The Ultimate Guide to Classroom Management in Middle School

If you’re like me, perhaps you never received any formal training in classroom management strategies. I’ve met a lot of teachers living the way I did for the first several years of my career: grinding their teeth, counting down minutes, making idle threats, and generally living for the moment that the bell rings. If any of these sound familiar to you, read on.

Why Classroom Management Matters to Me

For the first 4-5 years of my career, I struggled a LOT. I walked into my first classroom in 2012 as a 5’2”, twenty one year old southern belle. I had no idea how to command a room. “Be nice to them and they’ll be nice to you” was my entire classroom management philosophy. I’m older now, but I’m still 5’2”. I’ve experienced everything there is when it comes to classroom management, including, but not limited to:

  • Fights in my classroom
  • Inclusion fiascos of every imaginable kind
  • Blame from administrators for sending “too many” kids to the office
  • Class sizes of over 30 (bonus point if your schools splits classes when someone is absent!)
  • All boys and all girls classrooms
  • Laptops/cell phones

For me, not succeeding in classroom management was not an option. I had to find my strategies and my style or I wasn’t going to make it. By my fourth year of teaching, I felt sick every morning when I woke up, just thinking of the day ahead. I took antidepressants. I broke down in my principal’s office. There had to be another way.

Fortunately, there is. I’m beginning this series of posts for anyone out there who is like I was. Desperate and having no idea where to begin. You can and you WILL succeed in classroom management with some new strategies and practice! Without further ado, let’s jump into the step by step guide we all needed when we started out!

17 Classroom Management Strategies You Can Implement Tomorrow:

1. Self Care

If you’re drowning in a toxic classroom environment, it’s likely that all you want to do when the day finishes is to block out any thought of your students from your mind. If your role in the classroom is leading you to drink or avoid thoughts of problems in other ways, you are merely setting yourself up for further issues. Managing 30 kids isn’t easy for a healthy person, and you will not succeed if you aren’t taking care of your body and mind.

Get the full classroom management guide here.

2. Setting Expectations

Setting and communicating clear expectations is the most important thing for getting your students to perform in the way you want them to. If they’re not giving you what you want, ask yourself first: Did I clearly communicate what I expected? A lot of time, you’ll find the answer is no. I review expectations every day for every task I’m planning to do using this presentation. Sometimes more than once a day! This cuts down on 80% of my classroom management issues.

3. Entering the Classroom

Classroom management for me begins before class even begins! I teach expectations for lining up outside the classroom, and monitor student behavior in the hallway as students prepare for entry. Using positive narration helps by providing cues to appropriate behavior. Students who are upholding expectations are allowed to enter the room first. When the hallway group dwindles to the last few troublemakers, I take the opportunity to have a private chat about my hopes for the day’s classroom behaviors.

4. Feedback Loops

A feedback loop develops when the outcome of an event begins to inform the beginnings of the same event next time. Pay very close attention to what kind of feedback loop you are in with your class and with individual students.

A negative feedback loop looks like:

I hate this class; they always misbehave > Yep they did it again, just like I knew they would. > Dreading the class for tomorrow already.

A positive feedback loop looks like:

I love Ms. Hill; I want to make her proud of me > I did well today. Ms. Hill gave me a sticker! > I’m can’t wait for science class tomorrow!

Students will never be the ones to shift your loop from negative to positive. This is your responsibility, as the adult. The sooner you start, the better the rest of the year will go!

5. Differentiation

Have you ever heard the phrase “kids would rather be bad than stupid”? Perhaps your problem child is causing issues simply because the work is out of their league. Try planning a day for coloring, copying definitions, or any other activity that is accessible to everyone. If behavior improves, incorporating more differentiation in your lessons could be a key to success for you!

6. Enforcing Boundaries

Healthy adults set and enforce limits for what kind of behavior they’ll allow in their presence. Providing consequences when students cross the line will be a critical part of your job. When a boundary is crossed be calm! Calmly describe the expectation which was not met. If the behavior continues, neutralize the student and the situation by providing a consequence that stings. See my E-book for more tips of what to do and not when handing out consequences and how to give the hardest hitting consequences.

