Effective instruction is at the heart of teaching. But what do we do when student behavior constantly interrupts our instruction? Few things are as stressful or disruptive as having repeated behavior problems in class, especially when they seem to be coming from the whole group.
Unfortunately, many of us in education weren’t trained to address misbehavior in our teacher preparation programs or on the job in our beginning years in the classroom. We had to figure it out on our own. And now, we may find ourselves needing to know how to help a teacher with poor classroom management who approaches us for support.
Fortunately, we can pass on our learning to those who come after us by proactively training and supporting new teachers to manage classroom behavior. And we can help those who struggle. In this article, I’ll address the importance of classroom management and how to help a teacher with poor classroom management skills.
Why is Classroom Management Important?
Perhaps it goes without saying, but the more a student is engaged in learning, the more they learn (what a mind-blowing assertion!). A well-run classroom where students know what’s expected of them and engage smoothly in common routines (especially transitions) is one where more time can be spent actively engaged in learning activities.
Classroom management is everything a teacher does—proactively and in the moment—to create a smooth, efficient, and focused learning environment that maximizes student success.
When teachers engage in effective classroom management practices, students engage in much less disruptive, distracting, and inappropriate behavior and spend more time participating in their learning. This leads to better social and academic outcomes for everyone in the class.
Effects of Poor Classroom Management
Poor classroom management can have the opposite effect, with more frequent student misbehavior, more down-time, less active engagement, and much less learning. Further, challenging behavior that starts out as mild can fester and grow over time, developing into more substantial problems. Over the course of a school year, poor management can result in a variety of undesirable outcomes for students, not least of which is a lack of learning. Poor classroom management can manifest in a variety of ways. Teachers who haven’t yet developed effective management skills might:
- Communicate and reinforce their expectations inconsistently;
- Focus more on reactive and punitive strategies, which have harmful side effects;
- Have classroom environments that lack structure, including physical arrangements that unintentionally promote misbehavior as well as lacking clear, consistent procedures and routines for how the classroom operates;
- Deliver instruction with little to no active engagement for most students;
- Lack strategies for promoting and reinforcing appropriate student behavior; and
- Find themselves personally and professionally burned out and at-risk of leaving the field they worked so hard to enter.
How to Help a Teacher with Poor Classroom Management
Improving classroom management stands to be of great benefit for both teacher and students. It can be difficult, however, to know how to approach the issue and how exactly to help a teacher with poor classroom management skills, especially depending on your role. Here are four things we can do to help:
1. Secure training and provide resources.
It’s important to keep in mind that a large portion of teachers were never trained on classroom management in their preparation programs. And many of them never received sufficient professional development on this critical aspect of their work once on the job.
Many teachers just need to know what to do, and they’ll do it. So an important way to help is to secure training for them. Toward that end, there are some excellent free resources available for that training. A great starting place is to share the IRIS Center’s free training modules on classroom and behavior management:
- Classroom Behavior Management (Part 1): Key Concepts and Foundational Practices
- Classroom Behavior Management (Part 2, Elementary): Developing a Behavior Management Plan
- Classroom Behavior Management (Part 2, Secondary): Developing a Behavior Management Plan
It can also be helpful to provide other resources that address evidence-based classroom management practices. For example, Midwest PBIS offers a wide variety of training materials, articles, videos, and informational briefs for 6 evidence-based classroom practices.
2. Use a classroom management assessment or walkthrough tool.
Data for self-reflection and goal-setting can be very helpful for teachers who are working on improving their classroom management skills. Some form of assessment or walkthrough tool can be used to measure a teacher’s current classroom practices and monitor changes over time.
Depending on the teacher, there are a few ways this might look. One, they might prefer to complete a self-assessment where they reflect on, or even observe, their own classroom management practices. Two, an instructional coach or a trusted peer could conduct an observation and complete an assessment tool. It’s important that for either option the data aren’t used for any evaluative purposes. Instead, an assessment is used to guide goal-setting, further learning, and possibly coaching supports needed to improve classroom management.
There are many free tools available for assessing classroom management practices. For example, Midwest PBIS offers the Classroom Management Practices Observation Tool. Additionally, the Florida PBIS project offers the Classroom Assistance Tool as well as a few other options.
3. Provide data-based follow-up support.
Often, training alone is insufficient to produce change in practice. Based on data from the classroom management assessment, provide follow-up support as needed to the teacher. It can be helpful to have someone to process together the assessment results and to identify specific areas to focus on at first.
The teacher may need some guidance on how to address gaps in their classroom management. Or they may benefit from a chance to see peer models of effective practices in action. They may need additional training that addresses classroom management comprehensively or targets specific practices and skills. Additional resources, such as Classroom Check-up’s free classroom management resources, may be especially helpful for follow-up.
4. Connect them with a coach or peer mentor.
Developing classroom management skills can be difficult, especially while in the thick of it already teaching students. Teachers may need support, especially from someone whom they trust who has the skills to help them grow.
An instructional coach can be a great support to intentionally promote growth over the school year. A colleague with strong classroom management skills could also serve as a peer mentor; just know that colleague may need some training or support on how to effectively coach another teacher (that’s a new skill for many of us too!).
With the right support, any teacher can learn the necessary skills to manage their classroom well. Once they learn to adopt fundamental classroom management strategies, the overall student behavior is more likely to be appropriate. That said, they are still likely to have some students who need additional behavioral supports. That’s where some low-intensity strategies, like providing choices or using high probability requests, may come in handy.