Setting the Tone: Clarity, Consistency, Composure

Over the years I’ve read various classroom management books. Many of them had excellent tips. I’ve also noticed that some ideas seem to contradict each other. Many of the ideas and methods outlined by various proponents are not silver bullets by themselves. They are only as good as the teacher who implements them. What one teacher finds works for them may not fit with another teacher’s personality or preferences.

However, there are three areas that teachers who have good classroom management have in common. These are the three C’s of classroom management: clarity, consistency, and composure.


Every classroom needs rules and routines for life in classroom. The best managed classrooms often have few rules but the rules are general enough that most any infraction will fit under one of them. A few common rules are

  1. Listen and follow directions.
  2. Speak only with permission.
  3. Keep your hands, feet, and other objects to yourself.
  4. Respect property and people around you.

Make rules that support the reason students are in your classroom: they are there to learn. If there is disorder and distraction students cannot learn. Your goal in creating rules is to create an environment where learning is the reason for doing school.

Rules will also need consequences. Consequences should be cumulative. The first offense may mean a warning. The next offense merits abc, and the third offense xyz, with each consequence level being stiffer. (The consequence sequence will start over at various intervals depending on the age of the student. It may be daily for younger students or weekly or quarterly for older students.)

The first key to making the rules work is to clarify what the rules are and what they mean. Students who don’t know what the rules are and what they mean will push until they discover the meaning. A vague sense of meaning lends itself to tension and disorder.

  1. Be clear in your own mind what the rules mean. Know what you want your classroom to be. Think about the types of behavior you don’t want to see and decide which rule they fit under. Example: passing notes could fit under the third or fourth rule above. Passing a note to a classmate is not keeping other objects to yourself. Neither is it respecting your classmate’s right to undisturbed studying. The first step to clarity with your students is to have a clear picture in your own mind.
  2. Post your rules (and consequences if you wish) where they are easily seen.
  3. Explain to students what your rules mean. Be clear on what types of behavior you expect to see.
  4. Model the expected behavior. Demonstrate what listening means. Show students how to ask permission to talk.
  5. Make your consequences clear.


Being consistent is a big deal. You are consistent when you treat all students the same way every day. You do not levy harder consequences on the child that gets on your nerves. You are not grouchy and nit-picky one day and then overlook offenses the next. A consistent teacher sends the message that they are dependable, and students can trust them.

Maintaining consistency can be difficult. Teachers can be as moody and fickle as anyone else. Here are some steps you can take to help you remain consistent.

  1. Have a Godly love for all your students. If a child seems less lovely, pray to have a loving heart toward them.
  2. Think through your rules and routines. Know which misbehaviors fit with each rule. You waver when you don’t have a clear idea of which rule a student broke when they stuck their foot in the aisle.
  3. Sometimes when you get things where you want to see them and the students are doing well at following the rules, you can forget to maintain your consistency. When you see that happening, tell the students you’ve been lax but that you are starting over in your attempt to be consistent.


The attitude you show when you communicate with your students is important. Be pleasant. Smile. Be matter-of-fact. Let the students know that you are creating an environment in which they can learn. You are doing if for their benefit. (Even if it is because you don’t do well with distractions it is still to their benefit. If you can’t teach, it is harming the students, not you.)

When you introduce your rules do so with a smile.

Scolding and nagging don’t produce the long-term effects needed for learning. A stern, no nonsense attitude will provide an element of sport for some students. They make it a game to evade the teacher’s rules and not get caught. Students can also realize that a teacher’s angry response is the teacher’s problem and easily push aside their own responsibilities.

Your aim is for the student to take responsibility for their own actions. If your expectations are clear and the student understands them, often the fewer words you say (with a smile) the better. For a student to take responsibility for their actions they need time to think about what they did. If your words to them are pleasant and matter of fact, they cannot spend much time internally arguing against what you say.

If your attitude is pleasant towards a student, you are communicating you still love them even though you are meting out consequences.


By working to be clear and consistent and communicating to your students in a pleasant and non-threatening manner your rules will provide a space where all your students can learn and thrive. And you as the teacher, with God’s help, will find your days less stressful.

Read parts one and two of this series:

Setting the Tone: Routines for the Classroom Setting the Tone: Classroom Walls

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