Classroom Management

Learner Engagement briefing

This briefing presents 12 tips to help your challenge disruptive behaviour in class and to establish the authority your students need you to have.

1. Set out expectations

Establish the ground rules the first time you meet your students. Ground rules should be bought into by everyone to bring benefits to everyone. Ensure the few, clear rules remain accessible to everyone e.g. in your Blackboard site.

2. Stick to the rules

If anyone contravenes the ground rules they need to know that they have crossed the lined agreed by the cohort. Don’t let things go without remark, but where possible keep comments low profile and one-to-one. Leave minor irritations until the end of a session – but address it every time.

Be fair, consistent, and proportionate. Don’t be vague or whimsical.

The sooner students learn that mucking around is not acceptable, the sooner you create a safe place where everyone’s learning is maximised.

3. Use the room

Think carefully for every session about how you are going to use the classroom. Changing the way it is arranged is a useful way to make clear to students about how they will be involved in the session. Involve students in adjusting furniture if it is not set up properly as this is a way they can contribute to the class and its purpose. If you are grouping students for activities decide how you want to group them. Establish the room to make sure the class is productive and students can apply their different strengths to group activities and discussions.

4. Know your students

If you need to address a student your authority is undermined if you can’t address them directly by name. Learn the names of your students and build up a profile for each student. Along with their names, try to remember one or two things about each student. Make notes if necessary, especially about their strengths or things you like. Running an icebreaker activity in the first class can help.

5. Keep calm and never give away your authority

Even if you feel at a loss, your students need you. There is nobody else at this moment looking after your student’s interests. The mental attitude you need to succeed is, ‘They are here to learn, and my job is to help make that happen.’ Refer to the ground rules you have agreed and if bad behaviour persists ask people to leave the room and arrange to explore the underlying problem with them beyond the class. Do not let a bad situation escalate in class. They are lost without you.

6. One for all and all for one (1)

Bad behaviour in class can undermine your own belief in yourself. Sometimes we all need to create a space to work out these difficulties. You are not the first person to feel challenged! Nobody will be surprised or think badly about you. Consider mentioning it to a peer, buddy, line manager, Course Leader, mentor or another supportive colleague.

7. One for all and all for one (2)

Most students will respond positively to engaging, well-designed sessions and activities. Let a strong sense of engagement be the overriding classroom culture. Develop this by observing what works, and asking students regularly about what is working well or not so well, formally or informally. Take this on board and note with students the changes you are making to improve engagement. Do not leave this until the end of the course! Make the students responsible for fostering a productive environment too. Don’t hide behind the lectern or get stuck to the front of the room. Move amongst your students.

8. Be prepared

Plan every session. Come prepared with the resources you will need. Know how you can be flexible so that you can respond to areas that need more work. Know what you are talking about. Always have a good answer ready. If you don’t know something, decide if it is relevant, agree to find out, or work together to find out.

9. You’re not alone

Remember: Badly behaved students are almost without exception badly organised, and work alone. The rest of the students want you to deal with this person too! Well-meaning banter can quickly get out of control. Don’t let students overstep the mark until you have established a good, productive and reliable relationship.

10. Count to 10!

Pause before you speak. ‘It is better to remain quiet and appear stupid, than open your mouth and remove all doubt!’ If you give yourself a moment or two to think, you can choose to speak, or not; often, it is more effective to stay silent. Having given yourself time to consider your options, your actions will be more appropriate and more effective.

11. Always have a backup plan

However much you plan, things don’t always work. This is especially true when you are using technology, but it will also be true of new techniques you want to work. Even familiar techniques don’t always go as planned and it can be hard to understand why sometimes. Stay focused on the objectives for the session and the learning outcomes, and use more familiar and reliable methods to continue. The students will be thankful for not persevering with something that is not working on the day.

12. If things get out of control…

Use a blank notebook. This tip aimed at school teachers provides all of us with a way to reclaim our control without losing face or authority. Essentially it says, remove yourself from the game of disruption and reclaim authority.

These suggestions are largely based on Tom Bennett’s Top Ten Behaviour Tips. Online at:


See also the briefing, Being a teacher with authority