30 School Counseling Classroom Management Strategies

School counselors spend a big chunk of time in the classroom teaching lessons as a part of regular programming. I don’t know about you, but my grad programs didn’t spend a lot of time covering classroom management! It’s been a learn-on-your-feet task for me with students from grades Pre-K up to 8 (haven’t braved high school yet!), and classroom management takes on different forms depending on the grade level. Below, I’ve compiled a list of 30 tips for school counseling classroom management that have worked for me!

Need some ideas for school counseling classroom management strategies? I've got you covered with these 30 tried and true strategies! These classroom management strategies work with elementary school and middle school students to help keep students focused, on task, and behaving during classroom guidance lessons or small group counseling sessions.

School Counseling Classroom Management Strategies

1. Thorough lesson plan

No strategy is more important than a thorough lesson plan for classroom management. Having a pre-determined, hook, instructional strategy, demonstration and practice activities will help you to anticipate problems and structure the lesson around the time you have. Think about how and when students will move, where they’ll sit, and what they’ll need. This will clear up confusion or wasted time during the lesson.

Going into a classroom with a loose plan that I haven’t put into writing usually spells mini-disaster for me. I write out a plan for each lesson so I feel more prepared and confident going in! Students pick up on that quickly. If lesson planning is a pain point for you, be sure to check out my free course on classroom guidance planning!

2. Establish routines

Set yourself and your students up with routines. Nothing spells chaos like changing up the game every single time you see your students. Maybe you always start with a handshake or a breathing exercise. Maybe your students know to expect 5 minutes to share at the end. Give them clear routines so they know what’s coming. There’s comfort in knowing what to expect!

3. Greet students by name

Taking 3 minutes to greet each student by name goes a long way for relationship-building (and the biggest key to classroom management). If students are coming to your classroom, greet them at the door with a high five or fist bump and say their names. If you’re going into their classroom, take a moment to walk around and offer a first bump and, “I’m happy to see you, Kenika!” Students want to know you care about them personally.

Need some ideas for school counseling classroom management strategies? I've got you covered with these 30 tried and true strategies! These classroom management strategies work with elementary school and middle school students to help keep students focused, on task, and behaving during classroom guidance lessons or small group counseling sessions.

4. Genuine enthusiasm

This may seem like a no-brainer, but show your students how enthusiastic you are about your time together and the topic you’re covering. When they see you’re invested, they’re more likely to be invested. A wonderful teacher friend once told me, “Nothing bad comes from being 10% more enthusiastic.”

5. Begin and/or end with a calming strategy

Jot this one down under thorough lesson plan, but beginning a lesson with a calming strategy is a sure fire way to manage or prevent some behaviors. Lead your students through a brief mindfulness exercise or yoga stretch at the beginning of the lesson to bring peace and focus. Or if you’re doing a high-energy lesson with lots of movement, close out your lesson with a calming activity. Your teachers will thank you.

Need some ideas for school counseling classroom management strategies? I've got you covered with these 30 tried and true strategies! These classroom management strategies work with elementary school and middle school students to help keep students focused, on task, and behaving during classroom guidance lessons or small group counseling sessions.

6. Set clear expectations

Before starting any component of your lesson, set clear expectations for behavior. “Show me how you will sit and look while I read the book,” or “I need all eyes on me and hands in laps while I show you this breathing exercise.” These may seem like standard expectations, but clearly stating them before can help eliminate small missteps for students who need reminders.

7. Set whole class goals

Before beginning the lesson or an independent portion of the lesson, set a whole group goal for behavior. It could sound like, “Last week when we met, our voices were around a level 4. What level do you think we can keep our voices today?” or “How many genuine compliments/open-ended questions do you think we could offer/ask during our time together today?” Getting students involved in addressing the target behaviors is key!

8. Keep it private

When students are not meeting or following behavior expectations, give a private hand signal or other non-verbal cue first. If the behavior continues, have a quick private discussion with the student to review the expectation rather than calling the student out in front of others.

