Classroom Management: The Most Common Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Almost half of all teachers feel unprepared to manage their classrooms. This number includes teachers with significant classroom experience.

In fact, classroom behavior management can be a struggle for new and veteran teachers. As expectations increase and class sizes grow, this struggle becomes more difficult. At the same time, it becomes even more important.

Read on to learn about the most common classroom management mistakes and how to avoid them.

The Importance of Classroom Management

Effective classroom management is a prerequisite to an effective learning environment. Children can’t learn when they are distracted by inappropriate behavior. A well-managed classroom thus allows meaningful teaching and learning to take place.

The descriptor “meaningful” is important in the above statement. It highlights another reason classroom management is so important. Saying that children learn nothing in a poorly managed classroom is not accurate. In a poorly managed classroom, children do learn. However, they learn the wrong lessons.

In a poorly managed classroom, children learn that serious engagement with serious subjects is not valued. They learn that self-discipline and hard work aren’t necessary. In short, poor classroom management stunts children’s social-emotional development.

When they don’t face consequences, children don’t learn to regulate their own behavior. When children see their teacher’s attention drained by classmates’ misbehavior, they learn that their own needs don’t matter.

Effective classroom management, thus, ensures that children learn the right lessons. These lessons are important components of a child’s academic, social, and emotional development.

Furthermore, effective behavior management in the classroom promotes student engagement. A well-managed classroom allows all students to participate fully in the learning environment.

What Does a Well-Managed Classroom Look Like?

A well-managed classroom functions according to rules, routines, and consequences. These rules, routines, and consequences must be clearly communicated and fair. Students know what they are expected to do, and they know what behaviors to avoid. They also know that they will face consequences if they fail to meet these expectations.

They are confident, moreover, that these expectations and consequences apply equitably. They don’t feel that certain students are exempt from these expectations. Conversely, they don’t feel that these expectations target certain students.

Further, they don’t fear that their teachers will humiliate them if they fail to follow the rules. If they break a rule, they know to expect a consequence. They also know that the consequence will be unpleasant. Yet, they trust that the teacher will treat them with respect while administering it.

Who Is Responsible for Creating a Well-Managed Classroom?

Studies identify the teacher as the single most important factor in student achievement. The teacher is, likewise, the single most important factor in a well-managed classroom.

In practice, however, effective classroom management—and effective teaching—requires a team approach. Of course, this team includes the classroom teacher and special education teachers. However, it also includes:

  • School counselors
  • Special education directors
  • School psychologists
  • Behavior interventionists
  • Administrators

Having a full toolbox of behavior-management strategies is essential to this team’s success. Some students do require more extensive interventions. However, studies show that common strategies are effective for 80-85% of all students.

This means that educators struggling with classroom management have hope. It begins by identifying what has gone wrong and working to fix those mistakes.

The Most Common Behavior Management Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

Classroom management mistakes afflict new and veteran teachers alike. They are not signs of a “bad” teacher. Most often, they are signs that a teacher is overwhelmed or lacking support and training. Most importantly, they are fixable.

The following are some of the most common classroom management mistakes and tips for avoiding them.

1. You Haven’t Built Relationships with Your Students

Any discussion of how to manage a classroom involves relationships. Teachers who build strong relationships with their students struggle less with behavior management.

First, building relationships allows you to individualize your classroom management plan. When you know your students, you can target strategies and consequences to their needs.

Effective consequences need to be equitable, but they also need to be meaningful to individual students. If you remove recess privileges from a student who already hates recess, for example, you haven’t imposed any consequence at all. You also might be overlooking underlying issues at the heart of a student’s misbehavior.

Perhaps the student who is misbehaving and hates recess is misbehaving and hates recess because she’s struggling to make friends. Knowing your students and building relationships with them means being able to recognize and address these underlying issues. Ideally, it means being able to address them before they become full-blown problems.

Finally, building relationships with your students shows your students that you care. When your students know you know them, you may experience fewer behavior problems. When they know you care about them, even the most troublesome students challenge your classroom management efforts less frequently. Studies show that building relationships can decrease disruptive behavior by up to 75%.

