlined by the school and district. Yes, I’m suggesting that we go rogue. It’s not going to be easy, but it will be worth it. Hear me out.

The best consequences are the ones that take away something the student really wants. But what can we take? We don’t have any way to hold them back or repossess their iPhone. Regardless, these things are surface level. Just things. What the student wants more than anything is acceptance. This will be your bargaining chip.

No matter how tough that kid is acting when they buck up against you, underneath they are a small, broken child. They want the adults in their lives to be proud of them, especially adults they admire. No amount of time outs or seat changes or lost privileges will ever sting like even a flash of disappointment across the face of your hero and mentor.

By following the rest of the tips I’ve written, we can gradually build up to becoming the type of teacher that a kid strives to impress. When the child is furiously proclaiming how unfair the school rules are, one sentence can change their perspective completely: “Will you do it for me?”

It’s not our mission to force students to do things that they don’t feel comfortable with. In fact, we can’t force them to do anything at all. Our goal is to become someone that the student wants to make exceptions for. Someone they trust and are willing to follow, just ’cause. Someone who they’ve never seen argue with a student before, so they know you’re not going to argue with them. Someone they’ve seen give logical consequences to other students before, so they know they’re going to get a logical consequence too.

Consequences are a natural part of life. We can learn how to incorporate them into our classroom. We will be firm and fair, and through in consistency our students will feel safe.

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Classroom Management Strategies: Enforcing Boundaries

Children are naturally curious. It’s part of their nature to break rules simply to find out what happens when they do. They are hard wired to test the limits of the world that they live in. This inquisitive spirit is something to cherish in the child, and their explorations are a crucial part of their healthy development.

No matter how many times we say, “Do not touch the stove,” there is always going to be something in the child that asks, “But what will happen if I do?” Anyone who has spent any time around children will know that often that urge to find out is stronger than any threatening warning we can give. We know the stove is not safe to touch, but the child doesn’t really know until they test it. Thankfully, the majority of these situations are not a major danger to the child’s safety, and we all get by just fine in the end. Adults give the warnings, and kids do the thing anyway.

This back and forth between adults and children is as old as time, and you shouldn’t be too surprised when the game extends to your classroom. When a child inevitably challenges your expectations, you should simply transition into the next phase of classroom management: enforcing boundaries.

classroom management strategies enforcing boundaries

Why Boundaries Matter

As teachers, we are blessed with the opportunity to model expectation (or boundary) enforcement for our children. You create and enforce boundaries for yourself every day within every relationship. Your boundaries include things like:

  • How much energy you’re willing to give someone else’s problems
  • What kind of language you’ll allow someone to use when speaking to you
  • How far someone can move into your physical space
  • How much responsibility you’ll take on for how others feel
  • What you’re willing to do to gain someone’s favor

Many of the students we teach live in homes where boundaries are constantly disrespected. The cycle of abuse persists because the victim does not know what’s going on. Children are not mature enough to know what healthy boundaries are, much less to be able to enforce them with the adults in their lives. It’s very likely that you have children sitting in your room every day who are being broken and helpless in their own homes.

The best thing you can do for these children is to show them that there is another way. Your classroom expectations are your boundaries, and you do not ignore breaches. You clearly draw your line in the sand, and when someone steps over it, you address that situation with them immediately.

How to Enforce Boundaries

When the first child crosses your line, the whole class will go silent. Everyone will be on pins and needles waiting to see what happens next. Every move you make after that moment will be downloaded to the brains of all 25+ children who witness it, and they will use that information to inform their next decision. The answer to the question, “What happens when someone doesn’t comply?” is an important one that all students will find the answer to early in the year.

Fortunately, it’s possible to stand your ground and respect the natural inquisitive nature of the child. You do not have to let the class walk all over you. You do have the ability to provide consequences that will sting. In these instances, you have the opportunity to reinforce expectations with that child and the rest of the class which will hopefully limit the number of times this process must be repeated.

What to do the first time a boundary is crossed:

  • Remain calm. Don’t panic or act surprised or become furious. Remember that this is what children do. You make the rules, they break them. It’s ok!
  • Calmly describe the expectation that was broken. Without using a demeaning tone, say, “Brandon, it’s an expectation in my class that students do not talk during tests. That’s one way that I ensure a fair testing environment for everyone.”
  • Consider apologizing if that expectation wasn’t clearly described. Perhaps this situation was one of the few scenarios that you couldn’t have predicted. On the spot, add the new expectation to the class’s collective consciousness. Say, “I apologize for neglecting to mention that backpacks should only be worn or hung on the back of the chair. Throwing them is not acceptable.”

On the second offense:

  • Remain calm. Again, this is going to happen. There is no need to freak out.
  • Take them down. Depending on what has happened, try to remove the student as the focus of attention as swiftly as possible. Do not argue in front of the class. Meet the student in the hall or approach them, get on eye level with them by squatting or sitting next to them, and having a short whispered conversation.
  • Provide a Consequence. This is now a must. You don’t have to know what the consequence will be right away. You can say, “I will need some time to think of a consequence. I’ll get back to you when I’ve decided.” You can also ask the student what they think an appropriate consequence will be. They will not deny that there should be one if you’ve been going over your expectations as often as I recommend.
  • Follow through. Whatever you decide the consequence will be, it must be followed through on. Failing to do so will undermine your authority and the students can smell this happening from miles away.

Download the Ultimate Guide to Classroom Management in Middle School in PDF format here.

What not to do when enforcing boundaries:

  • Entertain the class by teaching them a new way to get a reaction out of you. Show no emotion! Your students might just be bored enough that “Make the Teacher Mad” becomes a new pass time. This will be devastating.
  • Expect students to know expectations you haven’t taught. Dig deep and ask yourself: Did I make it clear that this behavior wouldn’t be acceptable? If the answer is no, you can’t really be surprised that you’re in this situation. In society, kids are not given the same privileges as adults because they do not yet know many of the things that we take for granted. You must teach them how to act.
  • Launch a passive aggressive campaign insisting that the child figure out what they did to upset you and fix it. The child is not mature enough to know what you want if you do not tell them. The child is also not mature enough to understand your needs when it comes to making amends. If you would like an apology, ask for it. Afterwards, move on. The kid is doing what kids do!

Remember, kids are always just doing what works for them. They want, maybe even need, to see what they can get away with in your room. This fact is not a disrespect to you. Take the opportunity to show them something they may have never seen before: an adult who will not tolerate behaviors that have been clearly defined as inappropriate.

Respectfully draw your line and stick to it. Over time, the students will begin to feel a sense of safety with you. You don’t surprise them with rules that weren’t defined in advance. You don’t give out consequences based on how much you like or dislike a particular student. You simply come to work every day with your boundaries intact, and you handle anyone who interferes. Is this not the kind of adult we’d like all of our students to grow up and become? Let’s model it for them.

I am compiling all the blog posts in this series in an E-Book. If you feel that PDF format will be easier to read, or you’d like to donate to my efforts in supporting new and struggling teachers, please:

Download the Ultimate Guide to Classroom Management in Middle School E-Book


Read more blog posts on classroom management.

f this blog post was helpful to you, or if you think anyone else could benefit from these classroom management strategies, please consider pinning the following image to help me expand my reach.

enforcing boundaries