As educators, we often take on the roles of parents, social workers, principals, baby-sitters (…the list goes on and on), and at times feel that we are everything except teachers. There is a beauty in that aspect as well, but it is important to find the healthy balance between classroom management and teaching content.

Recently, a dear colleague and mentee of mine approached me about a rather difficult group she was going to be teaching in the upcoming week, and wanted advice on how to focus her class and demand their attention effectively, so that she could spend more of her valuable class time teaching the content. And I gave her the response I would give any beginning teacher, or any teacher struggling with classroom management – use silence.

Oftentimes, when we are struggling with the behavior of certain students in group settings, it is because we have allowed them to learn that it is okay if they speak over the teacher and/or the other students. Whenever speaking with a new class of students, a new group of adults, or entering a new rehearsal, I immediately establish silence. I command their attention by setting the precedence that I will not speak over them and that I will always wait for them to finish their conversations before speaking. Every student, regardless of age, will see how far they can push a teacher or director, however, by introducing silence and a long wait-time, you will instantly – without raising your voice, or becoming frustrated – have the attention of the group.

Try practicing it next time you are in front of a group of students, peers, or learners. The younger the group, the more frequently I recommend waiting. With my kindergarten classes, I often employ silence every 30 seconds, even if it is only for 2 seconds. In those moments of silence, they know that I am holding them to high expectations to follow instructions, so that we can accomplish what we need to. Older groups need it less frequently, although even adults will need that first “wait-time” experience in order to take note of the tone and environment of the class.

Moving forward from this point is the fun part. After establishing that relationship with the students, you get to relax a little and have fun, because you always know that you have the tool of silence waiting in case you need it. The students will respect you more, and you won’t wear yourself out becoming frustrated trying to yell over, talk over, and teach over distractions. Be careful though, because it will be easy to slip into a comfort zone and assume you have the students’ attention. Stand at the front of the group, get their attention…and then…wait…

How has this worked for you? Share your stories.

Learn more about non-verbal classroom cues here:

Happy Teaching!