Managing the Classroom

kinder class

Table of Contents

  • Creating an effective classroom learning environment
  • Proactive Teaching
  • Proactive and preventative strategies

One of the greatest challenges for beginning teachers is creating an environment focused on learning and teaching. It is more than managing the behavior of students – it involves creating an optimal classroom environment where learning and teaching can take place effectively.

Creating an effective classroom learning environment

Many factors impact on the learning environment including:

  • putting routines in place
  • interacting with students
  • negotiating rules with students
  • ensuring the rules are consistently and fairly carried out
  • arranging classroom furniture.

There are three areas that provide a useful set of organizers when considering the range of factors that influence the creation of an effective classroom learning environment: structure, instruction and discipline.

1. Structure

Structure refers to organizational practices, routines, and procedures that form a platform for daily activities. Structure involves such concrete issues as how desks are arranged and influences such abstract concerns as group dynamics.

Effective structure evolves with time and needs to be flexible and responsive to the learner’s needs. Flexibility allows for changes that will improve the learning climate. Examples include establishing routines for all daily tasks and needs and orchestrating smooth transitions and continuity of momentum throughout the day.

2. Instruction

Instruction refers to the delivery of content using the knowledge of students, how they learn, the subject content and how to teach it. When students are engaged in their lessons, disruptions are minimal.

Conversely, monotonous, dull lessons create boredom, which in turn leads students to seek out distractions.

Effective teachers are enthusiastic, they know their curriculum, they take their student’s needs and interests into account when planning, and they use a variety of teaching methods. Examples include striking a balance between variety and challenge in student activities, and increasing student engagement in learning and making good use of every instructional moment.

3. Discipline

Discipline refers to the approaches and strategies teachers use to guide and promote constructive student behavior. Discipline is as immediate as correcting misbehavior and as far-reaching as developing a trusting relationship.

Discipline involves more than simply reacting to misbehavior and punishing recalcitrant students – discipline is proactive and educational.

Effective disciplinary practices teach students how to manage their feelings, behave appropriately, and respect other’s rights. Examples include heightening the awareness of all actions and activities in the classroom using consistent, proactive disciplinary practices, and anticipating potential problems to limit disruptions and resolve minor disruptions before they become major problems.

Henley asserts that focusing on a combination of structure, instruction, discipline has a dynamic effect on the learning environment. Everything that transpires in a classroom – moment to moment, day to day, and week to week – is influenced by the teacher’s approach to these 3 areas.

Proactive Teaching

In order to teach well, teachers must establish an environment that is both productive and harmonious. And to do this, teachers need to be proactive.

Proactive teachers

Proactive teachers accept responsibility for their student’s successes and their students’ failures. They:

  • Take a solution-oriented approach. Proactive teachers find solutions – they recognize that while there are often explanations for student’s difficulties, they do not use these explanations as excuses.
  • Adopt a can-do attitude. Proactive teachers have a strong belief in their students, do not give up on them and maintain a ‘no-excuses’ attitude toward their learning.
  • Make wise choices. Proactive teachers make wise choices about the use of structure, instruction and discipline in ways that facilitate learning.
  • Acknowledge the needs and rights and expectations of students. Proactive teachers acknowledge the students’ basic needs, including survival, belonging, power, fun, and freedom. They establish optimal learning environments and expect high standards of behavior.
  • Acknowledge teacher needs and rights and expectations. Proactive teachers acknowledge that a teacher needs the full attention of each student and that they have the right to establish optimal learning environments. They expect behavior that contributes to optimal student growth

Proactive and preventative strategies

These proactive measures can be used to prevent misbehavior happening in the first place.

