Classroom Management Series: Start Strong

Kid starts strong to demoralize the competition.

Start Strong?


I have to say that I hate it when people say this but it really is good advice….if you know what they are talking about. Start strong? What does that really mean?

In my experience this does not mean start with a body-builder’s physique. I am sure that does something for the intimidation of students but that is not a goal I generally support. This goes along with the idea that you should not smile until December. You should smile on day one – not smiling is not starting strong but starting scary. Student fear and parental trepidation do not make the classroom an inviting learning environment.

Starting strong means setting higher expectations and following strictly to rules and procedures in an effort to make these guidelines clear. With this heavier handed start a teacher can always back off an untenable position. If a teacher starts off “soft” or tentatively; instituting strict policies becomes more difficult. Students rebel when they perceive that they are losing power or control. Also increasing expectations often result in confusion whereas allowing more freedom from a highly structured environment comes with an expectation that previous strictures’ reinstatement remains possible and even probably depending on student performance.

In my classroom I “start strong” with a week dedicated to learning classroom procedures and how their choices and activities in my classroom relate to school principles and values. Sometimes the experience can have a mind-numbing effect.

“How many times will I show them how I expect hand-ins handled?” 

“Do I really need to have them practice the ‘correct’ way to proceed from my room to the library?”

The short answer is yes. I do need to do these things. If I fail to emphasize these things in the beginning I get to spend the rest of the year explaining these procedures every time.

Later on in the year I can let go of the precise, “turn in your journals facing down as you exit the room with the spiral binding facing up,” to, “hand me you journals before you leave,” and expect students to easily revert to the previous method. This seems like a minor thing but in the course of a school year with all the transitions students need to make within the classroom – the little things add up!

So….start strong….but not like like the Hulk.


Bouncing: aka Kids on Errands

Sometimes called “Anti-septic Bouncing” and at other times called guided environment change – this technique serves me well in both brick and mortar and virtual environments.

Sometimes students just need a break. Learning, especially when you are pushing past your comfort zone like students do everyday in school, can be intense. This stress manifests in student behaviors that are often undesirable. Sending a student on an errand effectively gives them a chance to take a constructive break and diffuse their tension.

In a traditional school I use this regularly though it requires a bit of preparation in some schools and a bit of cooperation from other people in the building. At one school I worked out a deal with the librarian. Anytime I sent a student to her on an “errand” with a blue sticky note she knew the student needed a break and to give them something simple to do for five minutes. Sometimes she would just have them sit at the counter and talk with her. It really did not matter – the point was for the student to be away from a stressful situation.

In a virtual school this is a bit simpler with the exception that students have a harder time leaving the environment of their stressor since it is usually their own home. In this case I try to design an education related need for them to be outside. “Instead of writing this essay – go outside and write your observations of the clouds,” only works during a weather unit or if I have a way to tie the clouds into a creative writing assignment. Still my students are getting used to me telling them that they need to go for a walk before taking a quiz.

Why is this an intervention?

Students typically do not know how to read their own emotional state. Using this fairly unrestrictive intervention proactively helps them tune into their own processes and gives them time to reflect on learning without dwelling on the stress of a learning situation. Definitely my favorite intervention!

Classroom Management

I spent some time thinking about the things I use most in my classroom. Due to my interests I immediately think of technology related tools and interactive virtual experiments but these are not really the things I use most. Most often I employ sneaky psychological tricks that teachers call collectively “Classroom Management.”

Once I had this realization I decided to start a weekly post on one new technique. This will replace the outdated “Student Teaching” section. Below I have outlined the basic interventions I plan to share. If one of these really appeals to you or you find it interesting please comment and share your story!

Over-arching Themes:

  • Care for students
  • Hold high expectations
  • Believe in students’ potential
  • Relate interventions to school policies and procedures

Professional Behavior

  • Show and share your enthusiasm
  • Feign emotions
  • Ask questions
  • Request a third party to intervene
  • Share learning
  • Give of yourself
  • Cooperate

Active Verbal and non-Verbal Interventions:

  • Intervene through humor
  • Removal from a situation (Read the Post)
  • Use of distraction
  • Appealing directly
  • Explain behavior as a choice
  • Ask students questions


  • Precent avoidable situations
  • Pre-plan for non-avoidable behavior
  • Set goals
  • State assignments as objectives
  • Provide specific directions and tasks
  • Plan for transitions


  • Create a safe, stable space
  • Consistent placement of assignments and student tools
  • Work for cooperation rather than competition
  • Facilitate active learning over textbook or lecture learning
  • Proximity control
  • Assign seating

Family and Community

  • Respect the family a a support group
  • Honor the family as the main disseminator of culture
  • Contact guardians frequently

First Impressions

Create Boundaries

  • Set clear rules and consequences (positive and negative)
  • Spend the first week establishing discipline, proceedures, and routines
  • Use logical consequences
I plan to keep adding as I write this weekly post. Next week I will start with my favorite – sending a student on an errand.