Classroom Management Reconsidered

Effective classroom management creates a welcoming learning environment that supports all learners, even when they experience challenges
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About This Strategy

When pre-service teachers learn about the key elements of teaching, whether in traditional or untraditional teacher preparation programs, one of the main areas of focus is classroom management. While it’s true that it’s important for a classroom to be well-managed, sometimes the rules that schools and teachers establish focus more on compliance than community building and are not considerate of students’ ways of being. Additionally, when students violate school/class rules, the response can sometimes be to exclude the students from the learning community instead of exploring the reasons behind the misbehavior and finding ways to restore relationships damaged by students’ choices. This way of responding to students breaks down the connections in a learning community and can contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline. In addition to helping teachers employ classroom management strategies that help create and sustain effective and inclusive learning communities, this strategy also includes ways to reroute the school-to-prison pipeline.

Implementation Steps

  1. Review your classroom and school rules and policies to evaluate the intended outcomes of these rules. Are there rules that potentially punish students for different ways of being, meeting basic needs, and/or rules that are arbitrary/antiquated (i.e., using "inside" voices, going to the bathroom without permission, bringing food into the classroom, being out of uniform, "talking back," and/or chewing gum or eating candy in class)? The Reframing Classroom Management resource published by Teaching Tolerance can help.

  2. Consider what the consequences for breaking these classroom/school rules tend to be (loss of recess, moving the students' clip on a behavior chart, removal from class to see a Dean of Discipline/administrator, demerits, loss of class dollars/points, name written on the board or other public shaming, calls home, silent lunch, detentions, suspensions, exclusion from field trips, etc.), and if those consequences help you to create and maintain an inclusive learning community. Do these consequences help you to achieve your intended outcome of creating an inclusive, considerate, restorative learning community?

  3. Reconsider classroom rules that don't help you to achieve your intended outcomes, and enact alternative ways to respond when students break class/school rules. The Restoring Justice resource linked below can provide the support you need.

  4. Repeat this process as needed throughout the school year.

Questions to Consider

  • Do you find yourself primarily using rewards (praise, prizes, merits, stickers, etc.) and consequences (punishments, silent time, demerits) to attempt to alter student behavior? Do all students receive both rewards and consequences? Does this practice help to create a healthy community?

  • For elementary teachers, how does having your students move through the halls in silent lines prepare them for middle and high school, and for life (i.e. streets, supermarkets, malls)? Are there other ways for students to move through the halls (i.e. "Out of consideration for others in the halls, and the classrooms we'll pass, please stay to the right and walk quietly.")? What would happen if you equipped students to focus on moving through common spaces purposefully instead of silently and in lines?

  • If you notice that the rules in your classroom or school focus more on compliance than community building, do you have colleagues who might be interested in helping you to reconsider some of those rules?

  • Who are other stakeholders to partner with as you work toward a considerate and restorative approach to class/school rules and policies?

  • Does your school have a zero-tolerance policy? What is the rationale behind this policy? Are there restorative ways to work with students who break school rules?

Extending the Learning: Restorative Justice Practices

Explore the resources below to learn more about restorative justice practices such as restorative circles and talking circles, and also about the value of community in supporting a positive school climate. 

Additionally, see the Collaborative Conversations strategy for an alternative approach that can work well with students with behavioral challenges.

Extending the Learning: School to Prison Pipeline

Explore the resources below to learn more about rerouting the School to Prison Pipeline, reflecting on school uniform policies, and responding to trauma.

Extending the Learning: Responsive Discipline

Explore the resources below to learn more about the Code of Conduct: A Guide to Responsive Discipline published by Teaching Tolerance.

Special Education Modification

For students whose disabilities impact their ability to abide by school rules, is is particularly important to:

  • Consider how a student's disability may impact their ability to abide by school rules and procedures. 
  • Provide all accommodations mentioned in each student's IEP
  • Provide additional scaffolds, such as verbal and visual reminders, to students 
  • Consider alternatives to "punishments" for students who do not have the skills to meet all classroom behavioral expectations 

Additional Reading

See the articles below for related reading about rethinking classroom management.