How can I keep students in their seats and focused?

“I get tired of students interrupting instruction to go to the bathroom or to their locker because they ‘forgot something.’ How can I keep students in their seats and focused—or at least decrease the number of interruptions?”

Any disruption can drastically shift the equilibrium during instruction—especially the “can I go to the bathroom?” requests that trigger a domino effect. The first student asks, then one by one, the rest chime in and before we know it, instruction goes right out the window.

As a former military wife, I’ve taught in several states and across a few grade levels. Here are two strategies I have found useful in a variety of school settings:

1. Develop a classroom management plan that sets realistic expectations and, most important, is easy to follow. I learned about Randy Sprick’s CHAMPS positive behavior support system while teaching in Kentucky. The CHAMPS system uses a chart that clearly displays expectations for every activity. CHAMPS stands for:

Conversation: Can students talk during the activity and if so, at what level? For example, 0=no talking, 1=whisper, etc.

Help: How can students ask for help? For example, “Ask 3 before me,” or raise your hand.

Activity: What will students be working on?

Movement: Where can students go during this activity? For example, sharpen pencil (yes), hall pass (no).

Participation: How do students participate in this activity? Independently? With partners?

Success: When students meet CHAMPS expectations, they will be successful.

Students can refer to the chart throughout the activity if they need a reminder about expectations. You’ll find lots of supplemental material about CHAMPS online.

2. Be consistent. Students need to know at the beginning of the school year that classroom expectations and rules are essential for creating a safe and effective learning environment. Make sure the same rules and expectations apply to everyone. Once students see that you stick to your rules and expectations without any budge, they will accept, and then appreciate the fact that you value instructional time and you will not tolerate any disruptions to impede learning. Their level of respect increases as well.

Although I might make this all sound easy, it’s not. We have different dynamics in each of our classes, making some classrooms easier to manage than others. The key is to be consistent. If you bend for one student, that becomes the case for a few students, then the entire class. The next thing you know, you’ve lost control.

At the beginning of the year, implement a classroom management plan that sets clear expectations that are effective yet simple enough that you can stick with them. This may take a few tries until you get it right. Find which ones work for your students.