Classroom Management and Discipline - Setting Up a Classroom for Success

Are you a brand new teacher nervous about classroom management and discipline or a veteran teacher looking to improve the way you are managing student behavior?  You may not realize it, but creating a climate of positive classroom discipline begins with setting up a classroom for success!

Setting Up a Classroom for Success

August is really underway, no matter how much we wish July could linger.  Back to school season is upon us, and it's time to switch gears and get ready.  Some of you may be about to embark on your first teaching experience, and many of you, like me, have goals for improving upon yourself as a teacher for the upcoming school year.  This is one of the things I like most about my job.  There is a clear beginning and end to each year, with time in between for me to reflect and plan how to make things better for my next group of kids.

Over the last twenty-six summers, I have spent time thinking about how to modify and improve every aspect of my craft.  What's a better use of my classroom space?  What bulletin boards will be most useful for my students?  (And stay up the longest!)  How could I teach this subject in a way that would be more interesting to my students?  How could I involve parents more?  How could I manage discipline more effectively?  This last question is so important.  Classroom management is key to a quality learning environment.  Students are going to have a difficult time learning if the classroom is out of control, and you are going to be stressed out every morning when you walk through your classroom door to face the day.

Whether you are about to begin your first year of teaching and are unsure about how to set up a classroom when it comes to discipline or if you are a returning teacher who feels that this might be an area in which you could improve, I hope to give you some strategies that will strengthen your classroom management in this blog series about classroom management and discipline.

If you are like me, the first thing you have to do when you return to school is prepare the physical space of your classroom.  You may not realize it, but the layout of your classroom and arrangement of furniture should be done in a manner to promote positive behavior.

The first thing you should decide is which wall will be considered the front of the classroom.  You may not have a choice, if you just have one marker board or chalkboard.  This is a picture of my classroom, and the pink arrow is pointing to the marker board which is the front of my room.

Once you have identified the front of the classroom, you should have your desk or table situated so that your back is to the front of the classroom.  In other words, you are facing the back of the classroom.  The picture above is taken from my chair, showing the "Mrs. Rye's eye view".  Below you can see my work space from the students' point of view...

I have a horseshoe table with five stools tucked behind the curtain for when I want to work with students.  All of my teaching materials are on shelves behind my desk.  You want your desk or work station placed at the front of the classroom so that your facing your class when you are sitting at your desk.  In the past I have had a table in the back of my classroom where I worked with students.  But the old saying is so true...out of sight, out of mind!  It makes a huge difference if your students see your face, especially if you have perfected your teacher look!  Your students will be more likely to be off task and not working if they can't see you.  

Also, if I am working with only one student, then I have them sit next to me on my side of the table.  That way they are not blocking my view of the class or any student's view of me.  While I'm working with that student, my eyes periodically sweep the room.  If I see someone off task, I keep coming back to them with my eyes until they look up and see me.  I give them my raised eyebrow "get back to work" look and that's usually all it takes.  You may be wondering, what if they never look at me?  Well, often times when students are doing something they know they aren't supposed to be, they do look at you to see if you are looking at them.  They will become accustomed to the fact that you are always aware of the whole classroom, not just the student(s) working with you.  

Once I have identified where my work area will be, then I can arrange my student desks.  The most important factor when placing student desks is to minimize the number of students who would have their back to the front of the room where the marker board or chalkboard is.  This could be accomplished easily by putting the entire class in front facing rows, and though I sometimes end up there by necessity, I don't typically start my year with that arrangement.  Besides the fact that it takes up more room and the rows inch forward all day, my goal is to have the students working with partners and in small groups.  

I arrange my desks in groups of six.  I do this for a couple of reasons.  I want everyone to have a partner, and my file box shelves each have six spots.  (Click here for information about the file box shelves.)  When putting the group together, I move the back two desks (where the arrows are pointing) so that they are facing the front of the class.  The other two pairs, who are facing each other, only have to turn to the side to look at the board.  I think groups of four are great as well.  Each student has a partner, and the whole group can also work together.  With a group of four, I place them facing each other, so they only have to turn to the side to look at the board.  If I turned the group with a pair facing the board straight on, then I would have two students with their backs to the board.  

Often times, we do not have as much space in our classrooms as we would like.  One way to conserve space is to push desks right up against a wall.  

One problem with doing this is that two of the rows (see arrows) now have their backs completely to the board.  Worse yet, I can't see their faces, and they can't see mine if I'm sitting at my desk.  I still put a couple groups against a wall, but then I have to be very careful about who I seat in those two rows.  I will discuss seating charts in another post in this series.  

Once my groups are all arranged, I can design my favorite part of the room, the library!  When configuring your library, it's not just about where to house your books.  Our classroom library is the much coveted comfy reading area!  So, I have to do what I can to ensure that students will actually read in the reading area instead of talk.  How do you do that?  It comes down once again to being seen.  If your reading area has places where a student can hide and not be seen, then sometimes kids will try to take advantage of that to do things other than read.  So, when designing your library, put all tall shelves on the outside perimeter (in the back or on the right or left side).  

I also place chairs on one of these three sides.

I put nothing or only very low items on the front perimeter, the side that is closest to the front of the room and my desk.  The reason is that you want to be able to see everyone who is reading on the carpet.  If they know you can see them, they are more likely to do what they are supposed to do.  Sometimes a student will be laying on the floor, and I can't see their face.  In that case, I make sure to check on them as I'm walking around the room to confer with students, and I also take note when other individuals in the reading area keep looking in their direction.  That is a sign that they are not reading.  

Taking the extra time to arrange your room with discipline in mind will pay off dividends when those students arrive!  

Check out another of the posts in my Classroom Management and Discipline Series for tips about creating your classroom seating plan and how to set the tone from the first moment students walk through your door on the first day of school.  

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