How to Intervene in Classroom Management

Four ways principals can help teachers improve behavior and learning in the classroom.

By Mary C. Clement
December 2015, Volume 39, Issue 4

Principals know when a teacher is having difficulty with classroom management. Weak classroom management results in a chaotic environment and lower student achievement, and often brings parent complaints directly to the principal’s office. While it is easy to see the problem, it is more challenging to resolve the issue. When you need to intervene in a teacher’s classroom to improve organization and management, consider following a four-step intervention process.

1. Scrutinize the Space
Walk into the room with the teacher, asking him or her to pretend that he or she is the student. Is it easy to enter the room and get to an assigned desk? Sit in the back or side of the room and verify that the board and screen are visible. How do students get their materials and graded papers? Placing a table near the door enables students to pick up anything needed for the class, thus saving time and noise throughout the class. This entrance table also is the perfect spot to turn in papers and exit slips as class ends.

For many years, elementary and middle school classrooms abandoned desks to accommodate group work. While group work is important, and having students face each other is necessary for student interaction, students should not be in groups all the time. Students should be facing the front, either in rows or theatre style when they are not engaged in specific group work. This alone will markedly improve noise levels and students’ attention. Quiet, introverted students need personal space to think, and individual desks that face the front provide a modicum of private space for students.


2. Reinforce Procedures and Routines
Students of any age need to be taught how to enter the room, become focused on the day’s activities, and do all of the procedures for the class.

Telling is not enough. A teacher needs visuals to reinforce procedures until they become routine. Ask the teacher to describe students’ desired behaviors for each aspect of class, such as turning in work, having discussions, breaking for a snack or lunch, and ending the day. For each desired behavior, the teacher should consider writing out what the students do, in a short, three-step process, and posting the steps as a procedure.

To teach these procedures, the teacher can refer to a flip-chart or projection on the screen until each procedure is so routine that the students do it automatically. While this is best done during the first few weeks of the school year, a teacher having problems with management may want to start teaching procedures the Monday after a holiday weekend, or the first day of a new grading period.

3. Set Rules
While a school should have an overarching “umbrella” plan for student conduct, each individual teacher also needs a classroom-level management plan. Three to five well-worded rules can make all the difference in managing student behavior. Rules such as “hands, feet, and objects should be kept to oneself” cover a multitude of incidents. The rules must be posted and taught from day one of the year, with re-teaching and reminders after holiday breaks and long weekends. Parents need a copy, as does the principal, so that if a parent calls you directly, you can quickly refer to each teacher’s plan.

Corrective actions, also called consequences, do not need to be severe to be effective. Arranged in a hierarchy, a warning, a short time-out at the side of the room, some minutes of silent lunch, or detention can make a difference. For severe infractions that are potentially harmful to others, a backup plan is needed. When students follow rules, there should be positive feedback, extra time awarded for activities of choice, or positive notes home.

4. Prepare Rigorous Lessons
Busy, engaged students are less likely to become distracted and to cause behavioral issues. Students should always have something to do the minute they enter the classroom. These focus, or “sponge,” activities, should be posted, as should an outline for the day’s schedule. Knowing what is going to happen next gently guides students, especially those with high stress levels. Since some students always finish tasks before others, posting a “What can I do now?” list is helpful.

Mary C. Clement is a professor of teacher education at Berry College.

Adapted from “Practitioner’s Corner: Four-Step Classroom Intervention,” Principal, November/December 2014.

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