How A Simple List Can Improve Behavior

Smart Classroom Management: How A Simple List Can Improve BehaviorThis week I’d like to share with you a very simple strategy.

It’s something you can do every day.

It takes less than a minute.

But it can improve any area of classroom management your students are struggling with.

On the surface, the strategy appears almost too simple.

But it works exceptionally well.

It has a way of creating within each student the desire to perform better and be more responsible than the day before.

The way it works is that you’re going to create a short daily list of anything you’re unsatisfied with.

For example, let’s say you give your students the signal to begin group work and it doesn’t go well. They take their time gathering up their materials. They talk and loaf around. It takes them several minutes to begin working.

If you’re a regular reader of SCM, then you know that at this point we recommend sending your students back to their seats to perform the routine again.

This is good teaching. It holds them accountable. It settles them down and reminds them of their responsibilities.

However, not doing it right the first time shows a lack of independence. It suggests that your class is still unpredictable and not yet where you wish them to be.

Done right, redoing the routine sends a strong message. This alone will improve their performance over time and make them more predictable.

But there is one thing you can do fast track your results.

As soon as your students are back and working in groups the way they were taught, you’re going to jot down on a sticky note or half sheet of paper a reminder to yourself that they had trouble with this one particular activity.

A short phrase like “getting into groups” is sufficient. Stuff this in your pocket and forget about it for now. Continue on with your day teaching good lessons, following through, fulfilling your promises.

When the day ends, put your list—which may now include other areas needing improvement—somewhere safe and where you won’t lose it, perhaps on your desk or lesson plan book.

The next day, as part of your morning routine, pull out your list to share with your class.

Now, it’s important to point out that you’re not doing this as a means of reprimanding your students. It isn’t a list of lecture points. It isn’t a rehashing of bad moments or an opportunity to show your disappointment.

The strategy has a positive purpose only and must be conveyed that way.

To start, you may want to express how much fun you had with them the day before or how impressed you were with their effort. Beginning with something positive sets the right tone. Just be honest.

Then matter-of-factly tell them what areas you want to see improved that day. Keep it no more than three items and be brief.

That’s it. That’s the strategy. I know, it seems too simple. It seems like just reading off a wrinkled list couldn’t possibly have an effect.

But this 30-45 second strategy has a way of focusing students on their future performance. It makes them more mindful of what is expected the next time the same moment comes up—and without feeling as if you’re nagging, pressuring, or forcing it upon them.

Because it’s read off an impersonal list—like it’s something you’re all working on together—they respect it. They listen to it, agree with it, and make a mental note not to make the same mistake again.

As a result, they rarely do.

Just mentioning what you want improved, based on what you held them accountable for the day before, causes them to be more cognizant the next time you ask them to do it.

It also helps create a culture of continual progress. It sends the message that being in your class means pursuing excellence every day.

Just hold up your list and say:

Yesterday was a lot of fun, and we accomplished a lot. Thanks for your hard work. A couple things we want to improve today: When I give the ‘go’ signal to begin group work, be sure and form your groups quickly and start working within one minute.

Also, two students received consequences for calling out and interrupting discussions. Remember, calling out is unfair and wastes time. If you have something to share, I want to hear it. Just be sure and raise your hand.”

It’s a strategy you may use a lot at the beginning of the year or semester, but then tail off after a few weeks—because you just don’t need it anymore.

The most effective teachers have a near-obsession with improvement. They stop and reteach. They rewind to the previous transition. They communicate to students where they are now and where they need to be. They don’t settle.

Although it plays a minor role in effective classroom management, reading off an improvement list keeps your students focused on getting better. It wards off backsliding and complacency.

As long as you back it up with consistent accountability, it eliminates those not-so-good moments from happening again and again.

You’ll see progress day after day until one morning you’ll hold up your list, shrug your shoulders, and say, “I’ve got nothing. Let’s have another great day!”

PSThe Smart Principal’s Recess Behavior Plan comes with a 100% money-back guarantee. If you’re interested in learning more, click here.

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24 Responses to How A Simple List Can Improve Behavior

  1. Adrienne Warren February 20, 2016 at 11:18 am #

    Just what I needed! Thank you.

    • Michael Linsin February 20, 2016 at 12:27 pm #

      You’re welcome, Adrienne.


  2. Myra February 20, 2016 at 7:01 pm #

    I can not read your complete message because a list of social media sites appear on the left from top to bottom. How do I remove them?

    • Michael Linsin February 20, 2016 at 7:25 pm #

      I’m sorry, Myra. I know it’s a problem that Sumo Me (the creator of the buttons) is aware of. There are evidently versions of certain phones where the page doesn’t display correctly.


  3. Laurie February 20, 2016 at 7:10 pm #

    Also fosters a growth mindset!

  4. Katherine February 20, 2016 at 7:42 pm #

    Can’t wait to use it!!! I think we can both
    ( the kids and I ) learn from the list.

  5. renuka devi February 20, 2016 at 8:38 pm #

    Will infuse the ideas told .

  6. Mann February 21, 2016 at 4:40 am #

    Thanks a lot. I really needed that!

