Help for the Unruly Class

This post is NOT just a list of things students want from their teachers. I promise, if you read to the end, there is practical advice and an activity to help reform your unruly class (we’ve all had them).

However, education research continually shows that the biggest key to classroom management is the teacher’s attitude toward the students. Even (especially) with the students who seem hardest to love. So it is important to focus on the teacher-student relationship in any discussion of students behavior.

Research shows the when students have a positive bond with their teacher, they behave in more academically and socially productive ways. There are lots of lists of ways to promote that relationship, for example research from Memorial University of Newfoundland and anecdotal evidence from the 25 years of teaching experience of Angela Maiers, an education specialist. But basically it boils down to this:

  • Smile
  • Connect with them on topics beyond school
  • Speak to them in the same way that you want them to speak to you
  • Challenge them
  • Create an environment where questions are welcome

But even when we do all these things, sometimes we have groups of students who struggle to meet the expectations we have set out for them. When that is the case, it can be helpful to use the What? So What? Now What? protocol to get them back on the right track.

This Google Doc contains the teacher directions and student worksheets to use if you want to try this exercise in one of your classes, but here is a short breakdown of the process:

1. Acknowledge to the class that as a group you have a problem (or problems) that need to be addressed in order for the class to function at its best.

2. In groups, ask the students to clarify what the problem/s are and why they matter.

3. Have each group share their thoughts.

4. Have each student individually write about how they are personally going to affect this change in the classroom.

In a groups with a strong teacher-student relationship, taking the time to go through this protocol can often clear up many of the seemingly small yet daily problems that can spiral into an unmanageable class if left unchecked.


2 thoughts on “Help for the Unruly Class

  1. Laura,
    I think that we can all learn from these suggestions! I love the idea of addressing the “problem” in the class! I have tried something similar in the past. We tend to revisit the “norms” established in the class and discuss how we can keep these in place, but I haven’t considered going further like suggested in this post!
    Thank you!


    • Thanks for the comment, Stephanie! I like this protocol because it makes the problem a “thing” and not a person, and everyone gets a chance to be part of the solution.



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