Instructional Pitfall #4: Going Through the Motions

You’re several weeks into the school year now and, hopefully, things are starting to settle into a nice routine for you and your students.  This is a great feeling!  As things are trucking along, though, we can run the risk of becoming complacent with our classroom culture.  When you give a direction, are students following it exactly as you intended?  If you ask for all eyes on you, are you making sure that’s still happening?  Or are you starting to just go through the motions with some of these expectations?  It can be hard to keep your expectations high every single day, especially if it feels like things are generally going fine.  But every time you give a direction, if one or two students are slow to comply or you ignore a few quiet voices even if you’ve asked for silence, more and more students are going to realize you’ve lowered your expectations.  Before you know it, precious instructional time will be wasted on a regular basis because kids are increasingly off task or slow to respond.  Worst-case scenario, this snowballs into serious misbehaviors that make your classroom an unproductive place where students don’t feel safe and focused.  So take some time this week to give renewed attention to your classroom culture.  Here are some ways to tighten things up in a positive, productive way.

  • Push the positive!  If you have a positive incentive or reward system in your class, ramping up the positive points or rewards for a couple of days can quickly get things back on track as students strive to meet your expectations in order to receive those positives.  And when used to improve overall class behavior, handing out lots of positives versus lots of consequences definitely helps support a positive classroom climate!


  • Stop, stand & scan.  This is a very effective, yet unobtrusive strategy.  Right after you give a direction, take a few seconds to stand still and scan the room to check that students are on task.  Knowing that you’re watching, they’re more likely to quickly meet your expectation.  And if you use this strategy in the middle of practice time, students are likely to stop talking and get back to work since they don’t want you to keep looking at them.  I like to throw in a smile when I make eye contact so there’s no risk of this turning into a stare-down situation.


  • Post reminders.  Some teachers I know have found a lot of success with posting small reminder signs in the back of their classroom.  The signs might simply read “100%” or “Push the Positive” to remind the teacher of what they want to focus on that day or week.


  • Do a mini-reset.  This was a go-to strategy for me during every year of teaching.  As soon as I realized we were getting a little lax, I would stop and announce something like, “Class, we’re not as on-point as we should be.  There’s some talking during the Do First and it just took us a long time to transition into our groups.  Starting right now, let’s fix this.  In order to help make sure it happens, know that if I state an expectation and you’re not meeting it, you will receive a consequence.”  This gave them a heads up and an official ‘reset’ so that we were all on the same page.  As long as I was vigilant with giving any necessary consequences that first day so that they knew I was serious, this always got us right back on track.  And if you can balance this with lots of positives, all the better!


  • Target class leaders.  Often when things are generally going well, it’s easy to identify the 1 or 2 students who are consistently not meeting your expectations.  Take time outside of class to build your relationship with these students as well as asking them directly for their increased cooperation in class.  This takes some extra time, but is a much better route than having to continually give these students consequences in class and it being a public situation that can turn into a power struggle.

If you think you might need more than this to get your classroom culture where you want it, take a look at our previous classroom management posts:
Leading With Positivity
How Leaders Can Support a Teacher Struggling with Classroom Management
Building Relationships with ALL Students

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