Pro Tip for Classroom Management: Instruct in Goodness

One of the most important skills for a teacher to learn is how to manage classroom behavior...

I’ve found that this is particularly tricky for leaders who are conscientious about the gospel of grace. We know that we’re not saved by our performance so creating a list of classroom rules or giving too much attention to how well behaved children are can seem harsh or legalistic. On the other hand, if a teacher doesn’t think about managing behavior at all, our classrooms can get completely out of control. Then, it will be difficult to teach and the joy of teaching withers away. 

One thing we should never do is motivate kids by shame. Don’t ever say, “Trey, I wish that you could be more like Kristen.” Maybe you’re thinking, “I would never say that.”  But motivating by comparison has a subtle way of sneaking into our teaching. More often I hear: “Boys, let’s listen up and behave like the girls” or “Everyone walk quietly. I want us to be the best behaved class in the preschool department.” Instead of motivating our kids by comparing them to one another, we want to instruct them in goodness. We want to motivate them by the intrinsic good of what we’re asking them to do.

It’s important to discuss the goodness of obedience and being respectful with your class often, even with young toddlers. We want to motivate kids to sit quietly and listen, be active participants, and engage the lesson. Stress the importance of listening to God’s Word, obeying God by obeying teachers who are in authority, and loving others by listening to friends. You might say, “Johnny, it’s important to sit and listen quietly, because God is speaking to you through the Bible.” We're teach kids skills for participating in Bible study and worship gatherings that they will carry with them into adulthood.

Here's a warning. Instructing in goodness doesn't always work as quickly as using shame, rewards, and bribes, but the results last longer. Comparison and competition aren’t lasting motivators. Eventually a child will run into someone who is better, or they'll find that the reward just doesn't taste as sweet anymore. 

But understanding the goodness of an obedient life with God is different. It lasts, because his goodness never fails. 

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. His mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning. Great is thy faithfulness, O Lord.
— Lamentations 3:22-23

Check out my free two-page PDF ministry guide on Grace-Based Classroom ManagementIt walks Sunday School teachers and children's ministry leaders through an inventory of their classroom environments, nine key strategies for creating a stable environment, and a process for handling persistently negative behaviors.