by Kristin Unruh

Professional literature surrounding classroom management in the school library is a surprisingly rare find despite the many journals, websites, and other resources dedicated to the practices of school librarians. However, many classroom management techniques that classroom teachers use daily are applicable in the school library as well. Throughout this article, I will refer to numerous resources available to school librarians in relation to this topic, including books, online journals, specific articles, and specific techniques that I have come across in my experience and research of classroom management.

My limited study of professional literature related to classroom management includes five books, of which only one is directed specifically at school librarians. This book, entitled Positive Classroom Management Skills for School Librarians by Kay Bishop and Jenny Cahall, is one of the most recent publications devoted specifically to classroom management in the school library. Although techniques in this book are related predominantly through brief, but real-life examples, Bishop and Cahall take more time attempting to describe skills that have commonly worked in the school library. Covering various areas of school librarianship, they describe situations at each level of school--lower elementary, upper elementary, middle, and high school--and situations regarding different types of students, teaching with technology, and the general library environment, among other topics.

Some of the best practices that Bishop and Cahall recommend are mentioned in the book, but not in an outright manner. Rather, these skills are worked into the chapters before, after, and in between examples from real school libraries. One of the major “best practices” regarding elementary schools is keeping the list of rules short and simple. These rules should “emphasize positive behaviors and...rules related to how to treat others should always be included” (Bishop and Cahall 2012). Something they recommend for middle school students is, if discipline is necessary, do it away from the group in order to avoid embarrassing the student or causing ridicule. Middle school students are very concerned with fitting in with their peers, and with the increase in bullying and cyber bullying at that age, singling out one or two students in front of the whole class could spell a whole bunch of trouble when all is said and done. And finally, Bishop and Cahall say that “expectation of good conduct and respect for students are two important school librarian characteristics that promote effective school library management in a high school library.”

The next book, although not aimed directly at school librarians, is still applicable for classroom management in many different types of classrooms, including libraries. This book, Educator or Bully?: Managing the 21st-Century Classroom by Marie Menna Pagliaro, asks the question of whether a teacher is managing her students or if she is managing her classroom. A teacher who can’t teach, manages her students and is a bully, according to Pagliaro, while a teacher who can teach, manages her classroom and is an educator (Pagliaro 2011). The best practice that this book strives to communicate is that the environment in which students are learning must “[make] instruction flow smoothly with minimal interruptions and student misbehaviors.”

A different approach that Pagliaro takes in this book is presenting preventive strategies to discourage misbehavior and reactive strategies for when a student has misbehaved. Some of the preventive strategies that Pagliaro mentions are often thought of as best practices for teaching, in general. Some of these strategies include learning your students’ names and calling them by name in class, allow students to talk about themselves--they might feel a greater connection with you, therefore downplaying their need for attention, which is often the root of misbehavior--and focus on the strengths of each student. Pagliaro suggests “[letting] students use their strengths and interests in helping you set goals, modes of instruction, and assessment.” In a similar vein, Pagliaro also offers several best practices to teachers who are already experiencing misbehavior within the classroom. Her suggestions range from creating a different seating arrangement to asking a student to write or state what he or she is doing that is considered misbehavior and what they can do to fix it.

This next book isn’t about classroom management, but differentiated instruction instead. It is The Differentiated Instruction Book of Lists by Jenifer Fox and Whitney Hoffman. The reason that I chose to include this book in my list is because I believe that when you attempt to teach to a student’s strengths (see Pagliaro’s preventive strategies above), there is a higher likelihood that those students won’t feel the need to act out or misbehave. I am not saying that these students will absolutely, positively behave during every class, but students who are frustrated with school and teachers are more likely to misbehave.

This book includes lists for how to teach certain subjects to many different types of students. The section that may apply most broadly to classroom management in school libraries is the section about “Roles and Responsibilities” of students, teachers, administrators, parents, and support staff. Personally, I believe the lists in every section can help give librarians a jumping-off point on how to teach to each student’s strengths in the library and elsewhere.

The Classroom Management Secret: And 45 Other Keys to a Well-Behaved Class by Michael Linsin is a complete compilation of blog posts written by Linsin, who is a classroom teacher in his own right. He provides opinions on some things teachers can do to successfully manage their classrooms. For example, at the beginning of each school year and each school day, the first thing a student should notice is the teacher’s smile. A simple smile can start the school year and each subsequent day on the right foot (or left foot, depending on your preference).

Linsin also emphasizes consistency in your daily class structure and never fudging on rules and expectations. An example that Linsin provides is that of a class lining up at the door at the end of the school day. The teacher has told the students what she expects: pushing in the chair at their desks, walking to the door nicely, standing in a straight line, and waiting quietly for the bell to ring. However, after an exciting day, the students run to the door, start chatting, or don’t push in their chairs. Because they weren’t actually “misbehaving,” the teacher decides to let it slide. Linsin says that “when you let things go, even seemingly innocent behaviors, it nudges a tiny speck of a snowball down a steep and bottomless hill,” meaning that it’ll be hard to get the students back on track in the future (Linsin 2013).

