9 Essential communication skills for classroom management
We know that sometimes students will challenge us and how we react will directly influence their behaviour in our class. Being confident and self-assured in our classroom behaviour management strategies is important to our success as teachers. Developing a clear, consistent communication strategy for when challenges arise can help to give you a strong 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 cultural differences
- Use directive language
- Use positive language
- Develop emotional intelligence
1. Make sure your message is clear
Clarity is essential to strong communication. Before class, think about what you specifically want your students to know and how you can clearly 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 short and simple manner
- Asking for student feedback
- Clarifying ideas when necessary
- Preparing questions and support materials for class
- Checking for student understanding
At the end of the lesson, recap the main points of focus as another way to make your lesson point clear.
2. Speak with confidence
Developing your “teacher voice” will take time, so be patient.
Your students will learn to respond more appropriately when your communication style is:
- Predictable: develop a scripted response to acknowledge and encourage appropriate behaviour/discourage inappropriate behaviour.
- Clear: be specific about the behaviour 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 behaviour that you want to see.
When your students realise that your reaction is consistent, calm, and controlled they will be less inclined to persist in challenging 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 emphasise 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. This 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 important 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 the interest and responses of your students and to direct on-task behaviour if they’re distracted.
- Smiling while you are talking to your students to convey confidence, composure, and friendliness and increase their engagement.
- Using hand movements and gestures to convey openness, to elicit attention, and to naturally emphasise points (so no jazz hands).
- Standing up straight with feet shoulder-width apart and evenly distributing your weight. Taking this stance tells students that you’re confident as their teacher and helps with your breathing.
- Being mindful of personal space and touch with students, and not standing over them.
- Practicing in front of the mirror and watching 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 cultural differences
It is important to be sensitive to cultural differences when communicating with our students. For example, it can be customary for some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students to avoid eye contact as a sign of respect, 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 behaviour 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 ACARA 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 can achieve because you have addressed their learning needs, you will have more positive teaching experiences.
6. Use directive language
We should aim to approach behavioural 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. This is not confident teacher communication.
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 “Settling 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 facing 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!”
- Try ignoring the bait and keeping class momentum: “People who have finished question 1, move on to complete the next section and continue working, thanks.”
- Try reminding students of expectation and providing 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.”
- Try following 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 take up time and tactically ignore any further attention-seeking (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. By creating a pattern of briefly describing unwanted behaviour, and respectfully cueing expected classroom behaviour, you can convey your point with better clarity and confidence and maintain control.
7. Use positive language
Demanding blind obedience doesn’t go down well with students (or parents). It’s not the reason 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 to.
Communicating in ways to encourage your students involves:
- Acknowledging appropriate behaviour such as being ready to work, working well in groups.
- Focusing on the effort and improvements students have made and building on achievements.
- Providing timely, constructive feedback that details strengths and weaknesses and steps to improve.
- Using non-verbal cues like smiling, thumbs up for positive reinforcement.
- Looking for connections between classwork and student’s interests and real life.
- Avoiding teacher-centric 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: “Guys, today in class I saw you all making a great effort. You’re using good manners, you’re being respectful. It’s awesome. Let’s keep it going tomorrow.”
8. Develop emotional intelligence
Research links our social and emotional competence to our classroom management and student-teacher relationship strength. Emotionally intelligent teachers influence behavior by creating a supportive classroom atmosphere.
Aiming to foster the idea of mutual respect for each other’s feelings involves:
- Regulating our emotions: Make sure before you address your class or individual students that you consider the effect that your emotions will have on your ability to express yourself appropriately. In any classroom situation, you can always control your response.
- Responding professionally: If a student is not capable of controlling their emotions, acknowledge that they’re upset and find time to debrief with the student when possible.
- Behavioural interventions: It’s important to convey how their behaviour can affect others and to help them devise more appropriate ways to communicate. For example, a student acts out because they know you will send them away. Suggest they raise their hand, tell you quietly they need a break, and then take a few minutes before they return to their work.
The idea is that through your example and support, everyone can deal with classroom issues more responsibly and positively.
If you are not listening 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.
Body Language (Cultural Differences)