Classroom management strategies: consistency is key

Jan. 16, 2018
Helen Taylor

Helen Taylor

Deputy Headteacher, Cyril Jackson Primary School

During my teaching career, I have worked in two schools with very different approaches to effective classroom management.

In both cases, Ofsted classed my lessons as ‘outstanding’. I found consistency helped to bring out the best in my pupils and looking at things on a larger scale, consistency affects the whole school.

In school A, every classroom worked to the same rules. From nursery – yes nursery – upwards, every pupil knew that when a teacher put their hand in the air, they wanted the class’ attention. This contributed to Ofsted finding School A ‘outstanding’.

In school B, every teacher had their own method of gaining the pupils’ attention. Some clapped for attention, some sang, some put their hand up and some rang a bell. Warnings, consequences and even rewards varied just as widely. Ofsted graded behaviour in this school as ‘requires improvement’.

The impact of classroom management techniques

In School A, lessons began calmly each day. There was no settling in to lessons with a different teacher as the children knew what to expect. They also knew their boundaries for every lesson, every day. This reduced down time, helped keep the children focused and therefore aided learning and progress.

School A was the second school I worked in and I can still remember the guided tour I had with the headteacher. The nursery children were outside for play time and the teachers didn’t have a bell so they all, in unison, raised their hand and all the children stopped what they were doing.

Similarly, in a Year 6 lesson where the children were cutting up animal hearts, a very exciting activity for an eleven-year-old, their teacher raised her hand and they all just stopped and waited for the next instruction. I was amazed by this example of good behaviour and respect. I knew I had to work there.

In school B, some classes ran smoothly, some didn’t. Those that did tended to be those with the same teacher two years running so the children knew what to expect. Other teachers wasted time trying to get and keep attention. We all know that the curriculum is jam packed and every second of every lesson counts!

A new start

I’ll always remember a boy from school B that was a role model of good behaviour in Year 3 but a challenge when he was in Year 4. He was constantly in trouble. He never stopped what he was doing when his teacher either clapped, sang or rang a bell. Once, he was sent to my classroom for time out once and I spoke to him about it.

He told me that he didn’t really understand his teacher’s differing instructions and so ended up in trouble. His teacher and I picked one system, shared it with him and then he was back to the role model student he had previously been.

Pupils may not have enjoyed raising their hands as much as they enjoyed the clapping and singing signals, but gaining attention doesn’t have to be enjoyable. In my experience, a calm signal works better.

Supporting supply teachers

This effective classroom management strategy also helped supply teachers. We all know some pupils behave differently with a different or new teacher. In the school with the consistent classroom management routine I found that, on a whole, the behaviour remained the same, simply because the children knew what to expect.

The supply teacher knew the universal policies and managed the pupils better. In the school without the routines, supply teachers were left ‘filler lessons’ to conduct as the teachers knew the children wouldn’t listen or pay attention.

School A often had supply teachers asking their agency to be placed there again because they had enjoyed their day or enquiring about vacancies to work there because they liked the consistency of the school. School B struggled to get supply teachers to return once they had spent more than one day there.

Classroom management impact on assemblies

Assemblies ran smoother and remained calmer in the school with the consistent approach. Children entered and exited in silence. They remained focused throughout the assembly regardless of who led it. Even when the assemblies included partner talk among the children or small group discussions, conversations stopped when a staff member raised their hand.

In school B, even the headteacher struggled to gain the attention of the whole school. Behaviour deteriorated when the children were leaving assembly. The headteacher waded through rows of children to try and establish calm. This was because he used an attention signal that no other teacher had so he wasn’t supported by staff and his signal was ignored by pupils.

Behaviour and rewards

This leads on to the much-debated subject of rewards in primary schools. School A, doesn’t use any and is very pro-growth mindset in praising effort. In school B, every teacher did their own thing.

Some gave weekly rewards (normally chocolate) to every child that had behaved well that week. Some gave golden time, some gave stickers, some gave nothing. Again, the lack of consistency caused problems. Children talk. Most children crave chocolate. The teachers who didn’t give it faced an uphill battle.

I am not implying that the only way is the stop signal and no rewards. What I took from the different classroom management ideas is that children respond to consistency. Teachers work hard enough without having to establish classroom management strategies.

For me consistency leads to happier children and happier teachers.

This article originally appeared on the website of Ambition School Leadership. In March 2019, the Institute for Teaching merged with Ambition School Leadership to form Ambition Institute.

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