Sometimes classroom management is a challenge even for experienced teachers. Find out how to deal with seven common dilemmas that might pop up in your K-5 classroom.

I noticed him as soon as I turned from the ice cream aisle into the meat department. He was a young boy, about age seven. His dark hair was disheveled, and he was dragging his foot in a contorted way along the grocery store floor. He did not have a physical disability. He was simply manipulating his walking in a new and interesting way. His left foot was in front, pointing straight ahead. His right toes pointed outward, positioning his right foot perpendicular to the left heel. He continued with this backward ballet position as he turned left (step, drag, step, drag) down the Twinkie aisle.

I chuckled inside and out. I was used to this. I had seen this kind of behavior for over two decades in primary classrooms. These are the kinds of actions that annoy teachers and classmates, but are often little more than experimenting and trying on new ways of being. However, these are the behaviors that are so hard to explain to preservice teachers and are the same actions that get in the way when new teachers are faced with classroom management for the first time in their own classrooms.

That way, children have five recitations of the instructions.

The challenge of classroom management

At times, classroom management and guidance elude even the most seasoned teachers. Yet, students need guidance and practice in self-regulatory skills to assist in the learning that occurs in classrooms. In fact, Galinsky (2010) notes seven distinct “essential life skills” which children need and that adults can help children recognize and practice regarding self-management that will translate into better classroom management. Focus and self-control, perspective taking, communicating, making connections, critical thinking, taking on new challenges, and self-directed, engaged learning are identified by Galinsky as life skills that are essential but often neglected (p. 1, 2010).

Researchers think that the behavioral management and guidance skills of the teacher assist in creating good learning environments for children. Dobbs-Oates, Kaderavek, Guo, and Justice (2011) hypothesize that “teachers’ behavior management skills are thought to establish an environment conducive to literacy and language learning” and that “teachers’ behavior management and children’s task orientation may also work in combination to influence children’s learning.” Furthermore, “teachers’ behavior management skills may be most important for children who do not have strong task orientations themselves” (p. 420). They note that “in order to learn most effectively, these children may need the external structure provided by a well-managed classroom” (p. 421).

Teachers need both practical and research-based classroom management strategies that benefit the environment and help create a space conducive to learning. Jolivette and Steed (2010) have identified several research-based strategies that can influence classroom management, including defining and teaching behavioral expectations, positive reinforcement, group contingencies, choicemaking, precorrection, functional communication training, and Program-Wide Positive Behavior Intervention and Support. These strategies support children and assist them in learning life skills, which as Galinksy (2010) notes, are often neglected. In these aforementioned ways and as illustrated in the scenarios that follow, we may create a community of learners (including teachers and other adults) who can support one another in growing the whole child and whole community.

Classroom scenarios

Here are a few common examples of classroom management issues in primary classrooms and suggestions to help new teachers “stretch over” the behaviors to get on with the business of learning in a positive environment.

Dilemma: Students disruptive during morning tasks

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