Classroom management is a fairly broad topic that covers everything involved in running a classroom—except actual instructional skills. It’s all the stuff that surrounds the teaching itself. As such, it often gets short shrift from technical trainers, who tend to focus exclusively on the content and its communication. But classroom management is important precisely because its presence (or lack thereof) can directly affect the class’ success.

One aspect of classroom management is discipline. It may seem strange to use the “d” word in the context of technical training, but even with adult students, you need the skill. What do you do, for example, if you have a pair of students who persist in talking during your lectures? The inexperienced trainer will either ignore the situation, hoping it will go away, or will confront the talkers in front of the rest of the class. In desperation the instructor may even, heaven forbid, fall back on something like “Do you two have something you want to share with the rest of us?” (There’s an image.)

Ask any polished middle school teacher, however, and he or she will tell you that your first action should be to simply move in the direction of the talkers without breaking stride in the lecture. A simple shift in your position within the room can have the desired effect without unnecessary confrontation. This is one example of good classroom management.

Two fundamental truths
Here are two bottom-line facts that you, the trainer, must remember.

  1. Students expect you to manage.
    Students walk into the classroom expecting you to be in charge. They expect you to lead and they expect you to teach. If you don’t manage, don’t lead, and don’t teach, then someone else in the room will. We’re not talking about bullying, coercion, demanding, or any other illegitimate use of power. If you use those, you are simply showing the rest of the world that you’re an immature instructor. What we are talking about is quiet, confident leadership that shows respect while calling for it. Students come into your classroom expecting you to guide them in the learning process. If you don’t provide that type of leadership, they will feel at some level that you’ve shortchanged them.
  2. Management skills can enhance or detract from your teaching.
    A poorly organized, unattractive room, a seating arrangement that doesn’t fit the lesson objectives, inconsistent or immature handling of problems as they come up—these are the things that can distract your students from grasping and absorbing content. At the lunch break, the students will be talking about you rather than about the class or their golf scores. The class may not be a failure, but it won’t be the success it could be, either.

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Classroom management: Some ideas to ponder

  • Own the classroom. It may be your first time there, or you may teach there every day. Doesn’t matter—as far as your students are concerned, it’s your room. Take charge of it. If it’s cluttered, straighten it up. Arrange the seating to fit the lesson objectives. Don’t be afraid to change the classroom setting from time to time. However, don’t forget to put it back for the next instructor. Do whatever you can to make the classroom a comfortable teaching environment. If you’re comfortable in the room, it will show.
  • Think about your age and experience as compared to that of your students. A 20-year-old trainer teaching a room full of 45-year-old CIOs should handle things differently than a 30-year-old teaching a class of middle school students. If you don’t sense these things automatically or think them through before class begins, you may inadvertently treat the CIOs like middle school students, which is a certain path to unemployment. Keep in mind that the word “preparation” is magnified x100 when you’re teaching experienced learners.
  • Anticipate. Constantly notice and analyze what’s going on; constantly think ahead; constantly look for cues and clues. Adjust, move, and change. Your voice, your eyes, your hands, your position. The slide, the drawing, the illustration, the room. Try to see what your students are thinking and feeling, and stay about four thoughts and feelings ahead of them. Good teaching is hard work; great teaching is very hard work; mediocre teaching is no work at all. If you aren’t exhausted when you leave the classroom, you haven’t worked hard enough.

Classroom management is a topic that no one ever learns completely. Over the next few weeks we’ll cover some more classroom management issues.

Bruce Maples is a trainer, writer, and consultant living in Louisville, KY. His latest project is a manual on classroom management for crowds at football games, for which he is carrying out research at various facilities this fall.