9 Essential communication skills for classroom management
We know that sometimes students will challenge us, and how we react will directly influence their behavior in our class. Being confident and self-assured in your classroom behavior management strategies is essential to your success as a teacher. Developing a clear, consistent communication strategy for when challenges arise can help to give you a solid go-to position to confidently maintain control over the situation and get everybody back on track.
- Make sure your message is clear
- Speak with confidence
- Nonverbal communication
- Be aware of diversity
- Use directive language
- Use positive language
- Develop genuine relationships with your students
1. Make sure your message is clear
Clarity is essential to strong communication. Before the lesson, think about what you want your students to know and how to communicate this.
You can make your classroom communication more purposeful by:
- Communicating class goals without ambiguity (in any spoken, written, or visual forms of communication that you’re using)
- Communicating ideas in a concise and straightforward manner
- Asking for student feedback
- Clarifying ideas when necessary
- Preparing questions and support materials for class
- Checking for student understanding
2. Speak with confidence
Developing your “teacher voice” will take time, so be patient.
Your students will learn to respond more appropriately when your communicative approach is:
- Predictable: develop a scripted response to acknowledge and encourage appropriate behavior/discourage inappropriate behavior.
- Clear: be specific about the behavior you see. Remain calm and in control.
- Concise: make statements about classroom expectations. Disengage and allow students to meet those expectations.
- Respectful: always remember to remain professional and to speak to your students with respect. You must model the behavior that you want to see.
- Supportive: look to encourage your students in various ways and promote a positive learning environment.
When your students realize that your reaction is consistent, calm, and controlled, they will be less inclined to challenge you because the result will be the same.
Feeling more self-assured in the short term can also be helped by:
- Preparing well for lessons
- Controlling your breathing
- Not rushing to get through your lesson
- Adding pauses to emphasize key points
- Maintaining a calm, clear voice
- Being enthusiastic when teaching
To practice, try placing your phone on a back-row desk and record yourself. Listening to the recording can help you figure out the volume, tone, and inflection of your voice and help you find your speaking rhythm.
4. Nonverbal communication
Nonverbal cues are so crucial to communication. Eye contact, facial expression, posture, hand movement, and gestures are loaded with social and emotional information. Using nonverbal cues as part of your communication strategy includes:
- Making eye contact to gauge your students’ interest and responses and to redirect off-task behavior.
- Smile while talking to your students to convey confidence, composure, friendliness, and increase their engagement.
- Use hand movements and gestures to convey openness, elicit attention, and naturally emphasize points (no jazz hands).
- Stand up straight with feet shoulder-width apart evenly distributing your weight. Taking this stance tells students that you’re confident as their teacher and helps with your breathing.
- Be mindful of personal space and touch with students, and avoid standing over them.
- Practice in front of the mirror and watch videos of good speakers to develop better body language.
Be mindful that students’ body language can be reciprocal. It will be influenced by the time of day, their proximity to you and the layout of your classroom, cultural beliefs, gender, and many other factors.
5. Be aware of diversity
It is essential to be sensitive to learning and cultural differences when communicating with your students. For example, it can be common for students with Autism Spectrum Disorders to avoid eye contact, so demanding that they “look at you” can cause undue stress.
When considering student diversity, be mindful of:
- Developing your cultural awareness
- Respecting that expectations of appropriate behavior differ between cultures
- Making false assumptions about students based on their cultural background
- Ensuring inclusivity in what you teach and how it is assessed (see National Curriculum Framework for further advice)
- Evaluating how well your lesson plans and materials meet student needs
When your students feel valued for what they bring to your classroom and achieve because you have addressed their learning needs, you will have more positive teaching experiences.
6. Use directive language
We should aim to approach behavioral concerns with confidence and calmness. You don’t want to come across as arrogant. You also don’t want to be a teacher who pleads with their students to stop what they’re doing.
Work on using respectful but assertive language to deal with a range of challenging situations so that you can quickly settle your class and prevent escalation.