Building relationships is a long-term task that requires ongoing efforts. You can take simple steps to begin that process immediately.

Greeting students at the door is an important step in building relationships. Daily check-ins also promote positive relationships. During check-in sessions, students and teachers share events and concerns from their lives. These sessions are valuable learning opportunities for all parties. They also provide opportunities for students to feel heard.

2. You Haven’t Given Enough Thought to Routines

Another common classroom management mistake is failing to devote enough attention to routines. Routines allow your classroom to function smoothly. When they know what’s expected of them, they tend to rise to meet those expectations. It’s when students don’t know or can’t do what’s expected of them that trouble often arises.

Students who don’t know where to find supplies, for example, are more likely to misbehave. Planning routines like these before the school year begins can save you time and stress during the year. This is only true, though, if you also spend time communicating and even practicing these routines with your students.

While it’s best to start the year with these routines in place, it’s truly never too late to start. If you find your classroom management efforts strained, check your classroom routines. If they need an upgrade, work to communicate them clearly. Then begin practicing them with your students.

3. You Aren’t Maximizing Your Use of Classtime

When students know what’s expected and have access to the tools they need, they are more likely to stay on task. Likewise, when students are engaged in meaningful learning, they are more likely to stay engaged in that learning.

Failing to plan for a full class period is one of the most common classroom management mistakes.

When students finish an assignment or a lesson ends early, boredom sets in. Lacking direction from their teachers, bored students will find ways to entertain themselves. At best, these forms of entertainment usually lack educational value. At worst, they can create disruptive and even dangerous circumstances in the classroom.

To avoid these situations, experts recommend over-planning. This means planning more than you think you’ll need to fill a class period. It’s also wise to have a backup plan—an educational game or mini-lesson—that you can use when a lesson runs short. Finally, having tasks for early finishers allows all students the time they need to do their best work.

4. You’ve Applied Rules, Consequences, or Behavior Management Tips Inconsistently

Students might not always treat others fairly. Yet they’re experts at detecting unfair behavior when it’s directed at them. They’re also quite skilled at noticing when adults favor—or target—certain students.

Whether it’s intentional or not, the inconsistent application of rules creates more misbehavior. Students who find that they can, at least sometimes, get away with infractions are more likely to act out. Meanwhile, students who feel that they get in trouble no matter how they behave may “give up” and act out even more.

Be sure to apply whatever rules and consequences you establish fairly. This means setting aside any personal preferences. It also means establishing a simple set of rules that are easy to remember and enforce.

5. You’ve Tried to Adopt a Classroom Management Program That’s Inconsistent with Your Personality

Another reason teachers sometimes apply rules inconsistently is that the classroom management strategies they’re using are inconsistent with their personalities.  All the classroom management tips in the world won’t help if you can’t make them a part of your routine. If those tips don’t fit with your philosophy, you’ll struggle with this consistency.

Classroom management approaches vary from the strict disciplinarian to the democratic and collaborative. Effective classroom environments likewise vary. Some teachers prefer a top-down approach with strict expectations for appropriate behavior. Other teachers are comfortable with more spontaneity, activity, and input from students.

As you explore classroom management strategies, focus on those that you’re comfortable enforcing. Avoid making wide swings between extremes. Choose an approach that balances flexibility and order. Finally, choose an approach that is consistent with your philosophy.

There’s No Substitute for Good Classroom Management

Classroom management and instruction go hand-in-hand. Unfortunately, many teachers feel unprepared to manage their classrooms. These teachers need support and resources.

Other members of the behavior management team are well-positioned to provide this support. If you’re a school counselor, special education director, school psychologist, or behavior interventionist, you can learn more about promoting positive classroom management strategies in our monthly webinar series.

If you’re the director of special education, you can take the support you provide one step further. Find out how our software can create effective behavior plans in under an hour. Schedule a 30-minute online personal demo today.

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