August 2017

Classroom Management the Elementary Way

By Jaqueline Slemaker, NBCT-SC
Classroom lessons are the main way we deliver our school counseling core curriculum to elementary students. They are also a great way to establish positive working relationships, build rapport and market yourself and your program to students, and these require effective classroom management.

One of the biggest challenges at the elementary school level is the students’ huge developmental range. As a school counselor, you have to be aware of the developmental needs of each grade level when planning and delivering classroom guidance lessons. You also need a wide variety of classroom management strategies for each grade level.

Each elementary classroom has its own rules, unspoken norms, procedures, interpersonal dynamics, behavioral challenges, and academic strengths and weaknesses. The teacher’s classroom management style has a tremendous impact on the learning environment.

Do your homework: We’ve all found a lesson that looked great on Pinterest but flopped in the classroom. Use your background knowledge of students and the classroom when planning: do they need high structure, or can they handle less-structured activities? Can they meaningfully engage in partner or group work? Are there students with disabilities or English-language learners you need to consider? Is the activity developmentally appropriate? What works in one classroom may not work in another, so be prepared to modify your lesson as needed – sometimes on the fly.

Give specific directions: Positively state your expectations and tell students what you want them to do, what it should look like and what it should sound like. The more time you spend giving effective directions, the less time you will spend redirecting disruptive behaviors.

Catch them being good: Praise students for doing what you want them to do instead of focusing on what they aren’t doing. Notice the students who are modeling the behavior you want, and then give them specific praise. Tell the whole group exactly what desired behavior you like and how it makes you feel. Elementary school students are eager to please and most will adjust themselves accordingly to make you proud.

Consider the time of day and the class schedule: You’re not always going to get into the classroom first thing in the morning. If the students have just finished a long block of reading or math instruction, let them get their wiggles out with a quick structured movement activity. If they are rowdy from recess or lunch, you could do some deep breathing and stretching to wind down. Taking a few minutes to get them ready mentally will save you time in the long run.

Manage the challenging students: Every class has at least one particularly challenging student, so put them to work. By giving them a special job, you minimize idle time and give them a positive leadership opportunity. It’s a win for all parties involved.

Learn from the greats: You know the teachers who never cease to be positive, encouraging and patient. Spend some time in the classrooms of the master teachers in your building to see how they handle transitions, refocus the class and address challenging behaviors. Try incorporating their strategies into your own lessons.

Classroom management in elementary schools can be tough, but it can also be incredibly rewarding, giving you a chance to get to know your students better and share your school counseling curriculum with them.

Jaqueline Slemaker, NBCT-SC, is a school counselor at Jacobs Road Elementary School in North Chesterfield, Va. She can be reached at