Give routine and direction

  • Provide support with routines – announce and post the daily/lesson schedule to give students a sense of security and direction.
  • Provide cues – signal to the students that it is time for a certain behavior to be performed. For example, to stop work and pay attention to you, to prepare to leave at the end of a period.
  • Modify the classroom environment – the placement of desks, tables, supplies, teacher actions and actions of other students can contribute to off-task behavior. Examine the behavior and determine the factor that contributed to it and make appropriate modifications.
  • Communicate clearly and confidently – display a firm, confident, pleasant, interested and enthusiastic manner. Keep your voice controlled and modulated, and make sure explanations are clear.
  • Give effective directions:
    • limit directions to 2-3 at a time
    • gain the classroom’s full attention
    • issue directions step-by-step with clear signposting by a key words such as ‘first’
    • directions for more difficult tasks should be written on the whiteboard
    • check that students understand the directions
    • observe to check that students are carrying out the directions.
  • Plan thoroughly – a well-planned learning experience that is interesting and within the students’ range of achievement is associated with learning gains. The teacher can make learning more attractive by giving a coherent and smoothly-paced lesson presentation. Getting the lesson going, keeping it going with smooth transitions, avoiding abrupt changes that interfere with student activity, and postponing satiation is important in maintaining positive student behavior associated with being on task.

Offer variety and stimulation

  • Provide variety – teachers should vary the way they present their lessons from day to day. They may demonstrate, lead a group activity or discussion, or have students work quietly on their own. Routines can become ruts if there is not some variety to stimulate or ‘spice things up’.
  • Consider the physical environment – the classroom should be clean and pleasantly decorated with student creations, yet free from distracting stimuli. Consider if the space warm and inviting, the comfort levels of students, and how crowding, clutter, noise, excessive heat or cold may affect them. Consider the most suitable location for the teacher’s desk. Equipment needs to be secure and accessible.
  • Consider seating arrangement – the desks should be arranged so students can work as a whole class, in groups and individually, and allow the teacher to circulate freely and efficiently. Decide if students are required to sit in set seat allocations or whether seating arrangements will be vary according to activities. Some teachers may prefer to allow students to sit wherever they like.
  • Create walls that teach – as well as displays of student work, create walls that teach by displaying rules, procedures, timetables and whole-school expectations as well as prompts for students as they are working independently. For example, spelling tips, comprehension strategies, editing codes and so on.
  • Use lesson starters – as part of an effective routine, it is best for students to become engaged immediately after entering the classroom or at the beginning of a new lesson. Fun problems, a picture stimulus, music or interesting reflection topics can be put on the whiteboard to engage students and ‘hook’ them into the learning to come.
  • Plan lesson introductions – present an outline of what is to come in the lesson that includes a clearly stated learning intention, the learning experiences that student will engage in and criteria for completion of the lesson’s work. Make clear the consequences of not completing the lesson’s work/task.

Create good relationships

It’s vital to establish good relationships with the students. (Marzano, Marzano, & Picketing, 2003) found that the quality of teacher-student relationships is the keystone for all other aspects of classroom management.

To establish good relationships:

  • Be warm, natural, pleasant, approachable and tolerant.
  • Share yourself evenly amongst students.
  • Set limits and apply them consistently and fairly.
  • Show respect for students.
  • Communicate high expectations.
  • Respond to all students enthusiastically.
  • Show that you care.
  • Teach critical social skills.

Be flexible

  • Help students over hurdles – students who are experiencing difficulty with a specific task need help in overcoming that problem. This may consist of encouraging words, an offer to assist, making additional materials or equipment available. ‘Hurdle helping’ prevents the student giving up on the task or becoming disruptive.
  • Alter lessons when necessary – students may lose interest in the lesson for a variety of reasons (Satiation). When this happens the lesson needs to be altered in some way – select a different type of activity. Altering the lesson early enables you to keep students’ attention focuses on the lesson and maintain order.
  • Spend more time observing and less time micromanaging – Linsin (2012) (Marzano, Marzano, & Picketing, 2003) asserts that most teachers talk too much, help too much, and are seen too much. He claims that micromanagement breeds needy, demanding, and dependent students who expect from the teacher what they can readily do for themselves. It is important to give ‘efficient help’ to the students. This type of help may also reduce the number of cases of the ‘dependency syndrome’ – students asking questions without actually needing help.
  • Use the 20-second rule – research shows teachers spend too much time working one-on-one with students – 20 seconds is recommended. Avoid doing the work for the learner by providing one suggestion and then moving on. Offer praise for successful small steps. Move on, but check back later for on task behaviour.

