How To Break One Bad Habit And Improve Every Area Of Classroom Management

Smart Classroom Management: How To Break One Bad Habit And Improve Every Area Of Classroom ManagementFor the past dozen years or so, I’ve had the opportunity to see many teachers in action.

And there is one particularly bad habit that is common among those who struggle with classroom management.

It’s usually not their only bad habit, mind you.

But it’s an important one.

It’s an important one because it affects nearly every area of effective classroom management.

It is this:

They take their eyes off their students.

Now, I don’t mean simply that they glance away for a second or two.

I mean that they turn their back. They look away for long stretches. They become so engrossed in instruction, busywork, helping, guiding, planning, thinking, etc., that they have little awareness of the rest of the class.

What’s interesting is that most struggling teachers don’t even realize it.

If we were to place a video camera in their classroom, their jaw would drop at the misbehavior going on right underneath their nose.

The truth is, if you want to have a well-behaved class, you must be observant. You must be mindful and aware.

You must be a keen and vigilant watcher of your class.

Here’s why:

You’ll be consistent.

You can’t be consistent if you don’t see when your students misbehave. And inconsistency equals increased misbehavior every time.

By the same token, if you’re able to catch misbehaving students in the act, and you faithfully hold them accountable, then misbehavior decreases, often entirely.

You’ll have the truth.

When you personally witness misbehavior, you have truth on your side. You have the only proof you need to swiftly and calmly follow your classroom management plan.

Which not only saves time, but it also saves a mountain of headaches trying to get to the bottom of what happened and who is responsible.

You’ll avoid arguments.

When a student knows that you saw their misbehavior with your own two eyes, they’re far less likely to argue and far more likely to take responsibility.

In time, as your class realizes that you miss nothing—or next to nothing—they no longer even consider arguing or complaining, let alone misbehaving.

You’ll have trust.

Students become resentful when their right to learn and enjoy school is trampled on by misbehaving students. A sense of unfairness pervades the classroom.

Simply being observant, and thus well equipped to protect your students from disruption, builds a deep reservoir of trust, likability, and rapport.

You’ll have presence.

When you prove that you’re forever watching and on the ball, your students will start believing that you have super powers or eyes in the back of your head.

Which is a characteristic of presence: that indescribable something that engenders confidence in you, your leadership, your instruction, and every word from your mouth.

You’ll have respect.

Once you get the reputation for being all-seeing, your students will begin to feel the weight of your steady eye and consistent follow through. So much so that misbehaving will no longer cross their mind.

There is something about breaking rules within the full view of a respected, well-liked teacher that makes students very uncomfortable. At the same time, it makes doing the right thing easy, even pleasurable.

Yes, You Can

We receive a lot of emails from teachers wondering what to do if they don’t see the misbehavior or who is responsible.

And we’re happy to tackle this topic.

But it’s always better and more effective to avoid being in that situation to begin with. It’s always better to see the wrongdoing with your own eyes.

But is it really possible? Is it realistic to expect to see everything? While it’s true that you can’t expect to never miss an act of misbehavior, you can come pretty close.

After all, vigilance is a skill you can become expert at over time.

The key is smart positioning, active peripheral vision, and the shrewd insistence on verifying every expectation you set for your students.

If you find you need to help an individual student, and you’re not in a position to view the rest of the class, then you would ask the student to meet you at a desk or table along the outskirts of the room.

If you’re working with a group, during rotations, for example, then you would rely on frequent, unpredictable, and return glances—as well as a thorough and highly detailed group preparation process.

At all times, however, you must stay in the moment. Keep your students in front of you.

And watch ’em like a hawk.

PSThe Smart Classroom Management Plan For High School Teachers is now available. Click here for more information.

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17 Responses to How To Break One Bad Habit And Improve Every Area Of Classroom Management

  1. Kathleen Foster July 23, 2016 at 7:54 am #

    This is so true. My other suggestion, which takes time but is extremely valuable, is to learn to recognize their voices. My students tell me I don’t miss anything and I hear everything.

    Thanks for the tools.

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

      You’re welcome, Kathleen.


  2. Mathieu July 23, 2016 at 8:44 am #

    Great post! As a beginning teacher, that was my number ONE mistake! My supervising teacher taught me to do this early on. Great advice my friend, great advice!

    • Michael Linsin July 24, 2016 at 9:31 am #

      Great! Glad you think so, Mathieu.


  3. JoJo July 23, 2016 at 8:46 am #

    what do you do when a student has no intention of behaving – walks around in class, holds bunny ears up behind the teacher’s head, makes loud personal derogatory remarks during class? He does not respond to anything that has been suggested here or elsewhere. The administration does not respond to requests for help – there is no penalty for his behavior.

    • Michael Linsin July 24, 2016 at 9:32 am #

      Hi Jojo,

      When you get a chance, please read through the Difficult Student category of the archive. You should find what you’re looking for there.


  4. Pam L July 23, 2016 at 9:10 am #

    Sensible advice for a classroom teacher. I’m in a computer lab and it’s usually not possible to have a student come to you. Most problems/questions require looking at their screen. Need eyes in the back of my head! Any ideas?

