Carefully chosen rules yield order, flexibility

A high school teacher explained his classroom discipline policy to me. One incident of talking when not called upon triggered a verbal warning. The second was followed by a note sent home. The third demanded a teacher-parent-student conference.

The approach fit the teacher’s inflexible personality. He needed everything to be predictable and under his control.

Since I’ve taught all ages from kiddies to college students, first responders and businesspeople, I can offer some dependable tips for conducting orderly classrooms without playing the tough guy, which I tried long ago — and sometimes after that, as most educators do. With a little understanding of emotional and cognitive development, you can build orderly learning environments at school or in the work place without a detailed behavioral policy.

Here are some key tips for managing behaviors, rather than trying to force people to behave. I’ll assume the classroom is already somewhat orderly. Otherwise, we’d be having another discussion.

Tip 1: Be approachable

You don’t have to smile with your face, but your voice ought to have a smile in it at least every five minutes.Tip 2: Ages don’t matterAdults are forever making faulty distinctions between what they call developed and undeveloped brains. The only significant cognitive difference I’ve found between age groups during many years of intense field observations is that young children have less experience with managing their mental faculties.

Tip 3: People are human

Staff meetings are where you go to see people talking out of turn. If you notice two students chatting while you’re teaching, you can say, “Go ahead and finish what you’re saying, and then I want your attention for a few minutes.” It’s a simple strategy with amazing rapport-building effect.

Max T. Russell writes for the international business intelligence community. You can contact him via his website,