The Not-So-Secret To Effective Classroom Management

There are teachers who have been searching for answers to their classroom management problems for years without success. They try one new idea after the other in the hopes of finding the magic combination of techniques and strategies that will work for them.

They test drive interactive bulletin boards, ever-new sets of rules and consequences, echoing chants, bells, and other attention-getting devices, and time-consuming community circles. Soon, they discover that these methods aren’t making the impact they hoped for.

They become frustrated and fall back on lecturing, raising their voice, and sending students to the office.

The fact is, there is nothing inherently wrong with any of these ideas. They’re just missing an important ingredient, something so important that nothing will work well without it. You’ve no doubt heard of this not-so-secret ingredient, probably hundreds of times. But only a small number of teachers are actually using it.

99% of teachers have rules or standards of behavior for their classroom, and most of these teachers have consequences in case these rules are broken. This is good. But here is the problem: only a small percentage of teachers actually follow their rules and consequences to the letter.

Your success in creating an optimal learning environment for your students hinges on your willingness to follow your rules and consequences precisely and every single time.

The central reason why so many teachers struggle with classroom management is because they don’t really follow their plan. Most only kinda-sorta do. The beautiful bulletin boards and creative sound makers can be fun and enhance your room environment, but they’re not going to make much difference unless your management plan is etched in stone.

Once a rule is in place and has been clearly defined for your students, never waver. This is a critical factor in effective classroom management, one that goes unnoticed by a majority of teachers.

Every time you let something go, ignore a broken rule, or fail to enforce a rule with a consequence, you are letting your students know that you don’t really mean what you say, that you can’t be counted on or trusted.

It’s important to note that there are ways of creating leverage with your students that will make your classroom management plan much more powerful and effective, and we will discuss these in future posts. But if you aren’t following your plan exactly, not much is going to work well for you.

Try this experiment. Tomorrow, or the next time you meet with your students, decide that you’re going to follow your plan exactly how it was presented to them. For example, if you don’t allow calling out in your classroom, then follow your hierarchy of consequences whenever anyone speaks out without permission. Regardless of how minor the offense is, deliver your consequence every single time.

If you find that you’ve given out more than the usual amount of warnings and time-outs, then you know that you can be a more effective teacher. If you’ve given a lot more, then this too is good news. You’ve found the reason why your classroom management plan hasn’t been working as well as you would like.

Your students may react poorly to your insistence on following your plan so exactly. If they complain and act shocked that you would have the audacity to follow the agreed upon plan, then it’s probably a good idea to start over from the beginning.

Go over your plan from start to finish with your students. Role-play the most common scenarios (i.e., calling out, side conversations, not following directions the first time they’re given, etc.). Model exactly what will happen if they break a classroom rule. Double-check their understanding and explain that the reason rules are so important is that they protect each student’s right to learn and enjoy school without interruption.

In the beginning of the school year or if you’re starting over, it’s a good idea to review your plan daily for the first four to six weeks. Once per week thereafter is usually sufficient, but occasionally you may have to revisit your plan more often. It’s that important. Over the course of a school year, you will save vast amounts of learning time previously wasted on interruptions and inattentiveness.

And then do it. Follow your plan. Don’t give in and don’t let anything go. You’ll gain better classroom control, professional confidence, and the all-important trust of your students. And here is the best part: it’s not personal. Because you’re following your plan and delivering on the promise you gave your students, there will be no more need for less effective and potentially hurtful methods like lecturing, arguing, or raising your voice.

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9 Responses to The Not-So-Secret To Effective Classroom Management

  1. SAM July 8, 2011 at 5:55 pm #

    very good stuff.
    wish i had known this long aga at the start of my career

  2. Marisa September 7, 2011 at 8:22 pm #

    Ok Michael,
    So I’m trying super hard to follow your advice. But I still have one question. How do you feel about handing out a consequence to the student that will be utterly embarrassed to the point of tears or on the verge ? Usually, what I have to do when its in the middle of my teaching, is call their name out loud to sign the behavior log so I can get back on track. Do you feel its ok to call out their name for all to hear?

    • Michael Linsin September 8, 2011 at 7:15 am #

      Hi Marisa,

      I don’t think there is any reason to call the student’s name out loud, and I’m not in favor of having students stand and walk over to sign a behavior log. Being discreet, particularly with more sensitive students, doesn’t make your classroom management plan any less effective. This doesn’t mean you have to whisper your warnings and time-outs with every student. Just be cognizant of their unique personalities.


  3. LaWanda October 17, 2012 at 5:43 am #

    Thank you for posting articles like this.
    It is so hard to believe that educators have their children that do this. I have two sons and one is a talker and the other one is a harder worker and hates to talk. I know it is a big no no to compare your children. I am struggling in this area because I do not want to hurt my youngest son’s feeling. His talking in class has got to stop. I am trying everything I can but I can not be in his classroom in Middle School it would be embrassing to him and to me as an educator.

    • Michael Linsin October 17, 2012 at 6:36 am #

      You’re welcome, LaWanda. I hope the articles are helpful. There is one about talkative students. You can find it in the Difficult Student category of the archive.


  4. Sam Lockhart June 9, 2013 at 12:05 pm #

    What consequences do you recommend for 17 or 18 year olds? We are not allowed to send them anywhere. I am alone in my room, so it is virtually impossible to physically segregate them in any meaningful way. Detention will happen a week later. A demerit in their grade will not be felt until the end of the cycle. Both consequences are far too attenuated in time to work. What do you think would be effective?

    • Michael Linsin June 9, 2013 at 3:28 pm #

      Hi Sam,

      Once you’ve made clear your expectations for behavior, once your students understand what does and doesn’t constitute following your rules, and once you’ve established a reputation for following through with them, both detention and demerits can and will be felt. Your students are old enough not to need an immediate time-out. If, however, you want to make a greater and immediate impact, then when a demerit or detention is issued, a letter home that day, to be signed and returned the next day, is a good idea.


  5. Lorna June 14, 2013 at 6:26 am #

    I am also wondering what sort of consequences are appropriate for 7 and 8 year olds. For example not listening, talking during teaching instruction, talking during independent activities, calling out, making noises either by singing or banging on tables or tubs with pencils etc.

    • Michael Linsin June 14, 2013 at 4:00 pm #

      Hi Lorna,

      You’ll find what you’re looking for in the Classroom Management Plan category of the archive.