Classroom Management | Teacher Retention
11 Principles of Classroom Management to Teach Digital Natives
Alex loves learning and asking questions, which gets him involved in a variety of projects at AES. Whether it's teaching tips or data analysis, Alex wants to share what he's learned to help others succeed.
If you speak with an experienced teacher, you’re likely to hear a similar response: effective classroom management is critical to their success in the classroom.
Through working with teachers, we understand that mastering the principles of classroom management is the foundation of a successful CTE classroom. That’s why we’ve brought together some of the most essential classroom management principles we’ve heard from other educators.
Below, you'll find 11 principles of classroom management and how you can use them to teach digital natives:
- Use your students' names
- Establish simple classroom rules
- Establish areas of your room for classroom supplies
- Identify common times for classroom disruptions
- Prevent cheating
- Get commitments from your students
- Choose participation carefully
- Differentiate your teaching strategies
- Keep your passion alive
- Keep yourself happy and healthy
- Take time for yourself when you need it
When you've finished learning about these principles, you'll have a better idea of what you need to do to be successful in managing your classroom. We’ll start with the easiest principles of classroom management and get more complex as we go!
1. Use Your Students’ Names
In How to Make Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie famously said that a person’s favorite sound is the sound of their own name.
Today, social media — like Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Vero, Mastodon, YouTube, and a whole bunch more — has taken Carnegie’s rule to a whole new level.
This is all in addition to the good, old-fashioned idea that students are more receptive to a teacher when they say their students’ names. But there’s a problem with this — how can you possibly remember every student’s name, especially if you teach multiple classes with hundreds of students?
There are actually two answers to this question, and using both of them together creates an excellent overall solution.
First, you can plan assigned seating in your class so that the same students sit in the same spot in every class section.
Second, you can use nametags or name tents to remind you of each student’s name. You can also justify this to your students by saying it’d be a good way for them to get acquainted with one another. This gives you a constant reminder for every student’s name, at least for the first few weeks of the marking period.
As time goes on, you’ll naturally become more familiar with your students because of your classroom seating layout and nametag consistency.
Both of these ideas contribute to another classroom management principle, too. Namely, establishing a short list of classroom rules.
2. Establish Simple Classroom Rules
Classroom rules are a challenge that gets easier to overcome with teaching experience. First-time teachers have a tougher time setting classroom rules that’ll help them succeed with their students.
Sometimes, they want to keep it to one rule so that students are practically guaranteed to remember it. Other times, teachers want to run a tight ship and have a dozen rules that cover a wide range of technicalities and contingencies. After all, clarity is king, right?
It turns out that neither of these extremes is the best choice. Instead, it’s smart to have a short list of rules (five or fewer) that cover general standards of conduct when students are in your class.
Some of the most common and effective classroom rules include:
- Respect the teacher
- Listen and follow directions
- Raise your hand before speaking
- Respect your classmates
- Turn off your phones
- Bring your own writing utensil
Your rules will vary depending on your state, school, and course. But some of these examples can at least get you started!
In fact, the last example on that list is a great place to start for another principle of classroom management — establishing where students can find classroom supplies.
3. Establish Areas of Your Room for Classroom Supplies
In the last section, we suggested that you include a classroom rule like “bring your own writing utensil.”
But no matter what grade you teach, you know that your students will forget to bring supplies with them — sometimes as basic as a pencil. That’s why it’s important to have a supply closet, pantry, or whatever space you have available.
This lets students pick up what they need without disrupting class by telling you they don’t have something.
Still, there’s an unfortunate caveat to this. You’ll always have one or two students who constantly forget their own supplies, meaning they’ll take yours, lose them, and you’ll never see them again.
To prevent this, you can run your classroom supply area like a trading post, so to speak. Students get the supply they need, but they have to give you something in return.
In high school, this can be as easy as having a student give you their wallet, purse, or keys (for students who drive). These are all things that they’ll eventually need to have again, so you can be pretty sure you’ll get your supplies back from your students.
Trading wallets and purses can also work for middle school students. But for them, you don’t want to take their keys — they don’t need their keys to drive, so they may not realize they left keys with you until they get home from school. (Which means you just locked your students out of their homes. Whoops.)
