Classroom management is the foundation for every teaching style. I have taught science at a tough inner city school and observed many teaching styles over the years. One piece of teaching is very clear: you either have effective classroom management with students or you don’t. There is no middle ground. And, I’m not saying classroom management turns a class into a prison. In fact, the classroom management I advocate and practice doesn’t focus on penalties and reports.

I have the four R’s I practice in my classroom every day. Most of my lessons are designed around using student collaboration. In my business careers I cultivated excellent lecture and presentation skills but those don’t work so well in high school. I think learning only takes place when students are building social skills and academic skills. The only way to arrive at that learning opportunity is collaboration or project work.

K12 learning is about preparing students for life. Having a career means working with other folks. That’s true if you manage projects, build cars, fix pipes, fly a jet, design clothes, build houses, or have kids. Your life, my life, everyone’s life is filled with relationships. Students must learn to cope with difficult situations and express themselves which are a natural part of doing the kinda collaboration work I design.


Teachers must build respect with students. I’m not talking about being friends either. I know teaches that think ther’re more successful because they get invited to student parties. I know teachers that ask students to help them out to their cars after school carrying stuff. I know teachers that are busy texting with students. All these activities are wrong in my mind. The teacher – student relationship stays in the classroom.

Building respectful is recognizing we are all human. This is how I practice that idea….

– Being genuinely interested in students.

– Acknowledging their contributions in front class, as long as it was an educated guess, even when it’s not correct academically. Somehow I demonstrate/describe a benefit from their work.

– Pushing students to get out of their comfort zone in the work they do.

– Admitting when I made a mistake or didn’t give clear instructions.

– Calling parents/guardians on the phone in front of class to communicate great work and to get help with a disruptive son or daughter.


Tie class material to life. Students today are full of energy. A good teacher harnesses their energy by helping them focus it on class work. I find students want to help, they want to care. The stumbling block is they don’t know the difference between gulping down opinions of others and thinking for their self. I foster independent thinking as much as possible, which means helping them articulate their ideas and understanding.

Critical thinking is more than just doing comparison shopping at the store. Students deserve the opportunity to gather information and arrive at their own conclusion – even if it’s wrong. Did the light bulb get invented on the first attempt? Not at all. Leaning cannot be homogenized even though it seems that what high stakes testing is based upon. Every idea and effort contributes to arrive at a useful conclusion and I ring that bell every day.

Before class starts I have three or four examples nailed down that tie the content for the day to life outside school.


You must check out student comprehension twice a day. I do this using informal assessments like bell work, paired sharing, or tickets out the door. With group work it’s easy because I can walk around and monitor student activity. I can even get one-on-one’s completed with no extra effort.

Give students an opportunity to rate you too. Ask them what they learned today. Or do it at the end of the semester. I did both. At the end of the semester I asked:

1) What are three things you learned?

2) What helped you learn this semester?

3) What disrupted your learning?

The answers I received contributed to the lesson activities I used next semester.


Teaching is a high profile job. Unfortunately, like every other job, teachers take their personal life into their work too. When you are having a bad day, chances are it will get worse in class the first time you get annoyed by a student. In the different careers I’ve had, teaching is one that required me to exercise the most patience and inner discipline. One sarcastic remark to a student could give ’em an emotional scar that will last for months. The bottom line is teachers are responsible for the “health” of their classroom.

I agree that this level of responsibility is a tough pill to swallow. Everyone decides who goes into your class. Other people choose the high stake test content. There are variables and circumstances out of your control every day. To make it worse, you can be a content expert but suck at classroom management and your students will miss a great opportunity to learn from you. The bottom line, you cannot blame students. As a teacher you have to figure out a way to reach ’em and teach ’em.