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Back-to-School Classroom Management Strategies

Back to school means it’s time for teachers to implement strategies to get to know students. Whether it’s ice breakers, activities, or routines to roll out on the first day back in the classroom, it’s important that teachers are strategic about these first few days in the classroom. Orienting students to expectations for the upcoming year sets them up for success.

It pays to keep these days simple, since the reacclimation to the school year routine can already be overwhelming to students. Throwing complicated procedures at students on top of this period of settling in can add undue stress. It’s important to set a positive tone for the year! 

The key to a successful beginning of the year is having a thorough plan for the first few weeks. Just like when unit planning, it’s good to begin with the end in mind, asking yourself: What high level operational skills do I want students to have by the end of the year in my class, and how can I scaffold the process of getting them there? This method will allow the teacher to set up a back-to-school classroom management plan that begins with the executive functioning skills students already have. 

Before setting classroom rules with students, review these tips to get your year off to a successful start: 

1. Relationship and community building 

While it may not seem like it at first, taking the time to do “getting to know you” activities is the very first norm, or rule, in a classroom. Doing this says to the students: It is the foundational expectation of this classroom that before we do anything else, we show each other the respect of getting to know one another. Only once this has been done can students and teacher alike begin to hold each other accountable for the behavioral expectations that are put in place to continue to uphold this respect throughout the year.

2.   Positive behavior interventions and supports (PBIS)

PBIS have become increasingly popular—particularly with the onset of apps that track points and/or payments with the touch of a button. PBIS systems reward students for desirable and positive behaviors and potentially lead to a higher frequency of these behaviors. These apps make it simple to involve parents/guardians in their student’s PBIS achievements by sharing reports. 

PBIS takes a proactive approach to behavior management in the classroom. Students stay motivated and engaged in the process of earning rewards for good behavior rather than highlighting punitive measures that will be taken if negative behaviors show up. In order for PBIS to be highly successful, there must be designated, tangible rewards associated with different levels of achievement or accrual. As a PBIS system is rolled out, students need to be made aware of what they will receive at different levels—and whether this is a privilege or a prize. PBIS will not be successful if students are gaining points without a goal in mind.

When PBIS is adopted as a school-wide practice, it is important to curate your own parallel rewards for students within your classroom. This will ensure the positive behavior encouraged in other parts of the school is carried into your classroom.

3.   Colorful visuals like posters

When it comes to establishing rules and standards within the classroom, a good old-fashioned poster cannot be beaten. A poster acts as a consistent visual anchor for students. It can even be helpful to ask students for input about rules and expectations that they think should be included. This way, student buy-in increases! This can be done in the moment or students can be surveyed. Either method should include a share out of results, a discussion, and some way to finalize the class rules that includes community consensus.

4.   A standard for digital citizenship

Digital citizenship is a buzzword in education. But what is it? And why does it have to be a part of the established class rules? Digital citizenship is the responsible use of technology by those who are using it. Digital citizenship should be included in back- to-school routines and rules because of the sheer volume of possibilities that are introduced when a device with internet access is opened. 

In schools today, digital citizenship might include:

  • Expectations for appropriate use of technology in the classroom
  • Rules for Zoom, Google Meet, or another synchronous meeting platform
  • Criteria for success or a minimum level of participation in Google Classroom, Canva, or other learning management systems (LMS)
  • Naming conventions for assignments that are turned in online 
  • Account audits for students who have used a device in the classroom, or the teacher’s ability to monitor student activity in real-time. 

Whatever the practices are, students should be made clearly aware of them as well as the reasoning behind them.

Furthermore, it is crucial for teachers to model digital citizenship for kids at the beginning of the year. This means that any rules, expectations, or routines surrounding the regular use of technology should be accompanied by a visual, and if necessary step-by-step, demonstration for students. Teachers should expect to have to build upon digital citizenship principles as the school year progresses and as different situations arise in the classroom. Let students know from the beginning that as technology evolves and abilities grow, the standards surrounding these resources will do the same.

Ultimately, the goal for back-to-school classroom management is to elicit positive behavior with your students. Strong classroom management should always include getting-to-know-you activities, clearly communicated and thoroughly developed PBIS systems, classroom rules posters, and digital citizenship standards.

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