9 Classroom Management Tips for Teaching High School

I've taught high school for 15 years. However, I vividly remember the tremendous struggles I had my first years teaching. Classroom management was not something that came naturally to me. It takes every teacher a few years to find their footing and feel comfortable leading a classroom. 

Once you do develop strong classroom management skills, however, learning will increase exponentially and you can try more awesome lessons that would have made you nervous to try in year one. 

Here’s my best classroom management advice for high school teachers. I broke it down into 9 simple reminders that I think can help any secondary teacher have great classroom management.

1) Know Your Kids 

First and foremost, you need to learn your students’ names as soon as possible. This is a way to make an immediate connection and show right away that you care about them as people.  There are teachers in October who are still learning names. Don’t be like that! 

There are several great ways to learn names quickly and I promise you they're worth the effort. If you can greet each student by name at your door on Day 2 (or even as they leave on Day 1), it will have an immense impact toward limiting problems throughout the year. 

 Here’s a few ways to make the name-learning process easier: 

 A seating chart - simple & still as effective as always

  • Name tents on desks - students can create these on the first day and decorate them. The visuals will help you to connect each face & name.
  • Introductions - have each student introduce themselves and say facts about them. You can make it fun by passing around toilet paper and telling students to take as many squares as they like. When it gets all the way around, they have to give a fact for each square. You can also do M&Ms and each color goes with an ice-breaker question. 
  • Attendance software - if your school has a software with student pictures, use them to quiz yourself at night
  • Selfies - If you have devices in the room, have students take selfies holding up their names. I like to use some historical props I’ve collected over the years to make it fun. I do stations on Day 1 and make this one of them! 

 Any other tricks you know of to learn names? Let me know and I can add them to the list! 

2) Procedures Prevent Problems

You probably heard this over and over in your education classes. That’s because it’s true! Routines allow students to know what’s going on and get right to work. 

I start every class period with one of my daily warm up sets. These are projected up on the board as students walk in. I can stand at the door and greet students and they can get right to work before the bell even rings. This has been huge for getting class started off right. 

Then, at the beginning of the year I’ll set expectations about how we transition between activities, where backpacks go (not in the aisles!), how they can use the restroom/get water, how to turn in papers, how to exit class, etc. Many of these are up to your personal preference as the teacher, but if the students know the routine, it makes class so much simpler throughout the school year. 

3) ...But Then Mix It Up

Once you have your routines down and progress through the year, there is a tendency for things to get stale. Those same routines that made life easy in September and October can start to feel boring. 

That’s when you want to mix it up. Instead of the regular warm up on the board, maybe there’s a game to be played. You can arrange to do a station activity in the gym instead of in class.  Or you can pass out 3D glasses and go through a lesson in 3D

These kinds of things will keep kids on their toes. You don’t want to abandon your routines, just throw some fun things in there before your feel your class going flat. If you’re looking for fun ways to mix it up, here’s a post about 6 “instagram worthy” activities you can try in your class. 

4) Anything You Can Do Before Class, Do Before Class! 

This is one I learned over time and is especially important if you’re using any technology. I get to school early and make sure I have everything ready to go for all my classes.

The daily procedure will be the board so students can see exactly what we’ll be doing that day. I’ll have any papers for printed and ready to go at the front of the room, assignments ready on Google Classroom, and any websites or videos pre-loaded in case of tech-glitches. 

Sure, you can do some of these things during class, but even if it takes you 30 seconds to open YouTube and go to a video, that’s MORE than enough time for kids to get off-task.  Even worse - the internet is down and that video you planned on watching won’t load. 

If you take the time to get everything ready before class starts, it will save you incredible amounts of frustration, and allow you more time in class for covering your content.

5) No Down Time!

This one took me a long time to really master. There’s no way when you’re first starting out to really know how long your lessons will take. Do you talk a lot or a little? Are your students talkative or not? Do you enjoy those tangents that lessons sometimes take or do you need to stick to the curriculum? 

 All of these are things you figure out over time. An activity that takes 25 minutes for one teacher might take you 20 or 40. It will vary by class also. But one thing you never want to have is down time. This is when you finish everything in your lesson and see there are still 10 minutes left in class. 

Telling students they’re free the rest of the period is a recipe for disaster. So, at the beginning of the year you want to over-plan for every lesson. Have enough stuff planned to take 2 whole periods. It’s better that than your class flies through everything and you’re stuck with unruly kids for the last 5 minutes of class.

If you do have extra time at the end of class, here’s a great video from Real Rap With Reynolds on easy activities you can always do if you have 5 extra minutes in class.  

6) Engaging Activities 

I hate to say it, but look what we’re competing against for kids’ attention and what they’re used to. As much as I’d love to conduct each class with a Socratic Seminar and have students questioning their assumptions in a learning circle, it’s not something that I can expect will consistently keep them engaged. 

Kids need an array of class activities that hit learning standards through varying ways. This can be primary source analysis one next day, then a stations rotation, cooperative learning, interactive notebooks, webquests or digital notebook activities, PBL, Kahoot and games, etc. 

No matter how fun or engaging an activity is, kids will get bored of it if you over-do it also. Add a variety of different activities so students are consistently engaged. 

6) Clear & Consistent Expectations

This is one you surely heard in your teacher training classes and it really is true. You need to have a standard level of expectations for what you allow and don’t allow in class. Then you need to stick with it. If you have a rule that there’s no phones in class, you can’t allow then one day when there’s extra time. It may seem ok, but that’s how problems slowly begin.

In the beginning of the school year, I do a class constitution project where students develop a set of norms for the class that we’ll all agree to. This is a huge help because the students set the rules (with a lot of guidance from me). 

Also, never threaten consequences you aren’t ready to follow through on. If it’s detention, calling home, or sending to the office, you have to follow through. So, always think about if you’re really ready to write a student up or kick them out of class.

8) Invest in a Course or Training

If you really feel you need some more advanced classroom management help, you could invest in a course and assistance in your daily teaching. There’s a system called ENVoY that a few teacher friends of mine have raved about. It’s based on effective non-verbal management skills and there’s a book, workshops, and videos. 

9) Be Silly

While you’re sticking with those clear and consistent expectations, you can also keep your class under control by being silly. When I would notice that kids’ attention spans were starting to drift, I would pronounce a word wrong. It’s totally dumb but would snap their attention back. 

That was one of a series of Instagram videos I did last year of my favorite “stupid classroom management tips”. Others included personifying your whiteboard, random singing, nicknames, and using Bitmojis in your PowerPoints. If kids can see that you’re having fun, it makes it a lot more likely that they’ll enjoy the class as well. 

Thanks for Reading

That’s all for now! Do you have any great classroom management suggestions? If so, please let me know through Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram!

I'd love to learn how you manage your classroom and we can all become better teachers together! 

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