Classroom Management Tips for Elementary Music: let the expectations speak

Today I’m continuing with my four-part series on classroom management in the elementary music classroom. In the first part of the series, I wrote about how you can use humor to build relationships with your students and introduce them to classroom expectations. In the second part, I discussed how consistency builds trust with your students. And in today’s post, I’m going to give specific examples of how you can “let the rules speak for themselves.”

Classroom management was always one of my strengths as a teacher, but it was also a constant work in progress. Like every other teacher, I struggled with it daily. I questioned if I was doing enough to build relationships with my students and my classroom as a whole. I questioned if my consequences were too strict, not effective enough, or entirely missing the mark. Every year I tried to see what my students needed, and I made adjustments along the way.

It’s important you know that I struggled with classroom management every single day, even though it was one of my strengths. Because with the advent of social media, it’s easy to convince yourself that other teachers have it all figured out. It’s easy to believe that the perfectly decorated classroom coincides with a perfectly managed classroom. And I don’t believe that for a second. We all have unique classroom situations. What worked well for my students, may not work well for yours. This is why I think it’s so important that teachers are willing to share their experiences, both good and bad. If even one tiny thing that we share is helpful to another teacher, then it’s worth it.



Think back to your childhood and your own experiences as an elementary student. Perhaps you had a teacher who constantly berated students for failing to meet their expectations. Or maybe you had a teacher who yelled at an individual student in front of the whole class, leaving that student humiliated and ashamed. Worse yet, a teacher who held a grudge against a student before they even stepped into their classroom.

Now, think of the teachers you adored. My favorite teachers maintained high expectations, while modeling compassion and kindness. When their expectations weren’t met, they delivered consequences calmly and consistently. They understood that mistakes were a part of the learning process. They were more interested in students’ long-term success, than short-term compliance.

That being said, let’s see how that might look in today’s elementary music classroom:



  1. Patience
  2. Compassion
  3. Patience
  4. Honesty
  5. More patience



It’s the first time you’ve seen your class since you introduced your classroom expectations and consequences. You’ve reviewed all of these expectations and have had students model them for you as well. At this point, most of them know what you expect. What they don’t know, is whether or not they can trust you. And one way to build this trust is by being consistent and “letting the rules speak for themselves”. You can read more about the importance of consistency in my last post.



  • Student A has been randomly poking the arm of Student B.
  • The teacher moves a little closer to Student A, squaring their feet up to the student.
  • The teacher does this knowing that sometimes, proximity and body language is a gentle reminder to stay on task.
  • Student A’s behavior continues.
  • The teacher looks at Student A and silently points to her hand.
  • The teacher quickly moves on to finish explaining the rules of the circle game the classroom is playing/singing.
  • Several minutes later, Student A removes herself from the activity, and walks to the time-away area of the room.
  • She sits quietly for a little while with her eyes closed, taking deep breaths.
  • Then, she begins to sing along with the rest of the class from her seat.
  • After a few minutes, she rejoins the class, and the teacher welcomes her back with an authentic and warm smile.

If a parent were observing that classroom for the first time, they might not realize what happened. Over time, they would see that this teacher had developed a silent system for reminding students of classroom expectations. This reminder is delivered quickly and silently. This parent would also see that sometimes the teacher asks the student to go to the time-away area, and other times, the student chooses to go on their own. The students choose to go to the time-away area, knowing that this is a safe space in which they can refocus, retreat from all the commotion for a short time, or to work on impulse control. Most importantly, when students choose to return to the classroom activity, they do so knowing that their teacher will welcome them back joyously. There are no grudges, bitterness, or shame involved.



Everything is easier said than done. It’s easy for me to discuss classroom management from a comfy chair in my office, but I know that the reality is a daily struggle. I think most teachers would agree that even though it gets easier over time, it never gets easy. Building relationships is a daily struggle. As the great Fred Rogers said,

“When we love a person, we accept him or her exactly as is: the lovely with the unlovely, the strong along with the fearful, the true mixed in with the fa├žade, and of course, the only way we can do it is by accepting ourselves that way.”

Just like me, you won’t get it right every time. Perfection is not a healthy or realistic goal. The fact that you’re reading this post (or any other classroom management text), is a testament to your willingness to learn and grow. It’s an outward sign of your active struggle to love your students, and in return, to facilitate their love of music.


Links to the Classroom Management Series