Classroom Management

Making It Work: Classroom Management

Classroom Management Tips for Music That Really Work

It’s that time of year.  The honeymoon is over, the kids are comfortable with you and one another.  One child chats quietly to a neighbor and suddenly the entire class erupts in chatter.  You count down, you clap, you use your “firm” voice.  Nothing.  The talking continues…so what do you do?

Well, let’s start with what NOT to do.  It’s a quick and easy list:

  • Please don’t yell.  It’s so hard, I know.
  • Please don’t make idle threats.  Kids know an idle threat a mile away.
  • Please don’t publicly shame kids.  The kids who are acting out are doing so for a reason.  Identify the reason, not the child.

So what do you do?

1.  Help students to understand that when they come to music, they are there to learn.

Over the past few years, I’ve noticed more and more that my students come to music needing a break from the “rigor” of classroom instruction.  They come in talkative, in need of some down time or wiggle time.  Music inherently can provide those things, but we’re still here to learn.  Explain how their work looks different in music than when they are classroom.  With their classroom teacher, they may learn a math concept, then practice applying the concept using a worksheet.  In music, we learn by listening, by moving, by singing, by creating, by performing, and by improvising.  Our work looks and “feels” different, but it’s still important work.  This simple explanation helps students to understand that although music is inherently fun, we are always working and learning in class.

2.  Allow time for chatter.

This sounds so simple, but so hard.  My kids know that in transitions, there may be 30-90 seconds of downtime, and that they are allowed to have quiet conversations then.  When they see my hand go up, that is their signal to get quiet.  And here’s the hard part – the silence isn’t immediate.  Think about how many times you are at a staff meeting and chatting with a friend about something.  The meeting comes to order, but you need to finish a sentence – our students are the same way.  Silence comes in a few seconds.  It’s ok, they will get quiet.

3.  Be consistent with the language used in your school.

Many schools have a PBIS program in place and use common language across classrooms for behavior and expectations.  Embrace it!  I’ve taught for 21 years in a variety of settings.  The most success I’ve had in my career is when all of our staff worked together to identify, implement, and use consistent language with our students.  My kids know that the same language, expectations and consequences will occur in my room as in the classroom.  Suddenly, classroom issues went by the way.

4.  Do the unexpected – get quiet.

This sound so silly.  Our usual response to a chatty class is to yell over them.  Stop.  Get quiet.  Lower the lights.  When they finally quiet, talk even quieter than them.  You are the leader of your classroom and have control over the volume of conversation.  Bring it down a notch.  I’m always amazed at how calm my students become once I bring my own voice level down as well.

5.  Don’t point out children.

Ok, so this has nothing to do with the kids who talk or misbehave.  This is about the kids who are always doing the right thing.  Don’t using them as the example.  For some kids, this can be embarrassing.   For others, this can make them a target.  Instead, try #6.

6.  Use phrases that support everyone in the classroom.

I have two favorite phrases to use in my class.  The first is simple: “check yourself.”  I may say it for one child in particular, but the reality is that every child in my room has something they can check on before the learning starts.  I may have a child who needs to stop talking, another who needs to adjust how they are seated, and another who may “appear perfect” but who’s mind is wandering.  We all have something we can check.  My second favorite phrase is “make a match.”  Again, simple and to the point and without pointing a child out.  Make a match simply means find someone with whom you can match your behavior.  Make a match to someone sitting correctly.  Make a match to someone keeping the steady beat.  Make a match to someone using their singing voice.  I never say who we should be matching because the reality is that the children already know.  And what one child needs to match may not be what another needs.

7.  When all else fails, check your relationship meter.

This is the hardest one of all.  When I have a child that consistently is problematic in my classroom, it mostly likely isn’t the child – it’s me. Take a breath, I know.  It’s a difficult thing to admit.  Let’s be honest – a child who is acting out in our classroom is seeking something, right?  When they can’t get positive attention, then negative attention is the next best thing.  Negative attention comes when my relationship with that child is not healthy.  My students need to know I care about them deeply and sometimes music is the last thing on their mind.  Some of my kids come to school to be safe, to get a meal, to get a hug.  They come to school for connection.  When my students are disconnected from me, the behavior problems escalate.  And I know what you’re going to say – how can I possibly connect with 500, 600, 800 students?  My best advice is to greet your kids.  My teachers know that my kids may not come into my classroom until invited.  The reason I do it is because I want to greet every child as they come in.  I say hello to every child as they enter, I compliment a new haircut, a smile, a child doing the right thing.  I notice new tennis shoes, a beautiful dress, a superhero sweatshirt.  The smallest compliment can make all the difference.