9. Get on their level

At any point when you’re having a conversation with students, try to get on their level if possible. Sit at the table with them, crouch in the floor, or join the circle rather than towering over them. This creates a more collaborative atmosphere in which students feel equal ownership over the activity.

10. Use proximity

Moving closer to a student who is not meeting behavior expectations is a common strategy, but try moving around more frequently, not just when there’s a problem. When you’re stationary in front of the class and then beeline toward an off-task student, more attention is drawn to the event. Try moving throughout the class during the whole lesson rather than just when there’s a problem. It also keeps students engaged as they track your movement.

11. Keep things short

Students of any age disengage when they are sitting or required to be quite for long periods of time. Keep all portions of the lesson brief for maximum engagement.

12. Clear directions with practice

Much like expectations, directions need to be crystal clear. And often just giving directions or showing isn’t enough. Try giving instructions and then having students practice 2-3 times with you before releasing them for independent practice.

13. Manage interruptions

We all know that the second we try to read a story or give instructions, students want to raise their hands to ask or share something. Manage these interruptions with non-verbal hand signals. Students could give you a 1 if they need to use the restroom, 2 if they need a tissue, 3 if they have a question, or 4 if they want to share. When you spot a 2, you can silently point to the student and point to the tissues without stopping what you’re doing or changing the topic. This takes lots of practice, but once students get the hang of it, it really cuts down on interruptions!

14. Move it move it

Giving students opportunities to move will go a long way in your school counseling classroom management. No one loves sitting for long periods of time, and movement-based activities are great for engagement. If you’re looking for more ways to incorporate movement, check out this post I wrote for Confident Counselors all about ditching the desks.

15. Hands on activities

When you can, opt for hands-on activities over worksheets. When students get to use their hands to sort scenarios, put together puzzles, clip task cards, or make a lap book, they’ll be way more engaged than they would be with a worksheet. More engagement = fewer behavior missteps.

16. Clear end to quiet times

If you have students who love to chat and ask questions, give them a clear end to expected quiet time. “While I read this book, only I will be talking. When I am finished reading, we will all have time to talk about it together. ” Or, “During this mindfulness exercise, we will be silent. It will take about 5 minutes. After we are finished, we will talk in our small groups about the experience.” Knowing when they’ll get to share will cut down on unwanted chattiness during quiet activities.

17. Differentiated activities

Make sure you have a plan for students of all levels during instructional, small group, and independent activities. Plan time to meet with smaller groups of students during independent time to provide differentiated instruction as needed. And don’t forget about your high performers – extension or outside-the-box activities will keep them engaged as well.

Need some ideas for school counseling classroom management strategies? I've got you covered with these 30 tried and true strategies! These classroom management strategies work with elementary school and middle school students to help keep students focused, on task, and behaving during classroom guidance lessons or small group counseling sessions.

18. Appropriate groups

If your lesson calls for any kind of grouping, make sure you have an idea about appropriate grouping in terms of behavior and abilities. If you’re working on a project that requires a blending of different skills, make sure all of your artists don’t end up in one group. And be aware of who will encourage whom to be on task during small group activities.

19. Small group roles

On the topic of small groups, a great school counseling classroom management strategy is to assign roles to group members. One student can be the time keeper, another can be the organizer, and another can be the creativity manager. Giving each student a specific role will keep everyone on task and engaged during independent practice time.

20. Transition signals

Use signals to let students know it’s time to shift their attention or bodies. If you’re using school counseling centers, you’ll need to signal students that it’s time to move to a new center. You may want to give a warning signal so students know to wrap up what they’re doing and an actual shift signal to move. This can be as simple as a bell or programmed alarm. If you use music during your lessons, you may turn off the music to signal a shift.

21. Countdowns

Use a countdown clock to give students a constant visual of remaining time during specific activities. When students know there is an endpoint where they’re expected to produce a skit or a poster, they’re more likely to stay on task. You’ll get fewer, “But we didn’t have enough time!” comments too.

