Best Practices to Plan for Virtual Classroom Management


As schools plan for this current year, we are sure of one thing; prepare for anything and everything. Educators will need to be prepared for the different models of instruction that could happen this year depending on the Coronavirus. Schools could start the year using in person, virtual, or hybrid models but potentially have to quickly shift to an all virtual model depending upon the numbers in their town, state, or our country. 

Returning teachers have been trained in classroom management and the great news is that most techniques transfer well to virtual classroom settings. With a little extra thought and planning, teachers can create  a virtual classroom management plan.

Decide Upon Classroom Rules and Expectations

Teachers often involve their students in the creation of the classroom rules and classroom expectations during the first few days of the school. There is usually a process of collecting and combining all of the students’ ideas until the class revises and agrees to a list of classroom rules and expectations. You can do this in virtual classrooms as well. However, teachers should decide upon their classroom rules and expectations must-haves before the students arrive and participate in this activity. 

Consider expectations like these for virtual classroom environments:

  • Log onto the classroom platform on time. 
  • Clear workspace free of distractions like toys and games.
  • Log off of all other website tabs, games, put away all other technology.
  • Dress in day clothes and not pajamas. 
  • No eating or drinking during instruction. 
  • Find a quiet space at home where family members, pets, and other things cannot distract you. 

→ Check out our Free Student Behavior Point Tracking Template

Design Virtual Routines and Systems

Teachers spend weeks teaching, practicing, and cementing routines and systems in the classroom until they become seamless. For virtual classrooms, routines and systems will look very different but practice is still necessary. 

Students must practice skills like:

  • Muting and unmuting
  • How to share ideas online
  • How to show they want to speak
  • Where to type or share responses
  • When to log on and off
  • How to problem solve when they have technology issues
  • What materials are needed at home and when in the lesson to use them
  • Timelines for out of class assignment submission 
  • and more! 

Teachers should plan for these by thinking through the best ways to virtually teach their content areas and what platform is required by their school. Using Google Classroom will look different than a Zoom or Microsoft Teams classroom so plan accordingly. When planning, think through how you can check for student understanding and their application of the material independently and with support. 

Shift Classroom Behavior Management to Virtual Behavior Management 

Practice Nonverbals

In brick and mortar classrooms, teachers use proactive nonverbal communication to support students, send reminders, and help struggling or distracted students to get back on track before even using the management system. Some examples are square up/stand still, stop and scan, circulation, hand up for raised hands, finger counting, modeling, nonverbal reminders like tapping the page where they should be writing a response, thumbs up, or a special sign that a teacher and student have created together to remind them of the expectations. 

Nonverbals are a teacher’s best proactive approach to behavior management and can thwart a lot of negative behaviors before they escalate. Teachers need to determine how they will adapt these techniques to a virtual classroom and which ones will not translate well on a computer or tablet screen. 

Teachers should spend time outside of the whole class to build relationships with each student. Learn about their family, their interests, their likes and dislikes, their triggers, and what motivates them. This will help when managing the whole classroom as students trust, believe in, and respect you as their teacher. 

Create a Positive, Engaging Environment

Teachers must depend more upon positive individual and whole class management in virtual classrooms because they cannot rely heavily on the nonverbals above for individual students. Teachers should first and foremost create a dynamic and exciting classroom for students. Management is seamless when students are engaged and excited to be learning. When students are bored or disengaged because the classroom feels robotic or lackluster, teachers will have to use more management techniques. Plan for an engaging class opening with songs, show and tell, talking, sharing, and culture building which will also help students get their wiggles and ideas out to then focus on the content after the opening. Plan ways in which students can practice and do the cognitive work themselves or with partners virtually so they are not just watching the teacher talk for a long period of time without doing mental work. 

Modify the PBIS System

Depending on your classroom and school, the PBIS system could look very different. If you use a point or color system, modify that and have it visible and age appropriate. Think about a quick and simple way to share if a student has demerit, color change, or has earned a positive buck, color, or reward. When awarding Kickboard points, show your secondary device as you do it so students know that the positive or negative consequence is consistent and immediate. Make sure you give the positives more verbal attention and excitement. 

Rewards will look different because they will most likely be virtual as well. Think of some small ways to reward students in your virtual classroom. Students could choose the closing or opening song or dance, be rewarded with a fun assignment, zoom lunch date with the teacher or another staff member outside of class time, and more. Students can help the teacher decide which virtual rewards they can earn with their academic and behavior effort. 

Closing Thoughts

With extra planning, teachers can shift their existing classroom management systems to be virtual systems. Remember to plan ahead of time before students log on for the first time even if the “creation” is done by the class together. The best virtual classroom management systems will be consistent, structured, and clearly taught, practiced, monitored, and rewarded.