I worked with a teacher, let's call her Ginnie, who had the biggest heart and the worst classroom behavior management strategies. Very quickly into each year, multiple kids would be on behavior plans and she was modifying everything for everyone. It came from such a good place, but it was exhausting and not helping her or her students. You could feel the stress level when you walked into the room.  

It took a few years and a few false starts, but Ginnie eventually started to see that her classroom behavior management strategies needed to first start with the whole group and not each individual student. One of the most effective things for her, was looking critically at her classroom environment. 

Classroom Environment

When I say the classroom environment, I mean a couple things. One, the physical space. How are the desks set up? What's the light like?

It's also means the kind of instruction, materials, and assignments a teacher uses. Are the fonts on worksheets easily readable? Are direction broken down or paired with visuals?

Lastly, I mean the classroom routines and systems. Are there positive phrased rules? Do students follow a routine for lining up or transitioning between activities?

All of these elements build into a positive, classroom culture. They also head off behavior issues because they provide a learning environment that is predictable, free from distractions, and responsive to student needs.

Start with Reflection

Before you can dive into getting your classroom environment into tip top shape, you have to think about what has and hasn't gone well. 

  • What challenging behaviors occur in your classroom?
  • When do the behaviors happen (time of day, certain activities/subjects, with certain staff)?
  • Where are the challenging behaviors happening?
  • How are different areas used in the classroom? Does this change throughout the day - students may have to switch mindset if the rug is used for quiet reading at one point and group work at another.
  • Are there distractions while students are working?  

Really explore and think critically about where the problem areas are in your room. Then take some time and think about what has been going well. Make a list of the things that should not change.

  • What activities go well? Why do you think they go well?
  • What does it look like in your room when thing are going well?

Lastly, think about what you want your room to be like. Write down three words to describe your ideal classroom climate. Maybe it's calm or maybe it's buzzing. Knowing what you want your room to be like will help you make decisions about the environment. 

Physical Space

The first place to look at critically is your physical space. 

Is your room arranged to support learning?

  • What's the traffic flow in your room? Are there areas that students get "stuck"? 
  • Does the room support frequent interactions?
  • Can you monitor students in all areas of the room?
  • Are distractions minimized from outside?

Are there set areas for instruction, like a table for small groups or independent reading spots? 

Are materials in the room organized, labeled and accessible to students? 

Is furniture appropriately sized for students? No dangling legs, no desks at the chin. This means that all their joints form 90 degree angles.

When possible, do they have a choice in places to sit? Muscle fatigue can lead to distraction.

Materials & Assignments

Many behavior problems stem from assignments or materials presented in a way that a student can't access them.

  • Do materials have readable fonts?
  • Are assignments appropriate to the student's academic and social level?
  • Are key points visible?
  • Are assignments and materials differentiated?
  • Are materials clutter free?

Instruction

Just as materials and assignments can help head off behavior problems, so can instruction. Many behavior problems occur when students are distracted, confused, or frustrated with instruction or assignments.

  • Is adequate time given?
  • Are directions simplified, repeated, and visible?
  • Is verbal instruction paired with visuals?
  • Is the pace appropriate - think timed, shortened sections, provided breaks?
  • Are skills and vocabulary pre-taught?
  • Are you using effective instructional strategies such as, modeling, think alouds, reteach time, scaffolding, guided practice, cooperative learning, peer assisted learning, think-pair-share, checks for understanding, graphic organizers.

Classroom Routines & Systems

Routines and systems are one of the surest ways to prevent behavior problems. They create predictability, decrease downtime, and allow students to be more independent.

  • Do you have a daily visual schedule that is posted and up to date?
  • Have you taught transitions between activities?
  • Are there positively phrases classroom rules posted?
  • Is there regular communication with parents? 
  • Are consequences clear, fair, and expected?
  • Do students have the opportunity to voice concerns, needs, or questions?

Try writing out your classroom routines and systems. This can be especially helpful for substitutes.

Take Action

When you are met with a number of challenging behaviors in your classroom, stop and think about your classroom environment as part of your classroom behavior management strategies. Before you bust out the color chart, consider what changes you can make to your physical space or to your materials.

How do my physical space, materials, instruction, and routines support student learning?

Don't forget to have these Classroom Calming Tools on hand.

Still struggling with defiant behavior after getting your classroom environment in order? Check out this post on classroom strategies for defiance or download the student reward survey to increase motivation with behavior plans.

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