Classroom Management: A Balancing Act

By Shawna Williams, TCDC Curriculum Consultant

Image by Miroslavik at Pixabay

Classroom management “refers to the procedures, strategies, and instructional techniques teachers use to manage student behavior and learning activities. Effective classroom management creates an environment that is conducive to teaching and learning. Ineffective classroom management often creates chaos” (Classroom Management, n.d.).

The National Council on Teacher Quality in the U.S. advocates that instructors develop skills in these “big five” areas to have well managed classes: establishing and communicating classroom rules; building structure and routines; reinforcing positive behaviour; imposing consequences for misbehaviour; and fostering student engagement and active participation. (Greenberg, Putman & Walsh, 2014, pp. i-ii).

For college instructors, there are five additional areas we can consider:

1. Defining our role as the teacher
Teachers often say that the ‘act’ of teaching feels like a performance. We step outside of our ‘usual’ selves and adopt a “teaching persona” (Mac Donnchaidh, n.d., A Teaching Persona section, para. 1) to establish a professional relationship with our students. While we need to encompass the role of the teacher and content expert, we also should use our role to establish a sense of community in the classroom. Creating a community helps students to connect to the content as well as to each other in a safe and supportive learning environment. (Carter & Henrichsen, 2015).

2. Planning
Having thoughtful plans for individual lessons, as well as the entire course, can contribute significantly to a well-managed class (Levy, n.d.). Using outcomes-based curriculum design, we start with our course learning outcomes and plan backwards to our assessments and then our teaching and learning activities. This creates the roadmap for our course, one we can share with our students to ensure they know what they are doing, when, and for what purpose.

In the classroom, there are several strategies we can use to keep our classes well-managed. For example, we can write the lesson agenda on the board, and let students know the purpose for each activity or task. Consider writing homework or upcoming due dates on the board at the start of class. Adopt a Parking Lot, usually a dedicated space on the board to park off-topic questions that are great for later discussion (Peterson, 2017). If students are losing focus from one activity to the next, we can try to plan for effective, smooth segues. Indeed, “clumsy transitions can lead students to become distracted and open up possibilities for misbehavior” (Mac Donnchaidh, n.d., Smooth Transitions section, para. 1).

In addition to course and lesson planning, it is helpful to develop classroom management plans. Levy (n.d.) suggests that we think though what we would do in certain situations, asking us “what you would do if you find a student had plagiarized her paper or what you would do if a student could not seem to stop talking through your lectures” (para. 6). Before we are faced with challenging scenarios, we need to anticipate what might arise and prepare strategies how we can respond (Dobmeier & Moran, 2008).

3. Establishing classroom expectations
It is easier to manage a class when expectations—both instructor’s and students’—are clear and explicit from the beginning. Langara course outlines must mention several policies (Course Outline policy F1003). In addition to these, a list of course specific expectations can be included at the outset. Consider having a class discussion for students to reflect on these expectations. A way to ensure that class expectations are not forgotten after the first day is to plan activities around the course outline. For example, we can create a jigsaw assignment where groups investigate a distinct policy and then report back to others.

Some instructors have success with implementing a Course Contract or Classroom Agreement. While not a legal document, this can be a useful learning opportunity to co-create classroom expectations, or “rules of conduct”, that can contribute to a positive, professional and safe learning environment (Dobmeier & Moran, 2008). Through collaboration and negotiation, the class determines and agrees to a set of expectations. Copies are shared and posted for the class to refer to throughout the term.

In every class, and for each activity, we should try to ensure that students are aware of what is expected of them at each stage of the lesson.  We can do this by sharing  objectives at start of lesson, demonstrating activities and sharing models and examples of good work (Mac Donnchaidh, n.d.). When students know what is expected of them, they are more likely to stay on task.

4. Identifying external supports
There will be times when we need external support, and fellow colleagues can often be the best source. Dobmeier and Moran (2008) suggest cultivating a “support system of peers … for one’s emotional well-being and to increase expertise in handling disruptive behaviour through professional dialogue” (p. 48). However, if there are serious academic misconduct or behaviour issues, we may need the support of our department chairs and deans or other resources at the institution.

Before things escalate, it is important to be aware of the on-campus resources as well as institutional policies which can help us when classroom management issues arise. The Accessibility Office is one such on-campus resource to help with classroom accommodations prior to students registering in courses. Other important on-campus supports include the Academic Integrity office, Security, International Education, Health Services, Counselling Services, Human Resources, and TCDC. For example, TCDC offers workshops to help instructors with enhancing classroom practice or fostering intercultural communication, and People Services often host a Mental Health First Aid course.

5. Addressing behaviour
Dobmeier and Moran (2008) posit a continuum of behavior, which goes from Inattentive to Acting Out culminating in Threating/Harmful/Violent. Experts and practitioners alike suggest that displays of mild misbehaviour should not go unacknowledged (Dobmeier & Moran, 2008; Gandolfo, n.d.; Levy, n.d.; Mac Donnchaidh, n.d.; Peterson, 2017): “Students must be kindly but firmly informed these behaviors are unacceptable” (Gandolfo, n.d., para. 4). Levy (n.d.) advises instructors to “meet with the student privately and discuss the situation. Often the student is unaware that there is a problem and is very apologetic and promises to improve. Other times the student knows the behavior is a problem, but it is rooted in some other academic or personal concern” (para. 8) that may need to be addressed. There may be instances, however, when things escalate to the point where we (or other students) may feel threatened or unsafe. We need to know what to do in such situations before we find ourselves in there. For more information, see Langara’s Student Code of Conduct policy E10003.

As instructors, we need to be aware of the many aspects of our classroom practice that can contribute to a well-managed, engaged class. Whether we have been teaching for many years or are in our first term, classroom management is an ever-evolving skill where not all strategies work with all classes, and adaptability and flexibility are valuable.


Carter, S. J. & Henrichsen, L. E. (2015). Addressing reticence: the challenge of engaging reluctant adult ESL students. Journal of Adult Education. 44(2), 15-20.

Classroom Management (n.d.). Education World. Retrieved from

Dobmeier, R. & Moran, J. (2008). Dealing with disruptive behavior of adult learners. New Horizons in Adult Education and Human Resource Development. 22(2), 29-54. Retrieved from

Gandolfo, C. (n.d.). Classroom Management techniques in adult classrooms. [web log post]. CLASSROOM Retrieved from

Greenberg, J. Putman, H. & Walsh, K. (2014). Training our future teachers: Classroom management. National Council on Teacher Quality.

Levy, S. (n.d.). Aren’t all ESL students well-mannered? Classroom management for the adult (and not so adult) ESL student. [web log post]. Busy Teacher. Retrieved from

Mac Donnchaidh, S. (n.d.). Get it together, Teach! 8 crucial elements of superb ESL classroom management. FluentU English Educator Blog. Retrieved from

Peterson, D. (2017, March 8). Manage disruptive behavior in the classroom: Some effective classroom management techniques. ThoughtCo. Retrieved from

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