Effective teachers know how to use classroom management to motivate students and keep things calm and respectful. Here’s what they do and don’t do.

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Classroom management is like a magic trick. In a well-run classroom, you know it’s there, and you see things happening, but you can’t really define exactly HOW it’s happening.

I remember the first day I walked into a classroom to observe a teacher during my credential program. She taught 5th grade, and the students were busy learning world history and working on group projects. I was in awe of the calm, yet busy atmosphere. After lunch that day, I stepped into another classroom to observe for the afternoon. In this room, there was no evidence of classroom management. It was complete chaos. It didn’t appear that anyone was learning anything.

But I learned something.

I learned that some classroom strategies work, and some don’t.

A desk with a plant and a candle. The title reads, "5 Classroom Strategies Great Teachers Avoid."


I learned just as much from the teacher with exceptional classroom management skills as I did from the one whose classroom was at the opposite end of the spectrum. Over the next 20 years, I struggled to find the perfect systems that would promote learning, maintain calm, and motivate students. Don’t we all do that?

Here are some of the classroom management strategies almost all teachers use, but we should avoid. (I’m guilty of some of these!) Plus, I have one strategy that made all the difference in the world. It has to do with mindset.

 Avoid Calling Out Student Behavior in Front of the Class

I remember a wise teacher once told me to always discuss student behavior with that student privately and always congratulate desirable behavior publicly. This has been an incredibly valuable piece of advice. Students have actually told me they appreciated me talking to them privately. This made them more willing to work on improving their behavior.

An Example:

How many times have you quickly corrected a student for something they did wrong? Every day, every hour, right? However, whenever it’s possible to do so, having that conversation privately is best. 

Teachers can quietly lean in next to the student and quietly remind them of the expectations in your classroom. When it’s done in this manner, and you’ve clearly set your expectations in advance, there’s no negating the behavior that needs changing. 

Since you’re taking the time to talk privately with the student, they don’t feel the need to “save face” in front of their classmates. The exception to this might be when a student blurts out. Then you could simply say, “I call on students who raise their hands.” If it’s a continuing problem, having a frank discussion about it privately would be in order.

With positive discipline delivered with respectful communication, students will be more likely to respond positively to what you have to say. 

Punishing the Whole Class for a Few Students’ Misbehavior Isn’t Good Classroom Management

Do you remember being in school and the entire class had to write sentences because of one student’s behavior? Or perhaps you lost free time or even recess? 

Thankfully those types of punishments are rarely seen today. But didn’t it make you feel angry? Who wants to be punished for another’s actions or inaction?

Teaching fairness and individual responsibility means having differentiated consequences for students who don’t follow the accepted norms in the classroom.

Understandably, this can be a knee-jerk response when you’re feeling exasperated. I also did this when I was a new teacher. One day, I canceled a free recess and had everyone in the class write letters of apology. All that did was make other students angry.

What’s an alternative when you’re feeling like you’re at the end of your rope? One idea is to structure your classroom management so that the consequences are natural, expected, and inevitable.

Here’s an example that works if you assign homework. Offer a short period of free time at the end of a week for all the students who completed their homework. If a student didn’t complete their homework or other essential assignment, you graciously allow them to have the time to get it done during a short study hall period.

This study hall period you’ve gifted them is at the exact same time the other students are enjoying their free time. All you have to do is set up an area for study hall that’s away from the students with free time. This one works like magic, and you don’t have to nag anyone about homework.

Remember, some students may not have a place or time to do homework. I actually had students thank me for this opportunity to catch up and get it done.

A list of teacher dos and don'ts with a doodle design and a doodle flower in the background.
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Avoid Making Promises You Can’t Keep

“If we finish all our work on time today, we can have an extra recess.”

Or how about this one? “If you complete your group projects by Friday, we’ll have a party.” 

On the surface, this looks like a great way to motivate students to get something done. But what if some of the students don’t finish? Then what?

The issue with this type of promise is that it’s out of your control. If there are only a few students who can’t or don’t finish, then you’re moving into the realm of punishing the whole class for the behavior of a few. No one wants to go there.

I think every single teacher in the world makes promises to their students. It’s absolutely a great motivator. But only if it’s a promise the students know you can keep. 

When making this type of promise, make sure it’s based on something that has 100% chance of happening. 

Some Examples:

“At the end of these group projects, we’ll celebrate your accomplishments. I’ll bring in cookies to enjoy after the presentations.” You’ll get to the end of the group projects, for sure.

Another example is, “Let’s see if we can get all of our work done early today. If we do, we can use that extra time for a game or extra recess.” You’re making a promise, but you’re also letting them know that it’s conditional. If your class doesn’t finish everything, you can say, “We didn’t make it today, but we can try again tomorrow.”

Examples of not keeping a promise might also be promising extra credit for an assignment, and then not granting the credit. Or perhaps you tell students you’ll grade and return their papers by the next day. That could be a very hard promise to keep. Life happens. 

Always keep every promise you make by making promises that you know you CAN keep. Keeping your promises builds trust in your relationship with your students.

Yelling is Not Classroom Management

In a well-managed classroom, you won’t hear the teacher yelling. You will hear calm communication and role modeling. Here’s how you can do it, too.



 Avoid Allowing Students to Leave Without Cleaning Up

Let your students know that the classroom is their space. Allow them pick up their belongings, throw the trash in the bin, and check around their desks to make sure they’re not leaving anything behind.

You can make this a game, and even use it to build teamwork with table groups. Students will step up to this task. Just make time at the end of the day or period. Have them wait by their desks and have a randomly chosen student check the areas before you excuse them. 

I used to call it Secret Student. I’d pull a card to choose a Secret Student in the morning. This student was the one who checked around the desks during cleanup time. They loved to use a flashlight to make their job more “official.”

You may also want to consider reading Teacher Tips From the Experts You Never Learned in School. It has more ideas for you from veteran teachers.

Finally, the One Thing Effective Teachers Do, But Nobody Talks About

The one thing that is more important than any of the don’ts listed above, is this. It requires a mindset of positivity and faith in your students. 

I had a reminder card with this tip on it, and I kept it posted on my desk. Every morning I saw it and reminded myself to do my best to follow this advice. Every evening, I reviewed my day and considered if I had done this. 

A mentor teacher brought this to my attention during my first year of teaching. It’s something I never forgot. Students learn from people with whom they have a positive relationship. Nurturing that relationship is of prime importance. 

With that being said, here is the piece of advice I had laminated and in full view on my desk.

A marbled background with the words, " A Teacher's Daily Reminder, Always think before you speak, your words matter, consider the lasting effect your words will have on your students, every day make them feel like geniuses.
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Always think before you speak.

Your words matter.

Consider the lasting effect your words will have on your students.

Every day, make them feel like geniuses.


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