Last week, I shared 3 great ways to prepare your classroom for excellence as you head back to school. This week, here are three more ways to improve your room!Tip 4: Developing “eyes in the back of your head”

Tip 4: Developing “eyes in the back of your head”

Have you ever had one of those moments that, with just the sound of your voice, you got a student, on the brink breaking dowCalvary_Diggs.jpgn, back on track? Maybe your back was turned but you felt something or you just knew exactly what to say. For these moments to happen, it takes foresight on your part but also your students must know what they should be doing.

So what does this mean? If we want to encourage good character in our classrooms, everyone has to be on the same page about what that means and looks like.

Set Class Rules: Enlist your class to create rules on the first day of school. It fosters a sense of ownership for those rules. They won’t simply be the teacher’s rules, they become their rules. Some studies suggest that if you give students the proper guidelines for developing class rules, what students come up with is about the same as anything you would have picked, given the same criteria. So what are those guidelines?

  1. Only create 4-5 rules.
  2. The rules must be positive.
  3. They must be observable and measurable
  4. Consequences must be realistic

Learning Class Rules: Teach rules for a few minutes during the first few weeks of school, and review periodically throughout the year — maybe take some time to choose a day each month to briefly return to the rules. This can be done through reading and/or modeling (always have students demonstrate following the rule, never breaking it). Students could also create consequence maps for each rule.

Breaks & Cool-down Spots: Regulating our emotions and behaviors takes a lot of energy. When students are in school, they’re using a lot of that energy to stay focused and learn. Because of this, it’s perfectly normal for students to sometimes get too tired to think about your class(es) at the end of the day or during weeks of heavy testing. The trick is to give students time to recharge. Consider giving students mental breaks, a space in the room to cool down or an opportunity to leave the room for a few minutes. Caution: find an alternative outlet if a student is frequently using cool-downs to evade work.

Tip 5: Praising the good 

Positive, Specific Praise: No matter where you stand on student praise, we have to let students know when they’re on the right track or doing something right. That’s how learning happens. One bit of advice for you in this domain is to put up a poster across the room from where you teach. Choose one of those fun motivational posters that we all love so much. Each time you see it, find a student doing something right, and let them know it. Extra points for selecting character-based posters and finding those traits in action!

When praising what a student is doing right, praise strategically. If one student is being respectful of classes by staying in line and quiet in the hallway while others are not, tell the student on-task you like how they’re doing that. Other students will follow. Here are rules for praising:

  1. Be specific
  2. Praise every student for something every now and again to squelch any budding ‘teacher’s pet’ theories.
  3. Make sure your exemplars are nearby when you want others to follow another student’s example.

Experiment with ways to nonverbally praise older students.

Tip 6: Consistency

Most people have become familiar with code switching. It’s changing behavior to meet the unique expectations of various settings. The degree to which you can make your classroom, rules and even school context consistent, the better. That way, there’s less pressure for students to switch behaviors because Mr. A likes students to call out while Ms. Q will send you to the office if you don’t raise your hand.

How can you be consistent from the first day? Go over your rules and practice them regularly. Talk about what they look like. Have students read the rules aloud. Let them periodically role play (always the appropriate behavior) throughout the year (e.g., “Someone, show me what being ready for class looks like. Go!”). Some teachers may find it helpful to take your calendar and just dot a handful of days throughout the semester to do this. If you and your students are extra creative, tie it in with current content, though that may work best for History and English.


I hope that my posts help you in your efforts to inspire and nurture good character in your students bright and early starting on the first day. Thanks for reading and best of luck this year!

I’d love to hear from you all. Which tips & tricks will you add to your teacher’s tool belt?

 Calvary Diggs is a past intern. He is passionate about research, writing and all things related to character education. You can reach out to him at


Looking for more information on building character in your students? Register and attend the 2016 National Forum on Character Education and hear sessions like “Transforming Society through Character Formation and Leadership” by Ramon Guico and Leo Arnaiz or “From Character Education to Ethics Bowl!” by Val Gallina.