And one last word – I know we all have different situations and populations.  I’ve taught in public schools with extreme poverty and elite private schools.  My low-income kids in Philadelphia didn’t behave any different than my suburban kids in Houston.  Here’s what I’ve learned in my 20+ years – we all want to be validated.  We all want someone to notice us and care.  Every time I’ve showed a child I cared, the behavior got better.

Love, Jennifer

For more great ideas and inspiration, check out Jennifer’s blog:
Sing to Kids

Jennifer Bailey

Jennifer Bailey has twenty-one years experience teaching young children. She has been with Farmington Public Schools for the past seventeen years. Jennifer holds a B.M. in performance from Michigan State University, teacher certification from the University of Houston, and a M.M. Ed. from Temple University. She is an early childhood and elementary general music instructor for the Gordon Institute for Music Learning and is level one certified in Orff-Schulwerk. She is the author of Sing-To-Kids Songbooks and co-author of the Jump Right In Elementary Music Series. Jennifer is a frequent presenter at clinics for regional and state music education and technology conferences.

See all posts by


  1. Regina on September 7, 2017 at 12:37 pm

    Thank you so much for this. I am planning on reading it at least once a week!

    • Jennifer Bailey on September 19, 2017 at 1:47 am

      Awe, thank you so much Regina! I reread it after the first week of school and was reminded how important relationship is with my students! I’m so glad you found this helpul!

  2. Anne Virgil on September 7, 2017 at 2:55 pm

    I read this right after a 1st grade class left and there was a student who has been problematic ever since he came to Kindergarten. I had taken the time to talk to him after class and he expressed that everyone hates him. I told him that was not true and he argued back and forth for a long time. Anyway, I was glad to read this post after this incidence. It really reaffirmed what I already know!

    • Jennifer Bailey on September 19, 2017 at 1:50 am

      What’s the saying Anne? The kids who need the most love will ask for it in the most unloving ways… Keep on that little 1st grader! He needs you and your caring more than ever!

  3. Renee Schoettle on September 8, 2017 at 6:16 am

    I agree. Same language throughout the building is essential. Students need consistency. PBIS or any other schoolwide behavior support works. We also use a 4:1 ratio where you give 4 positives to 1 negative. For example, when a student is not on task you compliment 4 students in your classroom that are following procedures hoping the 1 student who isn’t wants the positive acknowledgement and gets on task. If the student doesn’t then remind that student using positive words what your expectation is. That is our 4:1 ration. Another tidbit which is difficult for teachers because the process puts two thoughts together is PIEE – give a Positive the student is doing, Identify what they aren’t doing correctly, state your Expectation, end with Encouragement. For example: “Great job sitting in your seat. You are talking to your neighbor during instruction. Expectations are that you are to look and listen to the speaker. I know you can do it!” This is to be done quickly and quietly near the student – not across the room loudly. Then return back to instruction. I have used it many times. It is hard to put together at first, but the more you practice the better you get at it.

    • Jennifer Bailey on September 19, 2017 at 1:54 am

      Absolutely Renee! Any behavior management technique requires consistency and practice! Many of the things I do in my classroom are because I am purposeful with my intent and actions for my students! Thanks for sharing PIEE – that was new to me!

  4. Jill Murrell on September 8, 2017 at 7:53 am

    Spot on! Great advice.

  5. Christie Gergen on September 8, 2017 at 8:24 am

    Wonderfully said! I use the phrase “my turn” in my classroom and it gets quiet instantly.

