Young beautiful teacher woman wearing sweater and glasses sitting on desk at kindergarten tired rubbing nose and eyes feeling fatigue and headache. Stress and frustration concept.

It’s almost that time of year… the time when you stand in front of your class, feeling like you were hired to teach, but all you’re doing is managing disruptive behavior. You’re not alone. Every educator faces moments when their classroom feels like it’s no longer a place of learning. But there’s good news: it’s never too late to reset the dynamics and regain control. There are some immediate, actionable steps to turn the tide and re-engage your students. Let’s dive in.

1. Take Time to Reflect

First things first: take a deep breath. Seriously, do it. And then maybe do that a few more times. Now, you’re able to better reflect on what’s been happening.  Sometimes, the root of classroom management issues isn’t what it appears to be on the surface. Are you reacting in the heat of the moment? Are there underlying academic or disability-related issues that need to be addressed? Are your responses leading to a power struggle? It’s hard to make a plan of action when you haven’t taken the time to do an in-depth reflection.  

2. Reset and Re-Teach Clear, Achievable Expectations

We typically do a great job of setting expectations and sticking to them at the beginning of the year, and then time just takes off and they get left behind. It may be time to revisit and re-teach those expectations. Did you develop a respect agreement with your students or co-create classroom expectations in the fall? What’s changed since then?  Review the agreement or expectations as a class activity, update them together, and refer to revised expectations for every new activity. Ask students to describe how those expectations relate to the current activity and use questions like: “What do these expectations look like or sound like for this activity?” Scribe their responses on the board and try simply pointing back to them as a non-verbal cue when their actions don’t align. 

3. Implement a Consistent Routine

The age-old idea applies here: students thrive on routine. Trauma-informed practices teach us that predictability and knowing what’s coming next help to decrease anxiety and promote emotional regulation. If your classroom schedule has been a bit, well, unpredictable, now’s the time to tighten it up. A consistent routine doesn’t mean every day is the same but that there’s a predictable flow to activities.

4. Boost Positive Interactions

It becomes so easy to hyper-focus on negative behaviors- especially when they are occurring so frequently.  Sometimes, we reinforce negative behaviors by giving them all the attention while ignoring positive behaviors. Have you thought about counting the number of positive to negative interactions you have with a student or a class? Try the 5:1 method: for every one negative interaction you have, try and have five positive interactions. You don’t have to wait for some big win… a simple “I love the way you walked nicely into the classroom with those cool shoes!” or “I love the way you showed your classmate kindness by picking up that pencil!” can go a long way. Try this for a week and track the changes. 

5. Re-think Relationships

“Building relationships” seems to be a bit of a controversial topic lately. Some teachers are tired of hearing this phrase, but it may not mean what you think it means. Building genuine, respectful relationships with your students doesn’t mean you have to become BFFs or invite them to have lunch once a week. Simply expressing interest in their lives outside of school, listening to their concerns, and making an effort to understand them as a person will build trust, and students are more likely to respect and listen to a teacher they feel connected to.

6. Know Your Limits

I recently read a great article titled, “Dysregulated Students Need Regulated Adults,” (Weisling, 2024) and was reminded that both students and teachers may be in a state of dysregulation more than ever. Teachers have been frustrated by seemingly superficial calls for “self care,” when what may be more beneficial is understanding our own regulation needs as adults. If you are nearing the limits of your own ability to regulate your emotions, classroom management becomes even more difficult. Knowing your limits may look like knowing when to walk away from a power struggle or not being afraid to ask for help. You’re not in this alone. 

Remember, resetting and re-engaging doesn’t happen overnight. Take these steps and tailor them to your own unique classroom. Add in consistent implementation and watch the dynamics begin to shift in the right direction. You’ve got this! 

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