If you don’t want to risk trading students’ valuables for classroom supplies, you can always do something a little off the wall.
Some teachers ask students for one of their shoes. This is an innocent item to trade — no one’s going to get locked out of their house for forgetting a shoe — and it’s noticeably uncomfortable to walk around with just one shoe. In other words, it’s basically impossible for students to forget that they traded something to you for classroom supplies.
It’s important to have this system set up before you start classes. It not only simplifies a complicated part of being a teacher — it also reduces classroom disruptions.
You won’t get rid of them completely, though. Classroom disruptions are something you have to handle separately.
4. Identify Common Times for Classroom Disruptions
It doesn’t matter how well you craft your syllabus — at some point, you’re going to have a disruption in your classroom.
Still, disruptions don’t happen by magic. They often happen when you transition or change gears in your class.
Simple tasks (like getting books out or handing classwork to students) can cause students to talk, pass notes, and otherwise distract one another. If you don’t address the disruption quickly, it risks derailing your entire class period.
First-step compliance is an excellent way to transition among lessons, activities, and assessments in a classroom. This classroom management strategy lets you simultaneously take charge of your class while setting expectations for what happens next.
You do this by using action-oriented sentences that require some kind of response from your students. Simple instructions like “look at the screen” and “write down your responses” let your students know what they should be doing over the next few minutes while you continue speaking. As a result, they don’t have the opportunity to start a conversation with their neighbor — they’re already in the middle of the next task!
You can create your own methods of first-step compliance to get the results you want. But if you don’t currently use first-step compliance, use the examples above to start.
Once you’ve mastered transitions, you can jump to the next big principle of classroom management. It’s also one of the hardest principles to perform successfully: preventing cheating.
5. Prevent Cheating
Cheating is an epidemic in every grade — especially high school.
Plus, it doesn’t help that every single student has a high-powered computer that fits in their pocket, and it has access to every answer they could ever want to know. Smartphones, smartwatches, and tablets have made cheating easier than ever, especially for the students who have grown up with this technology.
That’s why cheating prevention is one of the hardest problems to solve in today’s classrooms. While some students may write on their hands so that they can ace a test, other students take cheating to a new height with collaboration, out-of-class communication, and surprisingly clever tactics.
So even if you knew how students cheated, you could never do everything to stop them since they have effortless, 24/7 communication channels like texting, social media, and more.
Still, to prevent cheating, it’s helpful to understand why a student wants to cheat in the first place.
It could be your standard excuse, like “I forgot to study.” This is easy enough to catch and fix. You can talk openly with the student about why they didn’t study, ways they can improve, and how you expect this to never happen again.
Depending on your school policy, you may also have to issue varying degrees of disciplinary action.
Simple enough, right? Unless they’re a chronic problem student, they’re going to straighten up and fly right for foreseeable future.
But what if you don’t have a typical cheater in your class? What if your cheater is uncharacteristically skilled at cutting corners? What if they have an insightful, thought-out series of points that they can articulate well, almost like a debate?
For an extreme example, you can read teacher-journalist Jessica Lahey’s account of her correspondence with a cheater from her class — a valedictorian.
In the cheater’s words, this is why they did what they did:
“It boils down to this: We are told that cheating is wrong because we are attempting to earn a grade that we do not deserve. But my contention uses identical reasoning… I cheated because the grade I would have otherwise been given was not reflective of my true learning… I felt cheated of the education I deserved, and thus to earn the grade I knew I deserved, I had to cheat the system.”
That’s a lot heavier than “I forgot to study.” Clearly, this mentality toward cheating requires a different response than handing out detention. However, this student still did something wrong, so you still have to discipline them.
The best solution here could be combining two options. First, the student has to be disciplined. That could be detention, suspension, or a variety of other options. Second, this student clearly has some insight into the flaws of the systems that your school uses. Hear them out, and if you have the resources, send documentation of their thoughts to members of your administration.
This shows your student two important factors — they’re being disciplined for breaking the rules, but you’re willing to listen to what they have to say.
You could also make a point of not listening to what they have to say to drive home the point that you would’ve listened to them at the beginning, if they hadn’t chosen to cheat. Regardless, you’re getting information from that student to help you in the future.