22. Special helpers

If you know that you have specific students who are likely to miss the mark on behavior expectations, give them special roles in the lesson to show them that they are valuable community members. I had one particular student who was seeking attention from her peers in all the wrong ways during lessons, so I asked her to be my board-writer. I pulled her aside privately and said, “I noticed you have really great handwriting that’s easy for everyone to see and read – would you mind being my board writer during this next activity?” She lit up, was totally engaged, and got some positive attention too. Find ways your potentially off-task students can put their skills to use in helpful ways.

23. Meaningful compliments

Offer genuine, meaningful compliments and praise during your lesson. Avoid, “Good job, Harrison,” and go for, “Harrison, I noticed that you reminded your group that you have 5 minutes left. It’s really helpful to have someone who takes the initiative to keep the group on task!”

24. Call backs or clap patterns

To gain attention for further instruction or to shift attention for transitions, use callbacks or clap patterns. Your call backs can be school specific or something silly you make up on your own (ex: counselor – “pop pop” students – “corn corn” everyone “pop pop pop”). Or clap 3 times followed by students knocking 3 times on the table. This signals that you need their attention to fill them in on what’s next and is much easier than calling over their discussions!

25. Secret student surprise

If you like doing whole-class rewards, let students know that you’re picking a secret student at the beginning of the lesson. If that student is following behavior expectations during the lesson, the whole class will earn a reward. Your reward can be tangible or not, but students will try to follow along in case they are the secret student!

26. Fill the jar

Bring a jar and some cotton pom poms. When you spot students following expectations, give them a pom pom to place in the jar. If the class fills the jar by the end of the lesson celebrate with a reward or a 5-minute dance party.

27. Positivity Kerplunk

Much like fill the jar, this school counseling classroom management trick involves recognizing students for their positive choices. Set up a Kerplunk game. When you notice a student following expectations, let him or her pull a stick from the game. If the marbles fall by the end of the lesson, celebrate!

28. Brain breaks

Don’t be afraid to take brain breaks! If you notice students are stirring or starting to disengage, take 2-3 minutes for a brain break! There are loads of action songs for kids on YouTube that make great brain breaks.

29. Calm down area

Having a designated calm down area in the classroom can go a long way for classroom management. Train students on how to use the area and the materials to offer a space for self-regulation during lessons to minimize interruptions.

Are you setting up a calm corner and looking for calm corner ideas? This is the easiest calm corner tool you'll ever use! You'll love these calm corner printables for your calm down area in your classroom. These are great for school counseling self regulation tools or classroom calm down areas.

30. Positive communication

Make positive phone calls or send notes home to parents to let them know you appreciate their children’s efforts. Strong home-school bonds can make a big difference in classroom management when there’s a same-team attitude!


What are your best tips and tricks for school counseling classroom management? Leave them below to share with our community of counselors! And if you’re wanting fresh ideas for your classroom guidance lessons, you won’t want to miss my free course, Classroom Guidance Magic!

Need some ideas for school counseling classroom management strategies? I've got you covered with these 30 tried and true strategies! These classroom management strategies work with elementary school and middle school students to help keep students focused, on task, and behaving during classroom guidance lessons or small group counseling sessions.
Need some ideas for school counseling classroom management strategies? I've got you covered with these 30 tried and true strategies! These classroom management strategies work with elementary school and middle school students to help keep students focused, on task, and behaving during classroom guidance lessons or small group counseling sessions.
Need some ideas for school counseling classroom management strategies? I've got you covered with these 30 tried and true strategies! These classroom management strategies work with elementary school and middle school students to help keep students focused, on task, and behaving during classroom guidance lessons or small group counseling sessions.
Need some ideas for school counseling classroom management strategies? I've got you covered with these 30 tried and true strategies! These classroom management strategies work with elementary school and middle school students to help keep students focused, on task, and behaving during classroom guidance lessons or small group counseling sessions.

One thought on “30 School Counseling Classroom Management Strategies

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Social media & sharing icons powered by UltimatelySocial
2 Shares
Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap