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January 18, 2018 Thursday 04:03:01 PM IST

Keep your cool and conquer the classroom

Teacher Insights

Sarah McKibben, managing editor of Education Update, discusses the benefits of being calm in class

When a 3rd grade teacher in Michigan rebuked a student for poking his classmate with a pencil, the young boy locked himself in the bathroom at the back of the class and started screaming. The teacher continued with the lesson, asking his students in an unruffled tone to 'look at me and do the best you can to ignore it.' Five minutes later, the boy emerged and he was fine.

'The more fired up a student is, the calmer I try to make myself,' said the teacher.

With practice, the veteran teacher has become adept at defusing such situations. 'I have to consider that there's an audience watching this whole thing go down,' he explains. 'I'd much rather have students see me as someone who doesn't respond to anger and who doesn't feel the need to win power struggles.'

A few techniques from classroom management experts:

 Avoiding the Soapbox

When teachers get frustrated, they might be loud and chasten students in front of others. Not only does this reaction damage the relationship, but if the student responds, it thrusts the teacher into a public battle that can be disruptive for everybody.

 Intervene with private individual correction whenever possible. Give the class a quick task, walk over to the wrongdoer and whisper. A private conversation will make the student more accountable and focused on her behaviour. Students will be more responsive because they understand you're not trying to call them out or embarrass them.

 If several students are being disruptive, try to avoid making a big soapbox speech to the class. One teacher approaches whoever is talking the loudest and softly asks them to get to work. Then he might go around and talk to a few more students individually, creating a domino effect that quiets the whole class down.

 Another deescalating technique is to walk an indirect route to a defiant student's desk. Give the appearance of circulating, then step over to the student and say, 'I need your attention for a minute. I need to talk to you....' This extra minute can help tremendously.

Let the Plan Do Its Job

Do not try to convince students to behave. When it's time to give a consequence, just give it, then turn and walk away from the student. Waiting for a reaction is an invitation for the student to react.

Another proactive technique is the 'no and turn'. If a student asks a question to which the answer is no (like, Can I go to the bathroom? or Can I turn this in late?), respond decisively and walk away.


You can be pleasant and understanding, even compassionate, when you give a consequence. Like, 'You've been doing great lately, but you broke rule number two and so ….'

Calm as a Mountain Lake

To break the cycle of responding emotionally to student outbursts, teachers must determine ahead of time that they're not going to take the behaviour personally.

One teacher relies on what he calls the 'decide first' method: Before school each morning, he makes the conscious decision that no matter what situation arises, he will keep his cool. 'You visualise the very worst thing that can happen that day and [resolve] that you're going to remain as calm as a mountain lake.'

This can be taken a step further by visualising the behaviours that present themselves most often in your classroom, and physically walking around the room and rehearsing giving a consequence.

'Teaching is a performance profession,' a teacher observes. 'You go live in front of 30 kids, five times a day, and to be successful, you have to practise.'

 By rehearsing, teachers are more likely to be able to manage their emotions and less likely to have the situation explode on them.

 Root of the Problem

 Don't teach too much material in one lesson. The root of the problem could be that the lesson itself is too challenging, and trying to cram too much stuff in can quickly throw a class off track.

 It's reasonable and fair to ask kids to be productive, orderly, and respectful to each other in a classroom. But then a teacher has to reward them with engaging, fascinating, real instruction in exchange for them meeting those expectations.

 Reset with a Rationale

 If your classroom is struggling with behaviour, try resetting with a simple lesson in which students can feel successful. Just make sure to give students a learning rationale for the reset.

Be precise in your language. One of the core skills of great behavioral managers is economy of language — telling someone the most important thing to do, and only that.

Instead of 'That wasn't good enough,' try, 'That was good, but we want everything we do in this classroom to be great'. Positive framing can earn a lot of student buy-in.

Teach Like a Cat

Be less excitable and reactionary, and save energy reserves for lively and engaging lessons. It's not about boring kids to death but about picking your moments.

Maintaining a calm demeanour requires perspective. It's easy to feel dejected because of an isolated incident that happened right before the bell rang, but what about the rest of the day? If three or four students were acting out, that means that 18 of 22 students were really good.