Classroom management tips for NQTs

Written by: Steve Burnage | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Classroom management is the bread and butter of effective teaching – and is just like running a successful restaurant! In this article, Steve Burnage offers a menu of nine tips for effective classroom management

In many ways, running a restaurant is like running a classroom.

When we dine out, the décor, wall coverings, lighting, music, temperature, and furniture of our chosen restaurant set the ambiance.

In the same way, our classroom displays, natural light, furniture, temperature and ventilation set the environment for learning and teaching.

The way the restaurant staff interact with customers sets the tone for an evening out just as the way a teacher communicates and builds relationships with their students sets the climate for learning.

And the just as the restaurant menu sets out what delights are on offer, so our lesson-planning, subject knowledge, teaching and activities for learning set out not only what our students are about to learn but also how they might learn.

Just as a good restauranteur uses all these things to run a successful restaurant, so a teacher combines all these things to create effective classroom management.

I want to share with you my menu of nine tips for effective classroom management.

1, Take time to build relationships with students

Get to know your students just as a good restaurateur gets to know their regular customers. What are their strengths? Their challenges? What are they really into? Investing in them as individuals builds trust and that is the key to successful classroom management.

Build learning around student wellbeing, positive mental health and stress management into your lesson planning to support whole child learning as well as academic growth. This will give you well focused, confident and supported learners who want to be part of your classroom team.

2, Have a solid plan

Have a well-thought-out plan for each lesson. If a restaurant didn’t have a plan for how to set out tables, how to take drinks orders or how to cook and serve food, chaos would ensue. You need plans for each aspect of your teaching and your students’ learning. Until you grow in confidence, stick to every minute detail of your plan. Enforce your rules and consequences consistently and get students excited about the learning they are going to do and the team they will become.

3, Have clear, reliable routines and procedures

Maslow’s hierarchy of need (1943) coupled with our growing experience tells us that when learners know exactly what is expected of them daily, they feel safe and secure.

It is our job to create a classroom environment that is predictable and productive. Safety and security are not just about the blind reinforcement of rules – this can be suffocating – it is about the creation of routines. Routines for everything.

There is a reason the waiter serves drinks and then takes some time before serving the food (it’s so you buy more drinks!). This is a routine that makes good business.

You need routines that make for good teaching and learning. Creating daily routines makes it easy for students to live up to your expectations because they know precisely what to do (and what not to do).

4, Get the beginning of the lesson right

Don’t be afraid to “set out your stall” at the beginning of a lesson. Just as the restaurant owner welcomes diners into his restaurant but doesn’t expect them to come in effing, jeffing and swinging from the light fittings, be sure to have clear expectations of your “diners” and make sure students know what to expect, right from the start.

Expect them to line-up outside – at least for the first few weeks – and only enter once they are silent, attentive and ready to learn. Stand in the door as they enter. Smile and greet them and direct them to an arrival activity – something that begins learning right away and that students can do quietly as others arrive. The best arrival activities are those that engage the learner, reflect on what has been learned already or build on what students already know.

5, The end is just like the beginning in reverse

Set out clear expectations for the end of lessons too and manage them just as consistently as you do the beginning. You should convey that you are in charge and you will let them know when it is time to pack away, reflect on learning and leave the classroom.

Do not be afraid to rehearse every classroom routine until it becomes automatic. Think about everything you do at the start of the lesson and just reverse it. Establish routines for sharing key learning points, packing equipment and resources away, tidying the classroom; and who leaves when (just as a waiter will have a routine for giving you the bill, taking payment and fetching your coats).

6, Managing resources

Explicitly teach your students how to manage the resources they need for learning. This might distract your classes away from learning briefly, but it will be time well spent if every class knows your routine for giving out textbooks, fetching paper or exercise books, stationery, specialist equipment or even going to the toilet.

All of these are routines that should be modelled, practised, and reinforced. The more you do it in the early part of the school year, the easier it will be for the year ahead. Finally, remember that any routines you have for “getting stuff out” need to be practised in reverse for “putting things away”.

7, Teach strategies for questions, discussions, and collaborative learning

As well as practising handing out resources, it is worth rehearsing some of the other inconsequential activities that take place every lesson, such as transitioning from one task to another, engaging in paired talk and group work, taking part in Q&A sessions, and so on.

Most classroom behaviour issues are triggered during transitions in learning – the start of the lesson, moving from whole class activities to small group or individual activities, moving on to sharing learning, the end of the lesson etc.

If you establish strategies and routines for things such as how to assign roles in group work, how to feedback shared learning activities, how to leave a seat to collect or do something, then your lessons will be orderly, focused on learning and you will glide seamlessly from one learning activity to another.

Perhaps the most important routine to practise, however, is how to engage in whole-class Q&A sessions: make clear your rules around no-hands-up (questions will be targeted at named individuals and no-one must call out) and no-excuses (everyone must give an answer, “I don’t know” is not acceptable). Practise routines such as commenting on and adding to someone else’s answer in a polite and constructive manner.

8, Make learning the focus of every lesson

To often, at the start of our teaching careers, we give too much attention to student behaviour. If our restaurateur were to focus exclusively on the customer experience – jollying along that group on table four and keeping the rowdy bunch on table eight quiet – and didn’t give any thought to the menu, the quality of food or the service provided, then it wouldn’t be long before they would have no customers.

Similarly, if we get the learning right so that it meets the learning needs of each and every student, is paced to maintain interest and motivate learners to find out more, is clearly structured so students know where they are, where they are going to and how to get there – and if behaviour routines are explained, modelled, practised and fairly and consistently reinforced, then learning will be good and behaviour will usually follow suit.

9, Smile well before Christmas.

It wasn’t that long ago that those new to the teaching profession were advised “don’t smile until Christmas”. Thankfully, times have changed. Managing a classroom can be a challenge, especially at the start of any teacher’s career. Remember that a problem shared is a problem halved so talk to someone if it is getting too much and discuss some practical strategies to try.

Take time to laugh at (but learn from) the things that don’t go right; and share your humour with the students that you teach. For many of your students, you are one of the most important people in their lives and who wants that person to be a misery?

Humour helps us to keep our perspective, so we can help our students along in the kindest and most effective way.

Bon appétit

As a teacher, you may know more about teaching and learning than about the restaurant business but, with the right ambiance, a good menu, great service, and well-practised routines, you will ensure that your customers keep coming back for more.

  • Steve Burnage has experience leading challenging inner city and urban secondary schools. He now works as a freelance trainer, consultant and author for staff development, strategic development, performance management and coaching and mentoring. Visit and read his previous articles for SecEd via

Further information & resources

  • SecEd Supplement: Early Career Teachers: Surviving & thriving at the chalkface, June 2021:


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