Behavior Management in the Online Classroom
Updated: Sep 29
Regardless of your student's age or whether you teach in an online or brick and mortar classroom, figuring out how to manage your classroom and motivate your students is essential to helping them develop. With so many teachers transitioning to online education I came up with a list of the top ways I manage my own online classroom.
Get to Know your Students
Successful teachers know their students. They know their likes and dislikes and what motivates them. Building a relationship founded on mutual respect will not only minimize behaviors but also create an environment where students feel safe to ask questions and make mistakes. Taking the time to learn about your student's life outside of class is worth the extra effort. Do they play sports? What's their favorite movie? Who is in their family? Taking a moment at the start or end of a lesson to ask these questions will show your students that you care about them. I don't know about you but I am way more likely to listen and behave in front of someone that I respect than someone who I feel does not care about me.
The information you learn about your students can then be used to make their lessons more individualized and interesting. Relating class material back to their interests and connecting it to their life will help keep them engaged and focused. It also will make the material more appealing and increase the student's participation. When you are able to keep students interested and engaged they are less likely to misbehave and lose focus.
For students that need a little something extra to motivate them you can set up a reward system. I suggest taking a few moments at the beginning of the lesson to introduce the reward system and let the student know what they are working towards. Is it earning a physical object like stars or scoops of ice cream? Is it drawing a picture together, playing a game at the end of class or doing something physical? Of course, since this is the online classroom you will be unable to physically give your student an object but you can proudly display it in the classroom so that they can visually see what they are trying to earn.
As I said at the beginning of this article it is crucial to get to know your student's interests. This information can be used to determine how to best motivate your students. For example, many of my students love animals so I created an "animal at the zoo reward". Each time they perform well in class I have them choose an animal they'd like to add to the scene. If they are a younger student we will act out the animal together or make the animal sound. For older students, I turn it into a guessing game where I pretend to be the animal and they have to guess what I am. It creates a nice 30-second brain break where we can share a laugh, reward the student for good behavior and return to the lesson with renewed energy.
Other simple rewards that have been successful with my students are letting them choose an object to show me during class. This could be a book a toy or a drawing they have been working on. They are usually very proud to show off their own work and eager to share parts of their lives with me. This simple reward also gives me insight into their other interests.
After students have done a good job in class, I will sometimes have them pretend to blow out candles or blow bubbles as a reward. Just because you are virtually meeting does not mean you can't incorporate these physical objects into your lessons. In fact, I find that this intrigues my students and often the next time we meet they will bring the same object or something similar to share with me.
Are you a minimalist and don't have a lot of props in your vicinity? Try playing a game as a brain break. Tic-Tac-Toe, guess the word or twenty questions have been huge successes with my older students.
Additionally, giving your student's options or letting them choose their reward is highly effective! Ask them what they'd like to work towards or give them several options. This will not only increase their interest in working towards the goal but it will also give them a sense of control over the lesson.
Looking for more examples of online reward systems or premade supplementary reward systems? Click here.
Get the Wiggles Out
Kids need to move, especially if they are spending an increased amount of time sitting in front of a screen. So whether it is combining movements or TPR with your educational materials or giving your students a little brain break to do jumping jacks or dance to their favorite song they will not only get their heart rate thumping but also return to the lesson with more focus. Many of my students love to move and play sports. At first, I found it difficult to incorporate sports into the online classroom due to the barrier of the screen but I didn't let this stop me for long. I can't tell you how many times I have pretended to play ping pong or basketball with a student. I have them pretend to shoot a ball towards the screen and then I'll throw a paper ball into a cup making it appear as if they've thrown the ball through the screen. Sometimes I'll hit that same paper ball with my hand towards the screen and my student will proceed to pretend they've hit it back to me. We'll imagine we are hitting the ball back and forth despite the fact that we are miles away from one another. It may sound silly but it's fun and they love it (and who am I kidding I enjoy it too!)! In the world of online teaching, you have to be creative since you are not sharing the same physical space but that doesn't mean you can't have fun in the classroom and break down the barrier of the screen.
Behavior management in the online classroom can be intimidating. Students may feel that because you are in a different physical space that they are free to goof off, go off-screen or distract themselves with objects or toys in their environment. But let's be real, oftentimes students misbehave when they are seeking attention, bored, uninterested or feel that the teacher doesn't care. Offset this by setting clear expectations with your students, showing them you do care, and incorporating things they like into class to get their attention and keep them engaged. Introducing a reward system at the beginning of class will give them something to work towards whether it is a moment of physical activity or creating something together. When your students are focused, interested and taking an active role in their education behaviors are minimized and participation skyrockets! Hopefully, you've found these tips helpful and are able to incorporate a few into your own classrooms.
I'd love to hear how you are managing your classroom. Leave a comment below with helpful tips and tricks for keeping your students engaged and behaving during online lessons!