7. Rewards

One of the most common classroom management strategies is the reward. You don’t have to fill your classroom with candy to reward students. A phone call home, sticker, or tally mark on the board will suffice. However you choose to structure it, though, giving students something to work for will definitely provide a motivation for their behavior!

8. Parent Contact

In particular, positive parent contact. At the end of every week, I pick a couple “borderline” kids (the ones that are sometimes good, but usually bad) who had a decent week and email their parents about what a great job they’e done in class lately. Nine times out of ten, that child comes back after the weekend absolutely beaming. A lot of times our kids seem like they don’t care if the attention they get is negative, but that may simply be because they’ve never had positive attention before. Once they get a taste, they’ll be hooked.

9. Provide Consequences

In general, the only real consequences are the ones that take away something that a child wants very badly. If you’ve been teaching in schools as long as I have, you know we don’t really have the legal right to take away any of those things… Or do we? There’s one consequence you can always administer that hurts the most: taking away your approval. But first, you must be the kind of person whose approval the child desperately wants to earn. You can do it!

10. Get A Head Start

I always chat with the teachers in the grade below me. I ask them to point out the behavior problems that I’ll be inheriting. Instead of scowling at these children or counting down the days until they become mine, I jump start my relationship with them. It’s easy to bond with a kid when you’re not the one they’re getting in trouble with. Take advantage of your chance to be a “friendly adult” before you become a teacher to boost your relationship with That Kid.

11. Cherish the Child

By nature, children are

  • Valuable 
  • Vulnerable 
  • Imperfect
  • Dependent (needing and wanting)
  • Immature 

Our role is to guide our students towards becoming a functional adult. Punishing or blaming a child for acting their developmental age results in later dysfunction. 

12. Choice

Adolescents naturally look for chances to take more control in their lives as they begin the transition to adulthood. Empower your students by giving them options. The trick, though, is that both choices are things you are fine with. For example, “Would you like to continue working with your group, or can you concentrate better if you move somewhere more quiet?” is a great alternative to “Sarah! If you can’t be quiet you won’t be allowed to work with your group anymore!”

13. Don’t Engage

We’ve all known teachers that allow themselves to be lured into verbal confrontations with students. Avoid this cringey pitfall by sticking to your guns. Calmly deliver a short, conflict ending one liner or offer a choice to the student. You don’t have to allow students to drain your energy in pointless back and forth battles.

14. Build Relationships

Take time to chill with your students. Talk to them. Ask them about their day. Sometimes, it’s important to take a small break from curriculum to make time for relationships.

Read more on how I use coloring time to relax with my students.

15. Praise Publicly, Criticize Privately

A very important closing note is the reminder to praise publicly, criticize privately. When we embarrass a child, we not only crumble their fragile self esteem, but we also can create an enemy. Be mindful of how you correct behaviors. Try to get on eye level with the child, and speak to them away from any friends they may want to impress. These techniques will be the stepping stones to a more positive relationship with That Kid, rather than a constant battle for control.

16. How to Win Over the Bad Kid

Sometimes, I feel stuck in a negative feedback loop with a kid. There’s just nothing they do that gives me any reason to smile! How can I turn these situations around?

3 suggestions:

  1. Ask that child for a favor. For some psychological reason, we like people who need our help. Make it seem like an important favor that only that child can accomplish. When they do it, you have your first foothold towards a positive loop.
  2. Turn a slightly blind eye to their misbehaviors, just for a little bit. See if you can catch them doing something (anything) good. Lavish them with praise. Begin the positive loop.
  3. Give an inch. In private, strike a deal with this child. I once changed a formative mark for a child from a minus to a plus. He knew I did it, and it saved him the shame of having ALL minuses for the quarter. Crucially, I later used this favor as a bargaining chip. You can too.

17. Positive Framing

This strategy made a huge change for me. I use it in several areas of my life. When classroom management is getting you way down, try to reframe your thoughts. At 3am when you’re up with anxiety about what That Kid is going to do tomorrow, instead of constantly replaying dreadful scenarios in your mind, try a slightly more positive mantra. Instead of “I don’t know how I’m going to get through tomorrow,” try “Tomorrow I’m going to implement one new strategy and just see how it goes.” Instead of “I suck at classroom management,” try “I enjoy finding new solutions to classroom management situations.”

Get the full classroom management guide here.

Read more posts about classroom management here.