The 5 Cogs of Effective Classroom Management (Because It's So Much More Than Just Behaviour)

blog Dec 21, 2023

So, you find yourself in the classic teacher stand-off. "It's your time you're wasting, not mine," you assert with your finest 'teacher look.' A pen zips through the air and hits the whiteboard with a "DING," narrowly missing your head. Laughter echoes from a corner group, and a student, tired of waiting, belts out a resounding "shut up." Chaos ensues.

But hey, they’ve signed that behaviour contract, you’ve done a lesson on expectations, and they know the consequences. You’re sorted, right?

You see where I am going with this, don’t you?

Classroom management goes well beyond expectations, consequences, routines, rules, boundaries, and transitions. While these play a role, they're only part of the puzzle because classroom management is never just about behaviour itself (hence the name and focus of my book… "It’s Never Just About the Behaviour: A holistic approach to classroom behaviour management.")

Reacting to behaviour in this way can feel like a never-ending game of whack-a-mole, when what we really need is a proactive approach—one that tackles behaviour before it even emerges. Especially with those pesky low-level behaviours and disruptions, we need to delve into the 'why' of behaviour and address it at its roots.

So, what is effective classroom management?

Effective classroom management instead involves everything that we do as teachers. You need an approach that not only authentically addresses and resolves behaviour through true discipline (which means to teach) but one that mitigates them before they even arise!

TELL ME! What do I actually do:

An entire classroom management approach is far more nuanced than what could be covered in a single blog post, but here are 5 classroom management cogs that you should consider.


COG 1: Expectations and boundaries. 

Not a one-and-done lesson; expectations and boundaries are something that you “live” and reinforce through the thousands of decisions and interactions that you make each day as a teacher.

When it comes to these expectations and boundaries:

- Your students need to know WHAT the expectations and boundaries are (the discussion).
- They need to know WHY they are in place (the buy-in).
- They need to know HOW to meet those expectations and boundaries (the skills).
- They need to know that you will be consistent with reinforcing them (the follow-up).

COG 2: Developing strong relationships.

While building positive teacher-student relationships is not a magic wand, they are one of the most crucial cogs.

Lead your classroom with connection, and constantly invest in the emotional piggy banks of your students. You can do this by catching the positive, warmly welcoming them into the room, making those positive calls, getting to know them as more than just ‘students,’ and balancing credibility with approachability.

When we develop more of a relationship with our students, their felt safety increases, which decreases the dysregulated behaviours you may be seeing!

Developing those relationships also extends beyond the student, to how we communicate effectively with their parents and carers. Something that can sometimes be quite tricky.

COG 3: The way we plan our lessons.

Hit that sweet spot of support and challenge to reduce disengagement and disruption caused by a lack of felt-safety.

Lesson planning for classroom engagement isn’t just about boosting academic results. When a student feels they can’t do the work, it triggers the stress response, resulting in those all too common low-level behaviours. This is not the cause of all low-level disruption, but one of the driving forces that can be mitigated.

Set the bar high for all students, but make sure you provide the right amount of differentiation, modelling, and scaffolding to help them get there!

There are so many other moving parts to planning and delivering a lesson that mitigates some of those challenging behaviours. How we communicate the expectations of the task, how we pace the lesson, how we manage transitions, how we fill the ‘dead air’ time in a lesson, the list goes on!

COG 4: An effective teaching presence.

Teachers, low-level behaviour strategies are not something you need to do; they are something you need to live. There are no magic bullets when it comes to mitigating and de-escalating low-level behaviours, but the closest thing is… YOU! The teacher!

We are constantly sending non-verbal messages as teachers. We aren’t telling them that we are frazzled and stressed, but they will certainly pick up on it when we are running back and forth, handing out work, writing names up on the board, and raising our voices above the noise.

Our calm, regulated presence, and the non-verbals that communicate that, are our secret weapon to creating a classroom climate that proactively reduces dysregulated behaviours. The problem is, of course, schools aren’t the most calming places to work. Therefore, we have a job to do with our own regulation before our students walk in the classroom.

COG 5: Getting curious and digging down to the ‘why’.

A proactive classroom management approach requires an understanding of the driving force behind behaviour. I could provide you with every tool in my physical classroom management toolbox, but without comprehension of the behaviour playing out in front of you, you're essentially dipping into a toolbox without knowing the job you're trying to do.

The power comes through being able to get curious about the following questions:

- Is that behaviour meeting one of the students' basic human needs for fun, freedom, power, mastery, or love and belonging (William Glasser's 5 Basic Needs)?
- Is that behaviour expected and developmentally appropriate?
- Is that behaviour a manifestation of the stress response and that student not feeling safe?

Digging into the 'why' enables you to choose the most appropriate strategy—whether it's mitigating that behaviour or meaningfully addressing and resolving it.

When it comes to effective classroom management, these cogs are always turning, seamlessly working together to create a well-oiled, proactive system in your classroom. The best part? You don’t have to wait until you’re drowning in behaviours to implement them.

Remember, it's never just about the behaviour. It's about understanding, connection, and fostering an environment where every student can thrive.