The first weeks of school is the most critical time for establishing effective classroom management for the rest of the year. I’m a big believer in holding off on all significant teaching of course content until some effective classroom management procedures and classroom rules are established and practiced thoroughly.
Consider using the following classroom management strategies in your first days of school:
1. Greet Students at the Door
Don’t wait at your desk or scramble to get things ready for your students’ arrival. Greet them at the door with a smiling face and a handshake. Set the tone from the moment they meet you that this class is going to be fun and you will be supportive.
2. Predetermine Classroom Assigned Seats
Establish some structure as soon as the students walk in the door on the first day of school. Post their assigned seats on the board or set name tags on their desks. This will help you learn new students’ names but also establish some structure to your classroom. You can always adjust seats when some students don’t get along or get along a little too well.
I include bell work activities in every lesson. It gets the students to come in quietly and immediately get to work. This has consistently been the most effective classroom management strategy that I use. Give them an assignment when they walk in the door and save minutes each day at the beginning of class. I typically assign bell work in the first weeks of school that have students recall the classroom rules and procedures.
4. Set Positive Expectations
Communicate with the students what you expect them to accomplish during the course of the year. These expectations could include:
- Be confident in personal prayer.
- Summarize to a stranger what a book of the Bible is about.
- Make moral choices based on the Church’s teaching.
- Willingly serve others who need the most.
The constant teacher mistake is that we focus to much on ourselves and not enough on the students. These expectations should not be demands like, “You will not break the rules.” They should be motivational and revealing of what the students will be doing throughout the year.
5. Post Rules and Procedures on the Walls
Teachers love to decorate their classrooms. Be sure that the most important information (the rules and procedures that you will remind them of each day) is posted on the wall. I typically buy some nice looking posterboard and write it out in marker. I’ve also had artistic students upgrade the posters later in the year to look more attractive.
6. Practice, Practice, Practice your Procedures
Procedures are not rules. They are just the way a classroom operates. These procedures need to be practiced daily for weeks until they become ingrained daily habits. Once students have mastered the procedures, then you can take a full day to teach content. (Click for a list of examples of classroom procedures.)
I owe everything I know about effective classroom management strategies to Harry Wong’s book, The First Days of School, which was featured prominently in the first weeks of my graduate work in Catholic education. I believe every teacher and catechist should read this book before beginning a new year. I’ve reread some of the key parts every year since my first year of teaching.