Example 1, Reframe pleading statements:
Instead of “Could you, please be quiet and listen? I need you paying attention.”
Try “Settle down, thanks. Eyes and ears to the front. A couple of students need to be at their desks, facing me. Thank you.”
Match directions with appropriate gestures and pauses to wait for compliance.
Example 2, Following up:
Instead of “I told you to be quiet. Why are you boys still talking?”
Try “Excuse me for a second, everybody. Jack, Robbie, we can chat quietly while we work. Right now, we need to be quiet and face this way. Thank you.”
Ignore any sulking as you refocus on the class.
Example 3, Avoiding confrontation:
Instead of “Don’t look at me like that. I told you to sit over there. Move over there now. You have detention!”
Don’t take the bait. Try these strategies instead:
- Ignore the behavior, and keep the class momentum going: “People who have finished question 1, move on to complete the next section and continue working, thanks.”
- Remind students of expectations and provide a choice: “We have a school rule about being safe, respectful learners. You have a choice to make. You can sit where instructed or sit next to my desk if you like.”
- Follow up one-on-one (as they leave class): “We’re going to have a quick chat about class today in your own time.” Reinforce the expectations and enforce consequences at that time. Always allow wait time and ignore any further attention-seeking behavior (e.g., pouting).
It is human nature to feel angry and defensive when confronted. Learn to keep emotion out of your interactions by having scripted and consistent responses for classroom management. Create a pattern when bad behavior happens: briefly describe the unwanted behavior and in a clear, confident manner, respectfully remind students of the behavior you expect.
7. Use positive language
Demanding blind obedience doesn’t go down well with students (or parents). It’s not why we teach, and the battles and stress that will ensue will burn you out. We want our students to feel motivated to work for us, not compelled.
Here are ways of communicating that show encouragement to your students:
- Acknowledge appropriate behavior such as being ready to work, working well in groups.
- Give effective praise for the effort and improvements students have made.
- Provide timely, constructive feedback that details strengths, weaknesses, and steps to improve.
- Use non-verbal cues like smiling or thumbs up for positive reinforcement.
- Look for connections between classwork and the student’s interests outside of school.
- Use student-centered language to motivate student participation.
Finally, if you see a noticeable improvement in the class, take a step back and commend them for their effort: “Class, today I saw you all making a great effort. You’re using good manners, and you’re being respectful. It’s awesome. Let’s keep it going tomorrow.”
8. Develop genuine relationships with your students
Research reveals “the quality of teacher-student relationships is the keystone for all other aspects of classroom management.” Emotionally intelligent teachers positively influence student behavior by creating a supportive classroom atmosphere.
Aiming to foster the idea of mutual respect’s feelings involves:
- Regulating our emotions: Before you address your class or individual students, remember the effect your emotions have on your ability to express yourself appropriately. In any classroom situation, you can always control your response.
- Responding professionally: If a student cannot control their emotions, acknowledge they’re upset, keep directions simple, reassure them, allow space, and find time to debrief with the student when possible.
- Behavioral interventions: It’s necessary to convey how their behavior can affect others and help them devise more appropriate ways to communicate. For example, if a student acts out because they know you will send them away, suggest they use a signal that you agree on and allow them to take a break for a few minutes before returning to their work.
The idea is that through your example and support, everyone can deal with classroom issues more responsibly and positively.
If you don’t listen to your students, why should they listen to you? If a student wants to get something off their chest, give them your full attention for a minute. Showing a genuine interest in their personal lives helps build a good rapport and implies that they matter.
Active listening during class time means that you:
- Remain open-minded and non-judgmental.
- Use open non-verbal gestures and body language to encourage your students.
- Provide short, natural feedback to show engagement (don’t interrupt).
- Ask open-ended questions to elicit more ideas and information.
- Look for the bigger picture in what they’re saying.
- Reflect on them and clarify their message.
Better communication will happen when your students feel like their voices are being heard and that you value what they say.