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Classroom management is hard.
It’s hard for public school teachers, it’s hard in a studio with kids, it’s hard in camp settings. Managing large groups of kids is just tough.
When I first started teaching yoga to kids, I had NO experience teaching in a general public school classroom environment.
I was thrown into a public charter school with some BIG behaviors. I’m talking: throwing chairs, abusive swearing, chucking yoga mats out the window, fist fights, you name it.
I was terrified at times, and I lost my cool many times, but I stuck to it, I learned as much as I could from other teachers and professional development.
I tried Googling “classroom management for specialist yoga teachers” 5 years ago and found NOTHING useful.
But I kept trying.
Five years later it’s still not a walk in the park every day but it is SO much better. I am the veteran Specialist teacher at my school (the others teach Music, PE, Spanish ,and Art) and they come to me for advice frequently.
My kids come in silently, they do almost all the poses all the time, they discuss the benefits of yoga with each other in respectful debate, they lead the Yoga Flow, the create their own poses and make sequences.
They clean up after themselves and help each other. They challenge themselves and talk about bodies in a positive way. It took me a while to get here, but it sure feels like success.
So, I decided to write out some advice for you here in case you have been needing some tips and advice as well!
Tips for general yoga classroom behavior management
Set rules from the very beginning and STICK TO THEM.
Have a consequence for rule breakers after the second reminder and be consistent.
- The rule is to raise your hand to talk. First time breaking it, the student gets ignored, and then a private reminder. (Raise your own hand to show the example, point to a visual of someone raising their hand, or just approach the child and whisper the rule).
- Second time breaking the rule is a consequence. (Take a break is used in our class, the student steps out of the group and sits in a designated spot to take some deep breaths and remind themselves of the rule. They return with a thumbs up sign and I nod to show them they can return).
- Another rule is to stay in your spot. First time breaking the rule, same consequences as above, one reminder is given, privately or to the whole class.
- Second time breaking it the child needs to step out of the group and miss out on a short time of the activity.
Having clear rules and consequences helps kids a lot. It lets them know the boundaries, it helps
Obviously, there are outliers to this general practice of behavior management:
- Some kids need more than 2 reminders
- Or, they need a one on one conversation of why what they are doing is harmful to the class or themselves (this may be best done to the whole class if it is happening with several kids)
- They may need a longer time away from the team
- Other kids may need some motivation to join in with encouragement or a small incentive
- Relationship building and time spent with the kids individually helps lots of situations
- Time practicing rule following or situational examples is also a great way to remind everyone of the rules
Set routines so kids know what to expect
Get a class routine down. Set up expectations so kids know how to do all things and you don’t have to keep making these decisions every time.
All kids should know:
- how to come into the class
- if their voice should be off or on when they enter
- how do they ask a question
- where to sit and how to get there
- when can they ask to use the bathroom, and how
- what happens if they need a kleenex… etc!
If there is a problem or something goes awry, you can probably figure out a routine for that problem for next time. This will get easier with practice, and with consistency.
Start each class with a reminder of the rules.
Take time to set up the rules and routines the first day or two. Then, every day, make sure you go through them again quickly. Just name them at the start, or have a kid read them. Have visuals up with the rules written to refer back to them when necessary. Kid’s have a good memory but it can also be short. It’s helpful to have positive ways to remind them of the rules at the start of every class
Keep things fast paced
Don’t linger over rules too long every day. Yes, name them, but then get started fast and keep the pace up.
Sometimes during teaching, you can pause for “wait time” to catch their attention. Definitely, pause to make sure kids aren’t talking over you (that’s a terribly hard habit to break!!!!). BUT keep going quickly and match their energy more often than not.
If they have too much wait time they will find other things to do to distract them, and those things are not usually in your plan!
My favorite way to teach a fast paced class is to start with a Yoga Flow. Check out this article here:
Tips for getting and keeping kids’ attention
Meet them at their level, energetically.
I take a visual and sometimes verbal scan of the classroom when they come into my room.
I can often sense right away if they just came from a dramatic previous lesson. They are tense, or nervous, they feel bad for a kid who got majorly in trouble, or a couple girls are crying over a “look” someone gave someone else. Again, EYE ROLL on my part.
But, I have to know how they are feeling to figure out how best to teach them. If it’s absolutely necessary, I dive in and ask what happened, we have a talk session, or
Use a system to quickly ask how they are doing
I have a “fist to five” system that I use frequently.
I’ll use this instead of asking “how are you doing” and getting tons of answers shouted or grumbled in my direction. I ask them to show on their hands: Fist to Five.
A fist is “0,” meaning they are very tired or sleepy or grumpy.
3 fingers up
5 is too much energy, anxiety or pent-up emotions.
After glancing at their numbers shown I rationalize my class plan to them verbally by saying something like, “Ok, based on what I’m seeing you are feeling, we are going to start with ______ to help us feel _______.”
It is usually the exact same class plan I already had in mind. However, it helps them get on board with it when they think that I’m catering it to them specifically. They like feeling that there is a purpose to the lesson if it is specific to them.
Start class in a way that meets their needs
I almost always start class in the same way with each of my 15 different classes. It took practice, though, to know what worked best for that group of kids and at that specific time of day.
Here are some options for how to start the first 5 minutes:
- P.E.-like warm-ups that a particular student will call out (especially good on testing days)
- Breathing exercises with the breathing ball (great for a class with some really energetic and some really low energy kids)
- A short picture book (good for very tired out brains and
- A Go Noodle video
- Everybody in child’s pose and I walk around and gently rub their backs (if they consent)
Be aware of your tone of voice
First of all, make sure you are using a calm tone, engaging your kiddos, and not exacerbating them.
ALSO, newsflash: I hate fake teaching. I really don’t like pretending to be all bubbly and energized with a high pitched voice when that’s not who I am.
But I WILL talk with more emphasis and melody in my voice. I speak a bit more slowly, use pauses for emphasis, and generally vary my tone quite a bit.
Since I really do love Yoga and Mindfulness, and it helps get them interested in it too when I am at least showing them how much I enjoy it. I let them know how much I like it by talking about it with a little bit of passion.
Tone, volume, and variance in pitch are excellent tips for catching the attention of kids who are drifting off or not quite with you.
Be flexible, and adaptable
I know, I know, I said it’s imperative to be consistent. It is.
But it’s also important to be able to adapt in little ways to the needs of your kids or students. Yes, they need routine and they need to know what to expect. But life is constantly changing, and so are they.
Notice when they are having big changes or feelings, take it into account, and change little things if you think it will benefit everyone.
Have a backup lesson plan.
Let them talk about whatever was said at the lunch table for 3 minutes if it helps them release their emotions and be able to focus again.
Then get back into it. Notice life, take it into account, and keep going where you can.
Demonstrating this type of empathy, adaptability, and resilience will be a huge way to teach your kids a little about life in the most real way.
I hope this helps you! Let me know in the comments if you have found any other ways to help manage classroom behaviors in any setting.
Don’t forget to check out the Kids Yoga Flow pose cards here 🙂