    • Renee July 24, 2016 at 12:34 am #

      Hello Pam L, I thought I would share a possible suggestion for you. I remember when I was in high school I was taking an advanced English class, and my English teacher had purchased some rather large convex circular mirrors that she hung up in the back, sides, and even one corner of her classroom. She could check those large mirrors at any time to see if we were cheating on an exam, had our phones out, or were doing something we shouldn’t be at the computer station. We always knew her eyes were on us! You could possibly buy some mirrors like this (for example, here is a link to what you could buy: and hang them at the back of your classroom so you can see all the screens of the students while you are still helping another student.

      There are also some teacher screen-monitoring software that you could access that allows you to view all computer activity on each monitor in the classroom all on one screen. The teacher can then freeze a student’s computer from your own computer when you catch them doing the wrong thing. You could simply download this software on a portable tablet or Surface Pro 3 or 4 that you could have the freedom to walk around with and help students while still being able to monitor all computers. In addition to being albe to freeze and lock a student’s screen, you can also electronically document all infringements with these software programs. Great for parent-teacher interviews to show evidence of the student being off-task, and to share what consequences have been implemented as a result! I hope that helps! Best regards

    • Michael Linsin July 24, 2016 at 9:35 am #

      Hi Pam L,

      It underscores the importance of your lesson and that students know exactly what is expected of them before being released on their own. For more on this topic, see the Learning & Independence category of the archive.



  5. Jocelyn July 23, 2016 at 2:41 pm #

    Feel for you JoJo. Have you found out if the same behaivour you’ve described is happening in other classes/subjects. The student needs to realise they cannot continue to disrupt the class. I really think you need some support from the Admin team.

    My main role is support in special needs classes, and usually a Behaivoural Management Plan is put together for each student to target areas of misbehaviour.

  6. Sharon Bromberg July 23, 2016 at 5:37 pm #

    Hi Michael,
    Although I have been a teacher for over three decades (High School) and am now the school chaplain whilst continuing to teach, I absolutely love this site, see the wisdom in everything you write and marvel at how you are able to capture the problem and it’s solution with clarity and in carefully sculpted words.
    Reading your posts regularly really imparts the feel and the manner of discipline, as well as the practical how-to’s and it all speaks to me and reflects my own approach, in general.
    I have downloaded and shared your management plans as well as your regular posts. My challenge is that I am often called upon to substitute in classes where I have no previous relationship with the class and too often, adequate work is not left behind so the students feel little accountability to complete it to a good standard. It is up to me to create something and even though I invest effort and am a competent teacher, it doesn’t seem to capture their interest. Sometimes they have had substitutes all too often and lost the momentum of learning. Since I am not their regular teacher, I cannot draw upon the relationship of goodwill and management that I have built up over time nor am I privy to the overall management plan of the teacher. I may be substituting for a teacher who will only see them 2 or 3 days later at her next regular lesson.
    I am sure that there is an art to class management for substitute teachers but frankly, I am at a loss on this one.

    Any advice?

    • Michael Linsin July 24, 2016 at 9:37 am #

      Hi Sharon,

      I’m so glad you like the website. Thanks for being a regular reader. Your question is an excellent but far too big for the time and space we have here (and too big for an article). It’s on the list of future e-guides.


  7. Jonathan July 24, 2016 at 2:18 pm #

    I agree with the article, however it’s just about impossible these days with all the demands on towhees for us to observe students to the level required to create an immaculately behaved class.

    All those things that you listed teachers do that keep them from observing students? We are judged on those things. Our jobs literally depend on them, especially here in Australia where most young teachers are on 12-month contracts that are renewed each year. The department has us where they want us — they overload us with tasks and expectations. If we don’t observe our students well enough, we get criticised for not managing the class well. If we observe our students effectively, we get busted for not focusing on instruction or planning or assessment or whatever else of the 850 things we are expected to do with no extra time or support.

    Sentiments are nice but in practice, like the job itself now, it’s not really workable if you want to keep your job for longer than a few months.

  8. Joelyn H Miyashiro July 28, 2016 at 12:19 pm #

    Great article! As a mentoring teacher, one of the first mistake of a starting teacher is something as simple as making sure they have full vision of the entire class all the time!
    Especially when students may lineup for 1-1 feedback, the students cannot be blocking the vision of the teacher. I’ve been to classrooms where it is L-shaped and students are allowed to be in areas where the teacher cannot monitor effectively!

  9. Sara November 10, 2016 at 9:50 am #

    Hi Michael,

    Thank you for this article. What if the teacher (myself) has been practicing this bad habit, after a stellar start of the school year? Is there a hope in getting the respect back by being vigilant and more consistent from middle of the school year with the class that has seen you inconsistent and less than attentive?

    • Michael Linsin November 10, 2016 at 12:37 pm #

      Hi Sara,

      Yes, definitely, although I recommend reteaching your classroom management plan as if it were the beginning of the school year.