This post is intended for teachers who have a strong grasp of musical subject matter but also want to learn classroom management strategies to create a positive learning environment.
I am a music educator, I understand how important it is to plan for success.
Setting goals and following strategies to reach those goals helps me plan and achieve the goals that I want.
Whether my goals are communicating with my administrators more effectively or maximizing my time efficiently, there are effective strategies to reach these goals.
In addition, I appreciate the need to be well prepared in the delivery of my instruction.
From my experience, I also have found that students don’t care how much I know until they know how much I care about them.
In order to plan for success, be prepared, and to let students know that I care about them, I have implemented five classroom management strategies into my teaching.
Here are the strategies I use which promote a positive learning environment:
• Create a culture of respect and rapport
• Establish a culture for learning by establishing appropriate expectations
• Manage procedures effectively and efficiently
• Organize and structure our physical space.
• Manage behavior
For the duration of this article, I will explain more in depth each of these classroom management strategies and how to implement them yourself.
Let’s begin, shall we?
My Top Five Classroom Management Strategies
Strategy 1: Create A Culture of Respect And Rapport
“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
Ever heard that phrase before? Chances are you have. What’s more, as a teacher leading a classroom, this is incredibly relevant.
However, in your case, the general term “people” are replaced with a more specific audience: your students.
So, here’s the deal.
Master teachers understand that it’s not good enough to simply have an exceptional command of our subject matter, or well-written lesson plans.
There’s much more to it than that.
Master teachers connect with students on a personal level and they discover value in each of their students.
To that end, it’s a good idea to consider what type of students we teach. In Barbara Kellerman’s book entitled, “Followership”, she describes the five levels of engagement between a leader (teacher) and followers (students).
Let’s break them down.
• Diehards: are deeply devoted and defined by their dedication and all-consuming effort.
• Activists: feel strongly about their leader (teacher) and act accordingly. They are eager, energetic, and engaged. They demonstrate work ethic to a lesser degree than Diehards.
• Participants: are in some way engaged and invest some degree of time or effort in order to have an impact.
• Bystanders: observe but do not participate and demonstrate tacit support for the task at hand.
• Isolates: are detached, unresponsive, or unengaged.
Ideally, we want the students to at the very least be participants.
Think About Your Own Teachers
Now the question is, “How can we minimize the amount of ‘Isolate’ and ‘Bystander’ students in our classrooms?”
To do that, let’s think back to our own personal experiences and the teachers we had that impacted us.
Let me give you an example from my life.
One of my teachers that comes to mind is Donna Maydew, my high school algebra teacher. Miss Maydew knew how to connect with me and realized that math was not my forte.
However, she was always willing to meet with me outside of class as many times as it took to be successful. I realized, while I was no fan of math, I was a big fan of Miss Maydew because she cared about my success in and beyond the classroom.
Mark Munoz is another teacher who I have great respect for. He was my band teacher from 5th grade until I graduated from Ray High School. I grew up in the small mining community of Kearny, Arizona where the band program was certainly not considered a music powerhouse.
Yet, Mr. Munoz had both the presence of mind and goodness of heart to connect with all his students.
Because of him and the interest, time that he invested in me and other students, along with the respect and rapport that he had with over three decades of students
• I became a music educator
• Many of his students also pursued music, or became educators, or successful in their careers of their own choosing
• He was able to have a profound impact far beyond the band room
What About Your Teachers?
So, think back to your favorite teachers.
• Why did you respect them so much?
• How did you know they cared about you?
I invite you to jot down your responses and find ways to embed those endearing qualities into your teaching.
Oh, and by the way, we might also want to go one step further and reconnect with them, if possible, to thank them for all they did to inspire us.
One last thought about caring.
In Karen S. Hendricks’ book entitled, “Compassionate Music Teaching,” she states that caring relates to the way in which we “care for” our students, rather than merely “caring about” our students.
In other words, “caring for” goes beyond a more distanced concern to a state of action. I find that Hendrick’s, “state of action” is such a subtle, yet powerful belief.
Strategy 2: Establish Appropriate Expectations
We want to set expectations for learning and achievement as soon as possible. And, keep in mind how important it is to be intentional and consistent with our expectations.
• One simple, but effective example of establishing a culture for learning is to be consistent with starting and ending rehearsals on time. In rehearsal, if the expectation is to start the warm-up process two minutes after the bell rings, be consistent by starting on time.
• Another example is to reward, recognize, and celebrate. In Tom Connellan’s book entitled, “Inside the Magic Kingdom – Seven Keys to Disney’s Success”, he points out that a ratio of three positive to one negative comments helps keep motivation and teamwork high.
Beyond that, if learning seems to be compromised at any point, and it may, go back and review with our students what the appropriate expectations are. With the last example, go back and explain the benefits of starting class on time and actually practice and develop the learned behavior that is expected.
The bottom line is that if we want to establish an appropriate culture for learning, we must be willing to teach and reinforce what appropriate behavior is.
And while it may seem like we’re spending too much time on behavior rather than instruction, the research is clear. Rick Dahlgren, President of Time To Teach and the Center for Teacher Effectiveness states that students will be more successful once the appropriate culture for learning is established.
