Like many new teachers, Juan Jimenez was terrified when he began his career as a middle school teacher in Moreno Valley, California. But, he tells us, he learned from our example to come into teaching with a classroom management plan, and that saved him.

Jimenez proactively organized his classroom to minimize problems and maximize learning. To do this, he had procedures in place for everything. He had a procedure for entering the room, using the supply station, turning in and returning papers, and participating in discussions.

Classroom management is procedural, and Jimenez’s students at Vista Verde Middle School knew there would be a consistent pattern to everything they did. Class started with a warm-up assignment. Then came reviewing the warm-up, answering questions, a short lecture, a Socratic-style seminar, an activity, and closing the class.

Jimenez had zero discipline problems, and student engagement grew as the year progressed. This made his first year enjoyable and allowed him to focus on the content instead of potential discipline problems.

Preparation Is Prevention

Most teachers can be defined as either proactive or reactive in how they manage a classroom. Proactive teachers think ahead and have a plan to prevent problems; more important, they plan ahead to maximize instructional time. Reactive teachers approach teaching on a minute-by-minute basis. They think on the spot and react to every problem that occurs in the classroom.

Proactive teachers can visualize a classroom that truly runs itself, and they pro-actively create a plan to accomplish their vision. They look forward with anticipation and excitement to each day. Reactive teachers have no classroom management plan and wander from day to day with no end goal in sight. They arrive at work each day worried about the inevitable problems that will arise instead of preparing their classrooms with an effective management plan that can prevent problems from surfacing.

Classrooms run by reactive teachers actually encourage behavior problems. These classrooms resemble the set of an old slapstick comedy, in which the class clown takes advantage of the daily chaos by defying the teacher and assuming control. This cliché plot eventually leads to a “D” rating: The Disruptive student causes Disorder, which Distracts attentive students and prompts them to Disassociate from learning, which ultimately leads to Disappointed parents and a Discouraged teacher.

Imagine you live in an apartment complex without any procedures in place. It is run by a reactive building manager who is ill-prepared for what might occur on any given day. Stereos could be blasting loud, obnoxious music. Garbage could be overflowing in collection bins. The lawns could need mowing. Children might be running around the pool on slippery pavement without adult supervision. Vehicles would likely be double-parked in front of garages or parked in unassigned spaces.

This is exactly what students face when they enter classrooms run by reactive teachers who don’t have management plans. Students desperately crave organization and consistency in the classroom, especially the students who cause most of the problems. In THE Classroom Management Book, we emphasize the importance of proactive teachers to prevent chaos and establish a predictive, consistent environment. Like a well-organized apartment manager, effective teachers have procedures in place for every contingency — from routine daily assignments that might be interrupted by an unexpected guest to restoring calm in the classroom after an emergency drill.

Where to Focus Your Energy

Successful classrooms are organized by effective teachers who focus their energy in these three areas.

  • Procedures: These cover everything accomplished in the daily operation of the classroom, from taking attendance to completing assignments to exiting the room.
  • Instructional Strategies: These entail developing lesson plans that help students learn and achieve.
  • Expectations: These are written beliefs and goals that foster positive student and teacher attitudes.

All teachers want to establish a calm classroom environment where learning takes place. That calm is created with procedures. With procedures in place, you will have time to devote to creating learning plans for student success. Remember, students want to arrive in an organized classroom, eager to meet their peers and ready to engage in learning. Successful classrooms are effective learning environments because they give children structure, focus, guidance, and direction. Believe that this can happen in your classroom.

Not Too Late

Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending. —Maria Robinson, author

Each day is a chance to wipe the slate clean and start over again with a plan. Each moment is a valuable commodity. When you treat it as such, students will match that expectation with eagerness and success.


Question for our columnists?

Harry K. Wong and Rosemary T. Wong are coauthors of the best-selling book The First Days of School: How to Be an Effective Teacher and the recently published The Classroom Management Book.


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Illustration: Chris Gash; Photo: Ramin Rahimian