Effective Classroom Management Strategies that Actually Work From a 1st Grade Teacher (Part 1)

March 24, 2024

Effective Classroom Management Strategies that Actually Work From a 1st Grade Teacher (Part 1)

March 24, 2024

Meet Susan Stewart – an amazing educator and expert on technology for littles. 

She has an extensive background in instructional technology and recently returned to the classroom as a 1st grade teacher…

Here at Designed for Learning, we got to chat with Susan about some classroom & behavior management challenges she faced and what strategies she implemented to effectively tackle them

In part one of this interview, she shared so many effective classroom management strategies that ANY teacher can use right away. 

Behavior challenges, navigating transitions, accountability, positive classroom culture, building and maintaining strong parent & family relationships…we cover it all. 

Now let’s get into the interview. 

Lauren (Designed for Learning):

I’m so excited to talk to you about classroom management and classroom behavior management!

Susan is an amazing educator. She is our expert on technology for Littles and has an extensive background in instructional technology. 

Thank you so much for being here today!

First, I would like to hear a little bit about you, your experience, and the role that you’re in right now. 


Thank you, Lauren! It’s so nice to chat with you today!

So my experience in education – I’ve been in my school district for 24 years.

I spent 14 years in the classroom. I started as a kindergarten and second-grade teacher. 

From there, I transitioned and became a teacher on special assignment for about 10 years and in that role I got to support teachers and students of all ages.

We focused a lot on integrating technology, especially in a time when the transition to one-to-one was very new. 

We started this role in 2013 and we were piloting new devices so it was a really exciting time.

This last year, I did make the transition back to a first-grade classroom and it’s been a whole lot of fun!

I’ve taken the knowledge that I gathered in those years as a teacher on special assignment and applied it with my own group of students.

It’s been a whole lot of fun just to get back and be with kids every single day.


That’s great! I’m sure it’s been fun to go back to the classroom and interact with kids all the time. 

With your transition back to the classroom, what was your biggest challenge when it came to classroom management?


Well, I’ll say that my biggest challenge was just knowing where to get started.

When I first started teaching many many moons ago, I used an assertive discipline system where it was like cards and it focused very much on negative behaviors.

The reason why I did that is because that’s what everyone around me was doing. 

You know over time they say know better, do better and I tried to really shift the focus from negative behaviors to just being more clear with the expectations as well as clear with the importance of the positive reinforcement.

With that, I piloted the tool Class Dojo early and some teachers will talk about that as a system where you can give students points for making the right choices and you could also take away points as well.

When I was using Class Dojo originally, it was really for the focus of positive reinforcement. 

I kept asking myself the question: “How do I focus on the right behaviors?”. 

I had tried to align that with our schoolwide behavior system.

We use PBIS which stands for positive behavior, interventions, and supports. 

I could align the Class Dojo items with our safe, accountable, trustworthy, and respectful because our school’s acronym is the “STARS”.  

When I came back to the classroom, I immediately went back to Class Dojo thinking that that was the tool because I loved it so much.

Even then, I struggled just because I really wanted to not just make it about the ding ding ding of the positive behavior but more about how the students could be accountable for their own choices. 

Making clear expectations and setting that accountability has been so helpful.

It’s been a bit of a transition throughout the year.

In the beginning, we did use Class Dojo and now we’re really focusing more on clarity of expectations. 

I have students set their own behavior goals and they have a goal sheet and every week they’re working to meet that goal.

It’s just little things sometimes. 

Rewards can be mini erasers or stickers but they have a goal sheet and they track their own goals:

  • Did I finish all of my assignments today?
  • Did I stay in my seat?

Whatever it is that they have individually as their responsibilities and their goals, we track it using a goal sheet.

The goal sheet is simple on paper. 

I initial little boxes and they respond so well because those goals can be academic or those goals can be behavioral.

So we’re really focusing on tracking individual goals.


I love that you’re shifting from that point system to expectations.

I think that’s so important to instill in kids from such a young age because, for your whole life, you’re going to have to be accountable and will be held to specific expectations.

Were there some other strategies that you tried in your classroom that were successful in addition to setting the goals and everything with your students?


This year I’ve also made a very intentional focus on building relationships with families. 

That has been huge because I know that my parents understand that my purpose is to honor their students as individuals.

I’ve got 22 friends in my class and they’re 22 very different people.

So just honoring who they are is really important.  

For my student’s parents, I try to send them messages regularly with the positives. 

When you focus on the positive, when it’s time to maybe address some of the negatives, they know that you know their child.

I’m not there just with the bad things. I’m there with the positives 10 times more than the negatives.

When I have had to have some maybe more challenging conversations with parents about situations in class, we have a relationship.

I’m not coming at them with just the negatives.

We send pictures to each other.

They’ll send me pictures from home and I send pictures from class.