You can learn their reasoning, methods, and ideas. And once you have that, you can curb cheating before it spreads to other students.
You could also nip this problem in the bud with one of the simplest principles of classroom management: commitment.
6. Get Commitments from Your Students
Commitment is a simple and powerful principle to use at any point in managing your classroom.
You can use this principle on the first day of class or in the middle of the marking period — it’s equally effective at any point (in theory, anyway).
In this context, a student commitment is essentially a contract in which a student pledges to abide by your rules. That includes the classroom rules you’ve already established, along with the school or district rules that guide their behavior.
Do you have a problem with students looking at their phones during class? Are your eighth graders playing Fortnite instead of paying attention to your introduction to accounting?
Make them sign a commitment to keep their phones out of their hands during class. Then, it’s not just a rule — it’s a pledge.
But wait — your students have to obey the rules anyway. That’s what makes them rules, right? That’s actually true. The point of a commitment isn’t to get someone to agree to rules.
Instead, it’s to get them to take personal responsibility in following the rules.
It’s one thing to have someone say “This is what you can and can’t do.” It’s another thing to say “We agree that this is what’s expected of you.”
With a commitment, your students can get a sense of ownership and personal investment in your classroom. That’s a powerful barrier against cheating, disruptions, and other behaviors that could derail your class.
This principle won’t change a disruptive student into a straight-A student overnight. But for students on the fence — those who have the potential to be disruptive or to be decent students — will feel a new sense of ownership of their own behavior in the classroom.
After all, they agreed to your terms. No one likes being a liar, and no one wants to disappoint themselves.
This fact ties into another principle of classroom management as well: every class has individuals who are eager to participate. It also has students who have nightmares about classroom participation. That’s why you have to choose participation carefully.
7. Choose Participation Carefully
Classroom participation is a vital part of overall student engagement, especially in an era with trillions of distractions available at the push of a button.
In the context of classroom management, participation refers to the students who are willing to answer your questions, ask their own questions, or present other ideas for the class.
The degree of participation varies depending on grade level — it’s easier to have an in-depth discussion with high school seniors in AP English than second graders — but everyone in every class can participate somehow.
The key is to give everyone a chance to answer questions or offer ideas. Having a “favorite” in class can discourage other students while giving individuals an inflated sense of importance.
But changing who you “call on” or help, even if they’re not volunteering, shows students that you notice everyone. It proves to them that you’re not in the classroom just to help a handful of students — you want each student to participate and interact with the classroom material.
It also shows them that you notice them and their actions.
For some students, this could bring them outside their comfort zone. But that’s not a bad thing. It forces them to pay attention, especially if they’re prone to day-dreaming, and it makes them more present in class in general.
It’s not a cure-all for students who don’t like to participate. But you can make sure to call on each individual in your class at least once in a while to keep every student grounded and alert.
This not only helps increase student participation overall, but also retain participation levels over the long haul.
But if you’re serious about engaging your students, there’s another classroom management principle that can hep you like none other: differentiated instruction.
8. Differentiate Your Teaching Strategies
Differentiation is the process of varying your teaching strategies to reach students in the ways they learn best — audibly, visually, alone, together, etc. Differentiation empowers you to combine lecturing, self-paced reading, eLearning, and other teaching strategies all in the same classroom.
This variation not only drives home information for long-term student retention, but also helps with short-term retention. After all, lecturing only works as a teaching strategy for a small percentage of students.
Differentiation also uses the same tools that distract students — like computers, smartphones, and tablets — and uses them to teach instead of entertain.
It might take some trial and error, but once you’ve figured out how to differentiate your classroom successfully, you’ll see an increase in student attention, information retention, and even positive learning behaviors.
But let’s stop for a second to take a breath. So far, we’ve covered classroom management principles that you have to plan, implement, and verify.
There are three key principles of classroom management that don’t apply to students though. In fact, they only apply to you as a teacher.
9. Keep Your Passion Alive
So we’ve talked a lot about how you can engage your students and keep them learning throughout a marking period.
But what about you? Are you engaged with your career? Are you distracted by the computer in your pocket?
