Be the Thermostat: How Teachers’ Actions Affect Classroom Management

By Phil Kitchel posted 09-13-2022 06:00 AM


By Samantha Smith


Thermostats set the temperature, do they not? If you want your house to be cool, wouldn’t you set the thermostat to a cooler setting? Likewise, if you’re wanting your classroom to be calm and productive, look to yourself first. It’s crucial to set the tone at the threshold. The first interaction with students each day is likely to set the tone for how class will continue.

Imagine you’re a student walking into a classroom. Your teacher hasn’t made copies and is also stressed out from the previous class period. As you find your seat, your teacher begins a rant on how the day is unfolding, then proceeds to spout off expectations of your class before you’ve had a chance to settle into your seat. Now, take a deep breath. Did feelings of anxiety suddenly flood your head? Did your palms begin to sweat? If the teacher is frantic and stressed, what type of atmosphere will the students feel and how will it affect their mood?

Simply imagining a frantic teacher and unorganized classroom can elicit feelings of anxiety, so imagine what it does for students who may not be old enough or mature enough to regulate their emotions! Day to day, hour to hour, and even minute to minute, the teachers’ actions matter. Being a thermostat in your room means you set the temperature, the overall tone for how class will run. That doesn’t mean you won’t have outlier students who don’t conform to the tone of the room, but you can control the majority. Remember that teachers provide guidance and model expectations.

It’s critical for students to see you setting a healthy, emotionally regulated example. As education systems continue to push social–emotional learning, teachers must be cognizant of the real-time examples they are demonstrating. Imagine a student has disrupted your class numerous times and, although you have called for support, no one is available. We’ve all been there, right? Suppose the disruptive student begins to hurl insults. What are your next steps? How do you react? Remember, you must set the tone.

In these instances, be sure to let the student know the standard, as well as inform them that their disruptions are not conducive to the classroom. In this moment, you must depersonalize the insults. Reacting poorly to student misbehaviors changes the climate of the classroom and doesn’t present an emotionally regulated role model for students. Ensuring you are calm in these moments helps to keep the classroom balanced and doesn’t allow other students to play follow-the-leader. The moment you engage negatively with the disruptive student or give too much attention to students off task, you have changed the dynamic of the room. Students are attentive to what you say, so offer a balance of praise and off-stage corrections. Keep your thermostat on a cool setting, allowing for more positive interactions to take place.

Keeping calm is imperative, and while you are teaching bell-to-bell, you can use a few tools to help you maintain the cool climate of your classroom:

  • Mentally unpack before walking into the school building. Wait until after working hours to address anything that isn’t relevant to school or work.
  • Use your planning period to prepare and decompress. Advocate for uninterrupted planning periods so you can be refreshed and prepared for your students.
  • Begin class with 1–2 minutes of silence for decompression. This is a great tool for you and the students. Those hallway transitions can be rough!
  • During silent work time for students, do a brain dump in a journal to release the many thoughts you have accumulated during the class period. Small moments of self-care are imperative.
  • If you have other light sources (e.g., lamps, windows) in your classroom and are permitted to do so, try beginning your class with the overhead lights off and calm music in the background. Students will walk into a calm atmosphere (this can also deter outliers from making too much noise as they see how serene it is).
  • Use a Post-it for students who may be off task. Writing a short, to-the-point note and placing it on a student’s desk helps to minimize spotlighting off-task behavior.

At the end of the workday, it is important to remember your “why” of the career you chose. Relish the successes of your day and reflect on the areas you want to improve. Reflecting and decompressing should allow you to start anew tomorrow—and set a cool, comfortable temperature in your classroom.

Ms. Smith is a doctoral student at Xavier University of Louisiana. She has over 10 years’ experience in the education sector as an assistant dean, mentor teacher, and instructional coach. Ms. Smith enjoys spending quality time with her son, and teaching her favorite subject, Algebra.