Present new learning

  • Alert students to new learning – alert the students when you are about to present something new for them to learn. Present the new information in a clear-cut, efficient, high-impact way. Check for understanding before moving on.
  • Practice guided and independent practice of new learning – allow students to co-operatively or independently work on the lesson task/product.
  • Re-teach if necessary – if you find yourself buzzing around the room, re-teaching one student after another, bring the group back together and re-teach the missed concept to the whole group.
  • Identify student learning goals – explain to students where they are in terms of their learning and identify where they need to go next. Have students identify their own short term, achievable goals for their learning. Work with students to set short and long term learning goals based on syllabus standards. Support students to monitor their progress and achievement.
  • ‘Learn’, not ‘do’ – switch the focus from ‘doing’ to ‘learning’ in each lesson. Let students know what the learning focus for each lesson will be. Ask students to describe what they have learned each day/lesson. Signal to students when there is new learning for them.
  • Vary learning experiences – using a variety of activities helps keep students from becoming bored by the same lessons day after day. Consider authentic application through field trips, guest speakers, debates, writing activities, independent work, interviews and so on.

Address student needs

  • Focus on student needs – lesson topics should be relevant to the students if at all possible. Teaching strategies should be congruent with student learning styles. The teacher should help the students develop learning goals which are real, attainable, and a source of pride. Activities should be fun for the students.
  • Establish group cohesiveness and responsibility – a teacher’s enthusiasm, level of concern for the students, and class involvement all can affect the level of class togetherness. Group rewards can be used.
  • Be flexible – no matter how long you have spent preparing a lesson, be prepared to ‘let it go’ if it is obviously not working. Try a new approach, a different angle, as long as whatever you do results in the learning intention for the lesson being achieved. Talk to older students, as they will likely be able to tell you what went wrong with the lesson. Under no circumstances should you continue to try to teach a lesson if the students are starting to disengage.
  • Conclude the lesson effectively – always allow time at the end of the lesson for students to reflect on their new learning and their progress towards individual learning and behaviour goals.
  • Remove distracting objects – when you see that distracting objects are keeping students from assigned tasks, simply collect the object and quietly inform the student that the object can be collected after class.
  • Provide encouragement for all students – encouraging words and guiding suggestions make all students feel they are being supported in their efforts.
  • Treat all students with dignity and respect – use a respectful tone and mannerisms when addressing students and misbehaviour. Listen carefully to what students have to say, speak politely to them, and treat everyone fairly. Never engage in discussion with a student while you or the student is angry. Allow some wait time so that you can both speak in a calm, matter-of-fact manner.


  • Canter, L. (1996). Assertive Discipline. Seal Beach, CA: Canter and Associates.
  • Canter, L. (no date). Assertive Discipline: More Than Names on the Board and Marbles in a Jar. Phi Delta Kappan, vol. 71 no.1
  • Henley, M. (2009). Introduction to Proactive Classroom Management. Classroom Management: A Proactive Approach. Upper Saddle River: Pearson.
  • Jones, F. H. (1987). Positive classroom discipline. New York: McGraw-Hill.
  • Jones, V. (1991). Experienced teachers assessment of classroom management skills presented in summer course. Journal of Instructional Psychology, 18.
  • Kounin, J. (1977). Discipline and group management in classrooms. Huntington, NY: R.E. Krieger
  • Linsin, M. (2012, July 28). How to Teach Routines. Retrieved May 1, 2014, from Smart Classroom Management.
  • Linson, M. (2013). 5 Classroom Management Tips For Every Teacher. Retrieved May 1, 2014, from Smart Classroom Management.
  • Marzano, R. J., Marzano, J. S., & Picketing, D. J. (2003). Classroom management that works. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
  • Marzano, R. J., Marzano, J. S., & Picketing, D. J. (2003). Classroom management that works. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
  • Slavin, R. E. (2003). Educational psychology: Theory and practice (7th ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
  • Wilkinson, J., & Meiers, M. (2007). Managing student behavior in the classroom. NSWIT Research Digest, 2007(2).

State of New South Wales (Department of Education), 2021  Copyright material is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) license

Graphic- Image by Debbie Courson Smith from Pixabay