10 (more!) Classroom Management Strategies for School Counselors

A couple of years ago, I wrote a post of 10 Tips for Better Classroom Management as a School Counselor. After giving a couple PDs on classroom management recently, I’m back with a Part 2 on classroom management for school counselors!

Classroom strategies with cute clip art

Before I start, I have to provide a reminder that classroom management and behavior management are two different things. Classroom management is preventative. It’s about how you structure and plan all the different elements of the lesson so that students are set up for success and are able to follow the expectations. Behavior management are the strategies you use once one or more students is struggling to exhibit the expected behaviors.

Planning Ahead of Time

  1. Make a plan for supplies. Are you bringing them? Are students getting them from their desks? Or from a communal class supply? When will they get them? When will they put them away? You need to be able to answer all of these questions before the lesson begins. I recommend that students don’t get supplies until right before they need them (otherwise they become a distraction). For communal supplies stored in a centralized location, I love a staggered routine (“students at the green table, go return your boards…students at the blue table…”).
  2. Make a plan for transitions. When you’re switching between activities or moving from one space to another – that’s a transition. And transitions are one of the most common parts of a lesson where things go awry, so knowing what you’re going to do for those is important. I recommend students transitioning in groups, especially if you’re moving from floor to desks or desks to line or whatever. Doing boys/girls isn’t great because we know not every student identifies that way. I also find doing something as simple as “wearing blue” causes lots of confusion, especially with lower elementary. Ideally, doing it by seating seems to be easiest; “Red table” or “row by the drinking fountain”. Things that aren’t personal but are still clear. Giving the directions in single individual steps is also huge. You might have three things they need to do, but I would recommend giving just ONE direction at a time. And you might want to use some sort of countdown. It could be a sand timer you hold up, music, counting, whatever.
  3. Plan out student groupings. If you want to have students work together, which I recommend you do, part of classroom management is figuring out how to group them. You can do it randomly (counting off numbers, pulling colored bracelets out of a bag). You can let students choose. Or, you can clump them together based off of how they’re already sitting in the room. Or finally, you can choose their groups. I’m a huge fan of utilizing existing group structures in the homeroom when possible because their teachers have already put thought into the grouping and the students already have experience with that group. If you do choose to let students pick their own groups, provide some flexibility with group size. When they have to be in a specific size group, inevitably there will be students that get or feel left out. If you say something like “groups of 3 or 4”, students are more able to work out groups where everyone feels like they got to be with a friend.

Predictability, Consistency, and Student Voice

  1. Use routines. Routines are a great way to provide predictability and consistency with your students. How and where do lessons start? How and where do lessons end? What are the things about your lessons that students can expect? This might look like using mindfulness activities or videos at the start of each lesson. Or always starting on the rug. Or ending with sticky note exit tickets.
  2. Use an agenda. Letting students know what’s going to happen in the lesson ahead of time is also providing some needed safety and predictability for students. I used to think it would be more fun and engaging if everything we did was a “surprise”. I don’t think that was true. Instead what it did is leave some kiddos anxious wondering what was coming next. You don’t necessarily have to do a full on visual agenda but even just sharing “we’re going to read a story together about forgiveness, talk about it, and then do a worksheet to think about our own experience” can be helpful. PS This will help you, too, to stay on track!
  3. Ask students to repeat the directions or material. This is a quick way to confirm students truly heard and understood what you said. In addition, student voice can sometimes be more powerful than counselor voice and hearing them say something (whether it’s describing an important idea or restating what they’re supposed to do) can get even more investment.
  4. Have students sit or stand in a circle whenever possible. Circles are incredibly powerful. When people sit or stand in a circle, you get an increased sense of equality, shared responsibility, ownership, safety and trust, and connections. And the best part, is that circles can be used in so many situations. Any time you have the kiddos sitting on the rug facing you, sit in a circle. Small change, big impact. In my lessons, if students weren’t working with partners or groups, we were probably in a circle together. I noticed a huge difference when I started using circles instead of just sitting at desks or on rugs.

If Things Start to Go Awry…

  1. Use a 3:1 ratio of positive praise to redirection. Y’all already know this but I would be remiss if I didn’t remind you to check your positive comment to negative comment ratio. For every 1 redirection or critical thing you say to the class (or to a specific kiddo), make sure you’re making 3 positive statements to them.
  2. Use thoughtful proximity. A lot of us were taught or had modeled for us to use proximity as a behavior management strategy, as in, when a kiddo is starting to misbehave, go stand or sit by them. The problem with this is that 1) it draws attention to the misbehavior which is not what you want, you don’t want all eyes on the misbehavior and 2) it might reinforce the misbehavior if what they’re wanting or needing is your attention or connection. You can certainly use proximity as a preventative strategy with students that might struggle in your lesson, but when misbehavior or distracting behavior is occurring, you would be better off standing over by students demonstrating the expected behavior to low key highlight them instead. However, I would not recommend using public positive praise in this way. You know the whole “I notice Madeline is sitting quietly and ready” thing? It’s something that was modeled for me by lots of teachers and I know its common practice and I totally slip and do it but…it’s not great. One, even though it’s positive, it puts that kid on the spot and they might not like that – my oldest son, for example, feels a lot of pressure when this happens and I’ve also seen kiddos be sort of stigmatized for always being the kid pointed out. Two, it can be a little yucky because it’s sort of manipulative, right? It’s not praising a student because you want them to receive praise, it’s doing it to try and change the behavior of someone else. So while I think standing by someone behaving correctly can be a low key way to draw some attention to that OR at least away from misbehavior, I caution against using praise in the same way.
  3. Use an I-Message. Just like we encourage our students to share what they feel and need when someone’s actions are harming them or others through I-messages, we counselors can and should do the same. We might say things like “I feel worried when you talk when I’m talking because other students might miss what I’m saying. Please wait until a different time to talk to them.” or “I feel hurt when you joke loudly like that because it seems you don’t respect me.” I think sometimes educators are worried that this makes them vulnerable in a way. Maybe it does. But I think that can be a good thing. It’s modeling an important social skill, it’s helping to develop empathy, and I’ve seen this strategy really work to help students recognize the negative impact of their choices and make a change.

I hope one or more of these tips is helpful for you! What are some of your go to strategies for classroom management?

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Hello, I’m Sara!

With 10 years of experience in
elementary school counseling,
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