I know as a Mom myself when I get a picture of something amazing going on in the classroom, it brightens my day and it just makes me know that the teacher is taking that moment to reach out and connect.

Building relationships with my families was huge from the start and we do that weekly.

Every week, there’s some kind of contact. 

I reach out to see how they’re doing or do a quick check-in whether it’s one or two sentences or more.

I do have very intentional connections with families simply so when it’s time, they know who we are and we know that we’re all focused on what’s right for their unique special little person.


That relationship piece is so important so that’s great! 

It’s so helpful that you’re sharing all the positive things and not just the negative because that does make people a lot more receptive to hear when there is constructive feedback.

So going back a bit, can you break this down step by step? 

With your goals sheet with your students, how did you start that? 

How did you implement that in your classroom and what was that process like?


So it really goes back to clarity.

From the start,  I would say, “Our goal for the next 20 minutes is to do xyz and if we meet our goal, we’ll get the star.”

Then, dialing back even further to, “We’re going to be good listeners. What does a good listener look like? That’s eyes are watching, body still, ears are listening.”

Those little things of “Remind me what a good listener looks like” instead of saying, “You’re not listening.” 

So, I’ll pause and say, “Oh thank you, Emma! Emma is sitting with her hands folded. She’s got her eyes on the speaker. Thank you.”

Really calling out those students who are doing what they’re supposed to be doing versus focusing on the friends who maybe are struggling because they see it and they notice it.

They see that she just got praised for sitting still so they then sit still. 

Being very clear about what the expectation looks like has been key.

With the goal sheets, I will say, “When we’re done here, bring me your goal sheet because I’m giving you two goal stars for being a good listener.” 

Starting to hold them accountable but then helping our students at the same time.

We started with just getting little rewards whether it was bringing back their homework folder or completing a task. 

We have certain things we have to accomplish each week and if they meet their minutes for a certain program or if they get all of their assignments done on time, those are all goals we all have for ourselves.

Then, they also set individual goals.

For example, this week I’m going to learn 10 new sight words. 

Having students set those goals themselves really allows us to make that personal and meaningful.

It’s not just a little mark on a sheet. Students can work on a goal and when they reach it, they set a new goal that’s even higher. 

Through this, students are self-monitoring and self-tracking their progress. 

I can use it not only for academic goals but also for behavioral goals too.

I have a couple of friends who can be challenging and it’s been amazing to watch them grow because of that personal accountability.

Just asking them to focus on what is it that is going to help them be successful.

For example, what does it look like to be safe with that chair? 

“Okay friend, can you please be safe? Show me what safe looks like in that chair.”

“Here’s our goal for today. Our goal for today is that you keep your chair flat all day.”

So that was a goal they set for the day and we’re going to work on it.

Then it’s just building repetition. Repetition, repetition, repetition, and procedural clarity.


I think that is so important that they can personalize those goals like what you’re saying. 

Including the academic and behavior goals are so important. 

Through this,  you are creating these independent learners who are self-monitoring.

I think that’s so important as they get older and go through school and their entire life. 

So, each week you talked about students setting different personal goals. 

Do you do that on Monday morning? Do your students set their personal goals for that week?


Sometimes it’s Monday morning.

Sometimes it’s actually Friday afternoon because on Friday afternoon I always conference with them about their goal sheet for the week.

When students are doing independent tasks, I’ll call them back for two to three minutes each and go through where they are at. 

This will take about an hour of my day.

For example, if we do it on Friday for the next week, it gives us a chance to stop and evaluate how this week went and how next week will be different. 

If we don’t get to it on Friday, then we’ll do it on Monday morning because sometimes that’s how things go in the classroom. 

Now, I have other friends that I meet with daily to talk about their goals and some friends I meet with less often because, at a young age, it can be difficult to see past one day.

Thinking about what the reward is going to be on Friday can be challenging so, I’ll have students focus on what they can do today

For example, shorter rewards for the day might be, “If you get at least three goal stars today, you can pick from the sticker bucket.”

Oh,  I’ll tell you about the sticker bucket!

They love little rewards like that. 

I order a pack of 300 stickers on Amazon for $6.99 and they are just like, “Woohoo I won the Lottery of stickers!”

Their little sticker habits are so fun because they swap and trade, but there’s a lot of value in stickers and tiny mini erasers.

I don’t need fancy prizes. I don’t need anything extraordinary. 

They’re motivated by those little things because it really isn’t about the prize.

It’s about the “woohoo I met the goal!” 

Thanks for reading this interview on effective classroom management strategies! Click here to subscribe to our email list to receive part 2 when it goes live.

Want more effective classroom management strategies & support

We’ve got you covered with our two new PD experiences that include actionable support on: 

  • Creating a positive classroom culture
  • Building and maintaining relationships 
  • Managing digital devices 
  • Classroom management best practices
  • Effectively communicating with students and families
effective classroom management strategies

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