Starting Over: When to Push the Reset Button on Your Classroom Management Strategy

Posted by Josie Pack on Dec 14, 2016

  • Classroom Management
  • General Education

This first-year teacher sauntered into the school year with grand plans for community building, establishing norms, and a seamless implementation of a fool-proof classroom management strategy. Well, can you guess what happened? It didn’t stick. Okay, some of it worked, but the major foundation of a successful classroom began to crumble under my feet in early October. The good news is, I quickly recognized what was happening and, with the blessing of my very supportive administrators, I enacted a plan to regain control of my classroom.

Losing Grip

Yes, we did spend a good deal of time at the beginning of the year going over expectations and practicing behaviors. Yes, there were anchor charts posted around the room referencing things like “habits of discussion”, “norms”, and “rules”. But  classroom management is more than that. Talking about it and then moving on does not earn you control over a room of a few dozen people with their own agendas for how the day is going to go.

There was no ongoing and consistent enforcement of these expectations. No understanding from my students that 100% accountability was a requirement. No action from me when the 100% was not there. Students learned it was acceptable to fidget in their desks or sharpen a pencil while I gave direct instruction. Pretty soon, I witnessed minimal response in whole group settings and saw decreasing productivity for independent work.

Planning a Reclamation

While sitting in my colleague’s 4th grade room, I noticed the attentiveness of her students during her whole group lesson. When it was time for group work, I watched as the kids listened to directions and scampered off to begin their tasks. I overheard students explaining their thinking and offering feedback to one another. This teacher and her students were in perfect sync and all had complete understanding of the expectations and how things work in her classroom. I was there to observe a well-planned math lesson but I realized it wouldn't matter if I copied her whole instructional block verbatim. It wouldn’t benefit a classroom of kids who weren’t ready to receive it.

It was time to start over with a strong purpose. After consulting with my admins and some veteran teachers in the building, I came up with a clear vision of what I had to do. I spent that weekend reorganizing my classroom, , revamping all positive behavior interventions and supports (PBIS) efforts, and creating a system for 100% accountability. First, I began with myself. I needed to take full responsibility for the behaviors and practices in my classroom.

Starting from Scratch

When students arrived the following  Monday, we got right to work:

Seating: The original table groups could seat up to 6 students. This was cut down to cozy groups of 4 for more intimate collaboration or partner work. Placement of each student was purposeful.

4 Simple Rules: Instead of an extensive list of guidelines, rules were pared down to an essential few.

  • Listen and follow directions.
  • Raise your hand before speaking or leaving your seat.
  • Keep your hands and feet to yourself.
  • Respect yourself, your classmates, and your teacher.

There is one warning before a more formal redirection. Keeping that promise is key.

Modeling and Practicing Rituals and Routines: Sure, we did this before but the “muscle memory” wasn’t there. We practiced everything. Lining up, transitions, coming to the carpet, eyes and ears on the speaker, and even procedures for restroom breaks.

Reward the Positive, However Small: Every raised hand, every attentive gaze, every set of walking feet in the hall deserves attention and must be recognized. Thank students for correct behavior using specific terms, letting everyone know what they did and create a model for others to follow.

Together, my students and I spent a solid week just hammering in these details. Again, this was really about me being held accountable for their success before they could be expected to do so, as well. And I am still doing this, two months later. Each day, I model the behavior I want to see. I am explicit in my instructions, letting students know what they need to do to be successful. I look for the positive but I keep my promises when rules are broken. Most importantly, I ask for positive behavior  and I wait as long as it takes to get it.

Yes, at times it gets awkward and frustrating. But remember, instruction is lost if students are not ready to receive it. It’s never too late to be the leader you need to be for your students, and sometimes that means starting over.



Following the Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) approach, Best Behavior provides school-wide, classroom, and individual student interventions, as well as family communication and collaboration. Find out more now about how to Create and Sustain Safe, Positive Learning Environments for Students.

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