You Can Smile! Classroom Management Tips

We’ve all heard that teacher adage, “Don’t smile before Christmas.” How many of you abided by that rule this year, contending that smiling before the winter holidays would somehow make you lose control of your classroom?

Does this adage really hold true for educators and students today? Think about it for a minute: Not smiling implies you are unhappy or do not want to be doing what you are doing. Is this the message you want to send to your students?

If you implement classroom management strategies with a positive, caring spirit, you can smile from day one and not worry about being “eaten alive” by your students.

All teachers struggle with classroom management at times. But, you can be prepared to handle whatever challenge arises by knowing and implementing certain procedures and techniques.

With these rules as the foundation of your classroom management plan, you can focus on what is really important: learning!

Develop relationships. You’ve heard it before: Students do not care what you know until they know that you care. And, it’s true. Respect works both ways. You must give respect in order to be respected. Once you’ve established an appropriate student–teacher relationship, you’ve opened the door for students to welcome you into their lives. You now mean something to them, so they are less likely to misbehave. Building this relationship is the core of strong classroom management.

Establish clear expectations. Students need to know what you expect from them; they also need to know the consequences of falling short of your expectations. Expect excellence, and excellence is what you will get.

I post two expectations in my classroom:

  1. I will not tolerate a student stopping me from teaching or another student from learning.
  2. I will not tolerate a student engaging in any behavior that is not in his or her best interest or in the best interest of others.

I reinforce my expectations with classroom standards:

  • Come to class prepared to learn.
  • Obey instructions promptly.
  • Use time wisely.
  • Generate cooperativeness.
  • Accept ownership of choices.
  • Respect others.

Explain, enforce, and reinforce your expectations and standards from the beginning. By providing clear expectations at the start, enforcing the standards by which you measure them, and reinforcing the habits you desire, your relationship with your students will flourish.

You are their teacher, not their friend. You are not there to seek their approval in what you do. They will respect you more in the long run if you provide the guidance they need to grow and succeed.

Be consistent. Consistency is the thread that holds everything else in place. Without consistency, classroom management unravels. You must hold true to your word and your actions. If you fall short, you will lose credibility in the eyes of your students. Without consistency, their sense of direction is unaligned and out of focus.

Say what you mean and mean what you say! Your students will see through you if you talk the talk but do not walk the walk.

Be proactive. Preventing problems rather than reacting to them ensures your classroom does not deteriorate into chaos. One way to be proactive is to stay close to your students. Don’t sit behind your desk; move around the room. Stay among your students and interact with them. Your proximity will undoubtedly deter behavior problems.

Be engaged. Perhaps the most important key to classroom management success is keeping your students engaged in the learning process. When students are engaged in what they are doing, they are focused on the task at hand and are not acting out due to boredom or mischief. Remember, an idle mind is the devil’s playground! So, keep them engaged in learning!

Just Smile

Sometimes students misbehave and push the boundaries regardless of what you do. What then? Do your expectations and standards simply go out the window? Absolutely not! By following some simple procedures, you can still keep your classroom under control.

Have a plan. Know how you will react to behavior before it occurs.

Avoid confrontation if possible, and choose your battles wisely. Don’t sweat the small stuff.

“Nip it in the bud!” Stop bad behavior at the first sign of it. Do not allow it to escalate and spiral out of control. Think prevention instead of punishment.

Stay calm and in control. Yelling never solves anything! Never let them see you sweat. You are the adult, and you are in charge

Never argue with a student! You lose authority.

Don’t back students into a corner. They will react by fighting tooth and nail to escape.

Never reprimand students in front of their peers. They will “save face” and you will lose. Have them go out into the hall, away from the other students, and talk to them one-on-one about the behavior. (I call this my heart-to-heart talk.) Let them know upfront that you will not tolerate such behavior again, but also try to find out why they acted the way they did. This is the part of building the relationship that is so important!

Take care of discipline matters yourself when you can. When you send students to the office to be disciplined over small occurrences, you lose authority and they lose learning time.

Don’t threaten punishment you have no authority to give. If you cannot follow through, they no longer view you as having any authority.

Never bribe students into behaving. This type of management breeds bargaining, which does not allow the students to manage their behavior.

Don’t let classroom disruptions eat up your instructional time. Use these suggestions to develop your own classroom management plan. With firm steps in place, you’ll soon find that smiling before Christmas is not only possible, it is a must! Yes, students need structure in the classroom, but they also need to be engaged, respected, and smiled at!

Previously published in Middle Ground magazine, February 2010


  1. There are some great tips and tricks within this post for a teacher-in-progress like me! Classroom management is one of the most important things a teacher needs to be in control of their classroom. I like how the list of expectations you have for your students is limited to six because it keeps them straightforward and easy for students to be able to recall. I also appreciate the fact that you made smiling such a major point. Smiling and being a positive role model can be just what a student needs to get through a tough day.

  2. This post is a great way to positively tell future teachers how to manage their classrooms and encourage them to make their classrooms their own. All new teachers are trying to act like the older teachers because they are seen to be more put together, but the point of being a teacher is figuring out your teaching style and mastering it. I love that you made smiling one of the most important things to do because the media nowadays frowns upon teachers having a happy demeanor.