None of us got into teaching because we couldn't wait to deal with discipline issues. Nonetheless, classroom management can seriously make or break our ability to be effective as teachers. Listen as we explore 10 common mistakes that can totally derail our classroom management (and how to fix them).
10 classroom management mistakes
These 10 mistakes make it difficult to actually be able to teach, for your students to be able to focus, and for you to be able to grow and learn together. Chances are you've made some of these or are making them, but that’s okay because we are always learning.
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1. Choosing between being kind or being strict
A lot of times, especially if you're a newer teacher, there's this misnomer that you have to choose to either be the kind teacher or the the “mean” (strict) teacher. It's like an either-or. Maybe we think this way because we clearly had “kind” or “mean” teachers in the past. But the reality is that we do not have to choose between being the kind teacher and being the strict teacher.
Success happens when we are both simultaneously. We're not mean, we're always kind and personable, our students know we care about them, we're understanding of them and their situation, and their background, but at the exact same time, we're not a push-over. We do not just let things go. We hold students accountable, so doing both together is magical, and it is exactly where we need to be.
2. Letting the little things go
This was the biggest mistake I made as a teacher. It’s dangerous at any time of the year, but especially in the beginning of the year. I remember thinking, “Oh, their heads are down. It's no big deal.” Or “They're just talking a little bit. It's no big deal.” The thing is, those little things by themselves maybe aren't a big deal, but if we don't address those smaller issues, a couple of things happen.
The first thing that happens is that students just keep pushing those boundaries. If we don't hold the boundary, then the boundary just keeps getting pushed. Before we know it, we have way bigger issues going on. Instead of two kids talking, you've got 20 kids talking, talking over each other, and talking while you’re talking. Little problems don’t stay little!
The second thing that happens is that when we let little things go, we're telling students that we don't really mean what we say. We aren’t saying that with our words, but that’s what our actions are showing. It tells them we don't really mean what we say, and even though we've said this is what we're going to do, students don't actually have to follow it. Nip little issues in the bud early on.
3. Expecting good procedures to just happen
Especially when we are just starting out teaching, we don't realize how important procedures are and how much work and effort has to go into creating good procedures. We really need to think through every single aspect of our classroom and think how it will run smoothly. Not only that, we actually have to teach our students our procedures. It's not enough to just say, “Okay, this is how we do it.” You really have to go way deeper than this. We have a four-part system for teaching procedures that you can watch here. Here’s the short version:
- Explain and model the procedure
- Have them practice it
- Point out what needs to be fixed
- Re-do the procedures with these changes, if needed
4. not having clear expectations
Expectations mean that students know what behavior is expected of them in the classroom. Are you really clear on that and have you clearly communicated it with them? When you think about your classroom, are your expectations clear? Before you automatically say “yes,” let's just take the simplest expectation of talking in your classroom. Do you, as the teacher, know exactly when students are allowed to talk, when they're not, and at what levels?
You typically can’t have a “no talking” rule across the board because sometimes they're working in small groups, working with a partner, or having a class discussion. There are times when they're allowed to talk. Are you really clear in your own mind when they are and are not allowed to talk and at what level? The expectations start in our own mind before they go to students. Do my students understand exactly what's expected of them? A lot of times we might think our expectations are clear, but they're not.
5. not having logical consequences
Consequences are a bit of a controversial topic. There are even schools that say you’re not allowed to have them. The reality is, if there are no consequences at all in your classroom, students aren't learning about life because in life our actions have consequences. Logical consequences mean that they are related to what happened and make sense. For example, a student who is not turning in homework will have to do it during a fun activity. That's logical, right? "I didn't get it done so I have to do it now when I wish I could be participating in whatever the class is doing.'' Okay, that's a logical consequence.
Your consequences are going to depend on your school, the age of your students, the culture, all those things. You can get a consequence list idea here. Whatever consequence you use and whether or not it is from that list, it should be as logical as possible. I don't like to jump right to consequences. I like to give students a lot of time to self-correct and to turn things around, but if we don't have logical consequences, then how are they supposed to learn from their mistakes?
By the way, if you're at a school and you're not allowed to give consequences, you don't have to call them consequences. Not getting a reward is a consequence. You may have to manufacture things that students earn as a reward and those that don't earn the reward don't get them, you can do that.
6. bailing students out when they make bad choices
I have to admit, I always want to bail my students out because I feel bad, but when we bail them out, we rob them of that opportunity to learn. And typically, the consequences we're talking about here are very minor. Now, does this mean we never give grace? Of course not. Grace can be extended when it's what's best for the student, when there are extenuating circumstances, when we can tell they've really been trying, etc. This should be a rare thing, we shouldn't be perpetually bailing students out of their poor choices. They need to understand cause and effect and it will influence them to make a better choice next time.
7. not building relationships with students
I doubt many of you are making this mistake because you're here and you're listening, so you clearly care about your students, but I did want to mention it. Obviously, it would be a big mistake to not simultaneously be focusing on building relationships with your students. Classroom management isn't just procedures and expectations and consequences. It is also heavily relationship-based.
Also, consequences and building relationships are not at odds with each other. Think about it- you're not going to have great relationships with your students if your classroom is out of control. That goes back to mistake number one. This is not a choice between being kind and firm; we need to be both. Simple things to help build relationships are talking to students one-on-one about things, noticing things about them, showing that you care about them beyond school, etc. Remember that students who are struggling behaviorally need this as well and it may require more effort from you in order to be able to build a relationship with them.
8. only focusing on negative behavior
Sometimes when we create our plan, we are so focused on the inappropriate behaviors, we can forget to encourage and praise the positive behavior in our classroom, and obviously we don't want to do that. Don't neglect that positive reinforcement and the encouragement you can give students by noticing their effort, noticing when they're improving, noticing when they're doing well, etc. and telling them so.
9. worrying about what students do
We cannot control another person’s behavior. If we’re worried about what our students are going to do next (particularly the challenging ones), that’s wasted mental energy. We can do a lot to prevent misbehavior, but we can’t ultimately control it. We should instead focus our energy on how we will respond to students. This is really a mindset shift, but I think it's a powerful one to not get discouraged in your classroom management.
If you're always worrying about what your students are going to do or not do, if you're judging your classroom management based on how well the students are responding, that can be really discouraging. Sometimes you just have a really tough class or you're early in your teaching journey and you're still working on your skills. Instead of focusing on what the students do, spend your energy instead on this question: What strategies am I using to prevent issues and then am I responding consistently and lovingly when student issues do arise?
10. Not having a plan
This was another one of my really huge mistakes. I showed up to my classroom and I had a plan for my lessons. I did plan out a lot of my procedures. That was good, but I had no plan for what I was going to do when students misbehaved beyond just giving them the teacher look, and just the teacher look by itself with nothing backing it up does not work too well.
I didn’t have answers ready to the common classroom management problems that arise. What am I going to do when students are talking out of turn? When they get up and walk around the room? When they put their head on their desk? When they're rude to each other? When they're rude to me? When they don't turn in their homework? Those are just a few examples. Do I know how I'm going to respond? Do I know how I'm going to follow through and be consistent? I didn’t have a plan so I didn't do anything and those little problems did not stay little. They grew and grew and before I knew it, it was just really out of control. It was really bad. If you need help creating a classroom management plan, check out our free training here. Once I had a plan, my confidence started to improve and I was able to be more consistent because I knew ahead of time how to handle things.
if you need more help...
We have a free training called How to Reduce Disruptions without Yelling, Begging, or Bribing.
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