Strategy 3: Manage Procedures Efficiently And Effectively
Efficiency is doing things right. Effectiveness is doing the right things.” – Peter Drucker
Here are suggestions that can we can implement while considering the different types of students that we have and the level of engagement that takes place in our classes:
• Just like starting class on time, consider how time is being used during rehearsals. Let’s video recording ourselves repeatedly to monitor how well we manage our class time.
• Have our lesson plans visible to the students. Students appreciate a game plan, especially when they successfully accomplish the game plan.
• If we find ourselves constantly running out of time, include time limits for each activity throughout the class period.
• Take note of on-task activity compared to off-task activity and change the pacing accordingly.
The goal is to make the best use of the time that we have by minimizing the down-time as much as possible.
Strategy 4: Organize And Structure Our Physical Space
When doing this, consider the following factors:
• Safety, both physical and emotional well-being.
• Seating arrangements that maximizes focus and learning. One example is to pair more experienced students with younger students.
• The physical distance from students as well as the ability to navigate throughout the classroom.
• Having students who don’t have much of a part, sit in the front of the class with scores in hand.
• Using a projection screen to show a score for all students to view during rehearsals.
• Other factors in the classroom that may that may over-stimulate our students, such as: bold paint colors or excessive posters.
These are all examples of ways to better structure and organize the physical space of the classroom.
Strategy 5: Manage Behavior
As I’ve already suggested, setting proper expectations up front is key to managing behavior.
• That said, when students demonstrate questionable behavior, determine if the behavior is interrupting our instruction or the students’ learning.
• If not, then continue teaching and address the issue at a more appropriate time.
• If the instruction or learning is being affected, refocus the student’s behavior in a quick, respectful way and continue with the instruction.
• This can be achieved as easily as asking them to do something that requires engagement of some sort, or by us physically positioning ourselves closer to them.
• Also, keep in mind that it’s always a good idea to praise in public and reprimand in private.
To be clear, it’s not possible to cover everything about managing misbehavior in a single blog post.
Regardless, a good rule of thumb is that it’s important to be proactive, rather than reactive to student behavior.
Other factors that affect behavior includes:
• Proper planning and preparation
• Engagement through effective instruction
• Developing effective assessment strategies
• Ongoing professional development
Hopefully you have found these classroom management strategies useful. I know that they have helped my teaching exponentially.
For more advice on how to improve your teaching skills or to help your students with their playing skills, Musician’s Toolkit has video series and courses to help you reach your goals.
Click here to check out Musician’s Toolkit.
Musician’s Toolkit has several series in the “For Teachers” library which contains courses on how to improve your teaching. Included in that library is a video series entitled, “Cornerstones for Successful Teaching” that I invite you to check out.
Lastly, be sure to follow @musicianstoolkit on Instagram and Facebook for exclusive behind the scenes footage from video shoots and other fun content!
Bonus – Downloadable Infographic
Download, print, or save this infographic to make it easy to remind yourself of the classroom management strategies which will aid you in your teaching.
About the Author
Jon Gomez is a National Consultant and Clinician for the Conn-Selmer Division of Education and Music Celebrations International. He also serves as conductor of the East Valley Youth Symphony. Jon is called upon to help students find their passion for music as well as share strategies for servitude leadership and success. He also supports educators with his experience in the profession that spans over thirty years.
Mr. Gomez is the Former Director of Bands and Department Chair for the Performing Arts at Dobson High School in Mesa, Arizona (2000-2016). In prior years, he served as Director of Bands at Coronado High School and as the District Team Leader for Bands in the Scottsdale Unified School District.
Through the years, his bands have earned respectable accolades and have presented notable performances, including: The World Expo in Shanghai, China, multiple performances at the Music For All National Concert Band Festival, Carnegie Hall, multiple performances at the Arizona Music Educators Conference, and extensive touring throughout Europe.
Jon received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree (1987) and Master degree in Education Administration (1993) from Arizona State University. As Co-Founder of Synergy Leadership Endeavors, he helped create and produce the video & CD-ROM entitled, “Leadership Success” published by GIA Publications.
Gomez is associated with the: The Midwest Clinic Advisory Committee, Music For All National Band Festival, Bands of America, Summer Marching Academy, and several State Music Educator Associations. He is a Charter Member of the Kappa Zeta Chapter of Phi Beta Mu (Honorary Band Masters Fraternity). Jon is also the Recipient of the Arizona State University School of Music Alumni Award and the AMEA O.M. Hartsell Excellence in Teaching Music Award.
1 Danielson, Charlotte. The Framework for Teaching: Evaluation Instrument. Danielson Group, 2013.Kellerman, B. (2008). Followership. Boston, Mass.: Harvard Business Press.
2 Hendricks, Karin S. Compassionate Music Teaching: A Framework for Motivation and Engagement in the 21st Century. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers , 2018.
3 Connellan, Thomas K. Inside the Magic Kingdom: Seven Keys to Disneys Success. Bard Press, 2008.
4 Dahlgren, Rick, et al. Time to Teach- the Source for Classroom Management. Center for Teaching Effectiveness, 2008.