    • Michael Linsin February 21, 2016 at 7:32 am #

      You’re welcome, Mann.


  7. Mandy Hoovers February 21, 2016 at 7:22 am #

    I follow your classroom management plan to the letter.
    It works so well, its actually hard to believe.
    My students love my class, and so do I!

    I have a question.

    One of my students, who comes from a very wealthy home, and is honestly quite spoiled, has been giving me the cold shoulder for the past few weeks.

    I tried reaching out to her, and was ignored. She refused to talk.

    How do you feel about me letting herself sit in her own, self imposed time-out for as long as she’d like?

    ( Her behavior is having no impact on her fellow 7th graders, I have a great relationship with these kids, Thank God.)

    • Michael Linsin February 21, 2016 at 7:32 am #

      I wouldn’t be okay with it, Mandy.


  8. Vantella February 23, 2016 at 7:15 am #

    Great article. Keep up the good work. You are making life easier for a lot of teachers who take your advice.

    • Michael Linsin February 23, 2016 at 7:49 am #

      You’re welcome, Vantella. Thanks for your kind words. I’ll do my best.


  9. Alicia February 26, 2016 at 4:06 pm #

    Michael, thank you so much! I just finished reading 2 of your books. You are literally a life saver. I love teaching but have been struggling this year with unruly behaviour. After reading your books I finally understand what I was doing wrong. My classes are much much better and most important I have the confidence to know what to do when they are still not as good as I’d like. I love the newsletters too. I know my students are grateful too although I haven’t told them why I am much less angry and stressed out than before! Thank you!

    • Michael Linsin February 26, 2016 at 5:13 pm #

      Hi Alicia,

      You’re welcome! Thanks for sharing your success with me. I’m glad the books and website have been helpful. 🙂


  10. D February 28, 2016 at 4:46 am #

    It seems so logical – Your article is a push in the right direction that I really needed !
    Putting it into paractice asap!

    Thank you


    • Michael Linsin February 28, 2016 at 7:46 am #

      Sounds good, D. You’re welcome.


  11. Yolanda D. Maloles June 25, 2016 at 8:06 pm #

    Michael, can I read your full article of HOW A SIMPLE LIST CAN IMPROVE BEHAVIOR.

    • Michael Linsin June 26, 2016 at 7:48 am #

      Hi Yolanda,

      The article is written in full. Is there a reason why you can’t see it all? I’m happy to help.


  12. Susan July 17, 2016 at 9:19 pm #

    Just found your site while looking for resources to recommend to a first year teacher on my team. I love this idea! I have been teaching forever – why has this never occurred to me? Will be implementing this strategy this year!

    Thank you!

    • Michael Linsin July 18, 2016 at 7:28 am #

      You’re welcome, Susan. Glad you found us!


  13. Julie July 23, 2016 at 8:04 am #

    I love your weekly emails and tips for better classroom management! Thank you so much for the effort you put into writing these AND for sharing them!!!!

    • Michael Linsin July 24, 2016 at 9:30 am #

      It’s my pleasure, Julie.


  14. Jo Gray October 5, 2016 at 8:52 am #

    I am an instructor for an after-school program (a “Community Learning Center” or CLC) in a very tough, inner-city elementary school in Milwaukee. Everyday from 2:30 pm – 5:30 pm, I teach several different “subjects” (everything from homework help, to reading and math, to listening and learning and “acting out” fun folktales from around the world, to active group games in the gym, to art projects); AND I rotate between grades, K5 – 5th every 30-60 minutes. I am indescribably thankful for your website. I am devouring every single post. I am painfully aware of my mistakes as an instructor, so I am trying to do a “Re-set” and start over with clearly defining the simple expectations of the CLC (which are exactly the same as the school’s expectations: Respectful, Responsible and Safe Behavior). Yesterday, I used (and rehearsed with the kids) the “Can I have your attention please,” “In a moment…” and, “When I say GO…” cues, yesterday and after several “practices,” it was very successful in getting the kids attention and helping them succeed in following instructions – BUT, only with my 1st grade group. Unfortunately, teaching and rehearsing just one of these cues took over 20 minutes with my dangerously disobedient 2nd graders. I did not yell. I simply waited for the kids to get themselves under control (MANY awkward pauses), all while still in the hallway before we even got into the classroom. When they succeeded in meeting my clearly defined and very simple expectation (= eyes on me and no talking when I say, “Can I have your attention, please?”), I “rewarded” them with outside playground time, where my goal was to play an organized group game, however, once outside – the group (once again) completely erupted into unsafe misbehavior. Today, I will be teaching 3rd, 4th and 5th grade students (who I teach only once/week). I would like to try to “re-set,” re-explain and rehearse the simple expectations with these students – however, I am not hopeful because these students are even more disobedient than the younger kids.
    I know and understand that the students are testing their boundaries with me because I am “new.” My co-teachers insist that the only way to get through to the kids is by yelling (they say they are just being stern, but – it sounds VERY loud and threatening to me). I am at a loss. I adore these kids and I am desperate for them to feel safe and cared for but – I really do not know how to get tap into these students’ desire to do well and succeed. Your website is great, but any additional help with this particular demographic would be helpful.

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