How Do I Keep Them Focused?
September 18, 2019

How Do I Keep Them Focused?


Relationships: The Key to Effective Classroom Management

By Missy Graf

It’s an all too common scene: a rowdy classroom full of students who won’t listen, sit in their seats, or give the teacher their undivided attention. Precious time of engagement and instruction are lost as the teacher spends countless minutes trying to manage behaviors and regain the attention of the class. By the time everything is under control and manageable, the class is halfway over, and instruction falls behind. It’s a cycle of frustration for both the instructor and the students because, believe it or not, students want structure; students thrive on structure. But how do teachers build this positive structure of routine and engagement into daily practice? The answer is quite simple – relationships.

As a classroom teacher, I did not always understand the key to classroom management success. In fact, my first year teaching at Holmes Middle School, I had written the most office referrals out of any teacher in my building. My principal at the time, Ray Finke, asked me to reflect about my practices and what I could do to get out of this “write up” cycle. I spent the summer reading educational articles, conversing with colleagues, and devising an action plan to change my game – and it worked! I feel like my 18 years of classroom teaching and relationship building has taught me the invaluable lesson that relationships make ALL the difference.

It all begins at the “first meeting”; first impressions last a lifetime and students do not ever forget how they felt the first time they met you, so make it positive! Here are a few tips to make sure your first impression is a good one:

  1. Greet all students at the door! Make them feel welcome each day and be sure they understand each encounter with you is a new and fresh start.
  2. Learn each student’s name and use it. Nothing makes a student feel more invisible than an instructor that does not know who they are. It’s easy to remember the student who acts out because you say his/her name often. Know ALL of them!
  3. Establish a positive interaction long before a negative can even occur. “Bank” some positive points with students prior to ever needing to resolve conflict that way students know you come from a place of care and concern when you need to correct behavior.
  4. Don’t let any student “fall between the cracks”. Some students will try to hide from their peers and teachers – they don’t want to interact. Do not allow this to deter you from building positive relationships with these students! Continue to greet them, give them praise, acknowledge their presence, and make them feel welcome. Eventually, you will gain their trust and they will open up; it just takes time.

Once positive relationships have been established, it’s important to maintain and repair these relationships as they ebb and flow. Regularly check in with students to ask if you can help in any way. Try to use the 5:1 ratio of positive to negative encounters. If things go wrong, don’t be afraid to repair a relationship that may have had a negative moment! This is a great time to model true apologies and empathy. It’s okay to acknowledge that you and a student may feel differently about situations. Modeling how adults handle this behavior is key for students so they too can understand the importance of repairing relationships. Finally, be solutions based. If you and a student are having a conflict, discuss solutions of how you can fix it together. Allowing students to give input to solve problems with you will make your relationship stronger and encourage respect on both sides.

It’s obvious the key to effective classroom management is relationship building. Students, just like adults, need to feel a strong sense of belonging and safety. Make it a point to work on your relationships with students regularly and you will see classroom engagement flourish and negative behaviors diminish. Classroom management will never be perfect but if you make it a point to work on the key points of relationship building and maintenance, management will fall into place.

Missy Graf

Missy and her husband Mike have two teenage children. She worked in an urban school environment for 18 years as a middle and high school English teacher. This year she has shifted into a new role as faculty member at the University of Cincinnati!



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