  6. Jane Nicholas on September 8, 2017 at 8:29 am

    Hi Jennifer
    Great article. Thanks for taking the time to share what works for you. I am a committee member of the West Australia Orff Sculwerk Association and we have a quarterly newsletter. I am sure our members would benefit from your article and I am seeking permission to reprint it acknowledged as your work. Could you please be so kind and let me know if this would be OK. Kind regards. Jane

    • Jennifer Bailey on September 19, 2017 at 1:56 am

      Hi Jane, Thank you so much for reaching out to me. I would be honored for you to share this in the West Australia newsletter! Thanks so much! 🙂

  7. Leslie Woodard on September 9, 2017 at 12:12 pm

    I love these ideas! I do use some of them already. My question is – I push a cart around from class to class so I can’t greet each child at the door as I’m the one entering the classroom. I’ve been struggling with how to make connections with each child in a situation where I can’t get them in a circle (in on class their desks are chained together and the teacher doesn’t want me moving them). When I take attendance I try to notice something about each child. It just may be worth it! But it takes much longer than meeting at the door and having to set up when I get there takes away so much time as it is. Help! Any suggestions would be SO appreciated!

    • Jennifer Bailey on September 19, 2017 at 2:02 am

      Hi Leslie! I empathize with you! I’ve taught on a cart before and pushed into classrooms for instruction. You’re right – it’s so much harder to connect with students in that way. In those situations, I really try to target my connections with the kids who need it most. I choose 3-4 kids and really focus in on them, then add a few more each week or two. I also rely on eye contact, smiles for those kids who may need a little non-verbal reassurance. I know it takes time away from instruction to connect with kids at the front of the year, but I truly believe the time invested at the beginning of the year pays off mid/end of the year. Keep at it! It sounds like you are already doing amazing things!

  8. Aimee on September 9, 2017 at 3:21 pm

    This was a much needed reminder and validation for me. Thank you! I especially want to thank you for the “check yourself”. I have used that already so many times this year and love the gentle reminder i can speak softly to an individual. Such a wealth of info and strategies! Thank you thank you thank you!!!

    • Jennifer Bailey on September 19, 2017 at 2:02 am

      Awe, thanks so much Aimee! I appreciate your kind words!

  9. Pete Santucci on September 10, 2017 at 10:43 am

    Thanks for the tips, Jennifer! Curious… While you are greeting the students on the way into your room, what are he kids doing as they enter. Quietly chatting as they sit down? Or do they have a song to sing as they enter? Are they looking at the board to discuss what you have posted for the day’s lesson? Thanks for sharing your ideas!

    • Jennifer Bailey on September 19, 2017 at 2:06 am

      Hi Pete! I actually use the idea of “morning work” with my students. As they enter the room, I have a pattern of the day or instrument riddle on the board. They come in and have about 30-60 seconds to read the pattern or riddle, then we go through it as a class. It’s a great strategy to preview content we’re going to learn or review in class and give the students something to focus on while I’m greeting and checking in with students!

  10. Vikki on September 14, 2017 at 11:13 am

    Such great advice! I love using “check yourself” because it allows the children to correct their behavior on their own. The ability to self-correct is such an important skill.

    • Jennifer Bailey on September 19, 2017 at 2:08 am

      Hi Vikki! I agree – the ability to self-monitor our actions is such an important life skill! “Check yourself” is a non-confrontational phrase for every child to check in on their actions!

  11. Melanie Fuller on September 26, 2018 at 4:35 pm

    Jennifer – I have been teaching classroom music for about 25 years. Previously I was a professional flutist and came into the classroom through my daughter’s Montessori school. Classroom management has always eluded me and I often wonder how people in public schools manage. Your suggestions are so clear and seemingly obvious that I can’t wait to try them. I am looking forward to reading more of your blogs

Leave a Comment

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

The reCAPTCHA verification period has expired. Please reload the page.

Filed under

Sign up for latest Orff Tips, Lesson Plans and Advocacy Tools

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
PP1 Lead Magnet

Empower your students to create their own music in this free 3-day challenge with Roger Sams. (Lessons delivered via email)

Why Studio 49

Learn about the legendary factory that started it all and why so many teachers like you love our instruments.