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Classroom Management
Sharon Longert

Most teachers are aware that engaging students for the entire class period is one of their greatest challenges. According to Judith Brough at Gettysburg College, “the average middle school student’s attention span lasts only 11 minutes in a 50 – 60 minute class.” Given this, how do we manage classrooms effectively to ensure maximum learning and minimal disruption.

Successful classroom management begins at the door everyday, it even begins before the term starts with letters and phone calls home welcoming students to your class. Personalizing greetings helps to build stronger relationships.

Classroom management requires effort and time. Students need time to discover what the teacher’s expectations are, and teachers need time to learn about their students. Students, especially adolescents, want and need a positive personal connection with an adult authority figure. A few minutes of personal time over a one to two week period can make a difference in student behavior. It also sends a positive signal to the rest of the class that each of them is worthy of personal time, and that can decrease behavior problems.

When student interest and or attention wanders, teachers need a set of strategies or “interventions” that are ready for use. There are three levels of intervention used by Todd Johnson, a behavior-management consultant with Rivertown Consultants in Grandville Michigan. These interventions work best with a minimum amount of power to correct behavior.

Low-Level Intervention (Nonverbal)

  • “The Look”: Giving students a stare without stopping the lecture lets them know that they are being watched.
  • Gesturing: Making a hand motion or snapping fingers signals that the disruption must stop.
  • Proximity: Moving close to a student can curtail conversations; continue the lesson while next to them.

Second Level Intervention (Verbal)

  • Disrupting behavior with humor: Use yourself as the object of the humor, not the student.
  • Stating the obvious: Just say, “Johnny, you’re talking.” Denial or discussion will lead to the next step.
  • The private conference: If there is a continuation of the behavior, the teacher can call the student aside after the class to discuss consequences of disrupting. Never argue with a student in front of the entire class. That rewards the student with attention.

Third Level Intervention (Action)

  • Behavior contracts: Both teacher and student sign a guided, mutually determined set of rules, not a dictated code of behavior.
  • Choices: If the disruptive behavior continues the student is given a “choice” of leaving the class or being escorted from the class by a Dean. The teacher needs to stay calm and in control, the student is trying to “set you off.”


  • Don’t belittle or bully by making idle threats, it doesn’t work
  • Don’t try to be “cool” or make every student a friend, you are their teacher, not their friend.

Some of us try too hard in managing our classrooms. Teachers can influence behavior, but the rest is up to the students. Consistency, persuasion, and calm are often the best resources that we have. Johnson says, “No one will ever have one answer to discipline questions. There is no magic bullet. It’s always about the relationships that you build.”

Franklin, John. “The Essential Ounce of Prevention: Effective Classroom Management Means More than Intervention,” ASCD, Education Update, March 2006.

I hope you’ve found this article helpful. If you have a question or suggestion, don’t hesitate to e-mail me.


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