Marilyn E. Gootman’s The Caring Teacher’s Guide to Discipline: Helping Students Learn Self-Control, Responsibility, and Respect, K-6 is directed specifically at people who work with students in kindergarten through sixth grade. Gootman’s goal when writing this book was to help adults “guide children to become successful learners and responsible, productive citizens” (Gootman 2008). She goes through the process of creating the entire picture of classroom management, including the shape of the community, the expectations of appropriate behavior and what it looks like, types of learning and how to channel feelings, and causes of misbehavior and how to react to it, in addition to dealing with the effects of bullying and other childhood trauma.

Gootman’s main focus in this book is to relay the Caring Teacher Discipline philosophy, which is made up of two ideas: “to teach students the skills of appropriate behavior teach students to avoid inappropriate behavior.” The best practice according to the Caring Teacher Discipline technique will reduce stress by using collaboration to solve problems together, between students, parents, other teachers, administrators, and more.

A technique that I came across recently as a Sunday School teacher (although it’s not in a library, it’s still relevant, I promise!) is the Discipline That Restores technique developed by Ron and Roxanne Claassen. One of the main focuses of this technique is to consciously not embarrass the student who has misbehaved. The process of conflict management is available for viewing or download at This technique, as shown on the chart, works in stages: approaching the first conflict, giving reminders of rules and expectations, creating a respect agreement, or following one of four further action models for students who continue to misbehave. Discipline That Restores emphasizes a “power-with,” or “side-by-side,” approach as opposed to a typical “power-over, top-down” authority that we often see in schools, meaning that instead of action-reaction, there is action-discussion-listening-common ground-solution.

Additional professional literature resources are available in the form of articles that can be found in the Education Resources Information Center (ERIC) database and other databases pertaining to pedagogy and other education-related literature. In my research, I was able to find more items that refer to classroom management in school libraries, specifically, but the majority of them were less substantial in length and content than a school librarian might like. As always, pulling content from literature pertaining to general classroom management techniques is also useful when specificity is not available.

A classroom management technique used by Richard Byrne is to assign badges, awards, or points via online applications such as ClassDojo, Class Badges, and Class Realm. In his School Library Journal article “Classroom Management Made Fun,” he describes each of these tools to give students an incentive to work hard and behave in class, especially because parents also gain access to their student’s behavior and progress reports.

In School Library Monthly, Susan Vanneman talks about several ways that school librarians can get involved with school-wide and library-size classroom management. Vanneman believes that, although school librarians are not the principle educators, they can still play a strong role in helping teachers succeed. In her article “Best Practices: School Librarians,” Vanneman points out that “individual classroom teachers make the difference for every child--school librarians should play a significant role in helping these teachers strive for the best learning/teaching in their classrooms.”

In the grand scheme of things, there is no best technique of classroom management. Use what works best for your library. If you have to try several different techniques to find the right one that “fits” your library, it’s best to take that time because then you’ll be able to give your students the best library experience possible. There is no harm in asking for advice or in observing how other teachers and librarians manage their classrooms/libraries. Being able to draw on what other teachers in your school do to manage their classrooms may help the students transition better from one activity to the next and may make misbehaving less appealing. Consider contacting the school administration to find out if the school has any school-wide goals or expectations, such as “Show kindness to everyone you meet,” because that may help you take a classroom management structure and mold it to fit your library.

Too many rules, inconsistent discipline, and blatant or unintended embarrassment are all reasons that students may act out or misbehave on a regular basis. Knowing how to manage your school library is crucial to creating the type of environment you want to teach in and the type you want your students to learn and thrive in. Reading through some best practices of both school librarians and classroom teachers in their classroom management techniques can help you to institute a known method for your own library or you can mix-and-match aspects from several professionals to create your own technique that fits your library the best.


Bishop, Kay and Jenny Cahall. Positive Classroom Management Skills for School Librarians. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO (Libraries Unlimited), 2012. Print.

Byrne, Richard. "Classroom Management Made Fun." School Library Journal 58.11 (2012): 15. Education Full Text (H.W. Wilson). Web. 17 Nov. 2013.

Claassen, Ron and Roxanne Claassen. (2012). Web. 12 Nov. 2013.

Fox, Jenifer and Whitney Hoffman. The Differentiated Instruction Book of Lists. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2011. Print.

Gootman, Marilyn E. The Caring Teacher’s Guide to Discipline: Helping Students Learn Self-Control, Responsibility, and Respect, K-6. 3rd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, 2008. Print.

Linsin, Michael. The Classroom Management Secret: And 45 Other Keys to a Well-Behaved Class. San Diego, CA: JME Publishing, 2013. Print.

Pagliaro, Marie Menna. Educator or Bully?: Managing the 21st-Century Classroom. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2011. Print.

Vanneman, Susan. "Best Practice: In The School Library." School Library Monthly 28.2 (2011): 39-40. Education Full Text (H.W. Wilson). Web. 17 Nov. 2013.