Those are challenging questions to answer — and the reason we’re asking is because only 30% of US teachers feel engaged with their careers.
That’s on par with most of working Americans. However, most working Americans don’t directly influence the long-term futures of multiple generations of children.
In that context, 30% is a shockingly low number — especially when you consider the impact of engagement on a teacher’s daily life.
Most importantly, the level of engagement that a teacher feels directly correlates to how many “unhealthy” days they experience per year, which are the days that teachers say they couldn’t do something that they wanted to do personally or professionally.
The solution to this is to keep your passion for teaching alive and well. Your focus, energy, and engagement with teaching is just as important — if not more important — than those same qualities coming from your students.
After all, you may not be a digital native, but you also have access to the Internet at almost all times. If you had to choose between getting a class of 30 middle schoolers to settle down or sitting down with a glass of wine to watch Netflix, that’s a no-brainer.
That same comparison can make it easy to feel discouraged and disengaged with your career.
So how can you keep your passion alive and bring your A-game to the classroom every day? Overall, it breaks down to keeping yourself happy and healthy.
10. Keep Yourself Happy and Healthy
Teacher burnout is all too real in today’s high-pressure, high-expectation, low-pay education environment.
That’s why there are so many ideas to keep individual teachers from losing their minds throughout the school year.
Your personal happiness and health are integral to your performance in the classroom, not to mention your motivation to continue teaching in general.
In an era when you have limited disciplinary options for troublesome students, you have to justify why a student failed a test to their parents, and your administrator expects you to teach subjects you’ve never even heard before (among other sources of stress), motivation makes the difference between success and failure.
This is why it’s so important to take some time for your personal hobbies. Carve out a few hours every week to exercise or meditate.
It’s always true that you could be doing other things when you’re indulging in any of your personal interests. But you need to take care of yourself before you can take care of anybody else as a teacher or an individual.
Still, making time for your hobbies and health is just the beginning. Sometimes, you can get a really rough class for a whole marking period.
Sometimes, you have students — or their parents — who make you question why you ever wanted to become a teacher in the first place. But it’s still important to take time for yourself when you know that you need it, especially during the school year.
11. Take Time for Yourself When You Need It
Taking time for yourself is one of the most difficult parts of being an adult in general, and it gets even harder when you have hundreds of students relying on you every day.
But taking that time — whether you schedule it or seize it impulsively — is one of the most important parts of balancing your relationships. That includes your relationship with teaching!
Don’t feel guilty about it, either. Studies and surveys (like the one linked above) have shown that most Americans actually feel shame when they make time for themselves because everyone always has something they need to be doing at any given time.
Regardless, the point still stands — you need time apart from the chaos of life, and you should never feel bad about it.
By the way, this is exceptionally important when you’re a teacher. Research indicates that people actually have limited amounts of empathy, especially those in caregiving, response-oriented, or trauma-adjacent occupations.
This is a major reason why turnover for teachers — special education teachers, in particular — is creeping higher and higher. It’s also why teachers in general are prone to changing careers in the face of administrator pressure, parental anger, and chronically-disruptive students.
You, and every other person in the world, have a threshold of caring. If someone pushes you past that limit, it suddenly becomes a lot more reasonable to leave your job. It probably means you’re burnt out in general, which quickly saps your motivation and passion.
As a result, it becomes nearly impossible to manage a classroom. After all, even you aren’t interested in your classroom anymore — so how can you make your students interested?
The bottom line is simple: Take care of yourself. You know you best, and that’s your greatest asset when it comes to long-term classroom management.
Apply Your Principles of Classroom Management to Keep Students Engaged
There's little doubt that effective classroom management is paramount to your success as a teacher. Keeping your students engaged, disciplined, and ready to learn can easily be the difference between meeting your standards or becoming burnt out.
If you follow these principles of classroom management, you'll be well on your way to creating a positive learning environment for your students.
But there's more to engaging students than employing effective classroom management techniques. To truly help your students succeed, you'll want to use proven strategies for keeping students engaged in CTE.
To learn about some of the best ways to make sure your students are focused engaged, download your free eBook. You'll learn tips and tricks from teachers, students, instructional designers, and the AES team.