Easy Ways to Build Self-Management Skills Among Students in the Classroom

When a student's basic needs aren’t being met, it’s impossible for any learning to happen.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs shows that we all need things like food, clothing, safety, love, and belonging in order to reach self-actualization.

Many schools implement social-emotional learning into their curriculum as a means to provide students with the opportunity to reach the highest part of Maslow’s pyramid. But, we often overlook another crucial skill to develop that self-actualization state: self-management.

In this blog post, we will examine what self-management looks like and five easy ways to develop a student's self-management skills.

What is self-management?

When we think about self-management for ourselves we often forget the behaviors we employ to manage ourselves.

Maybe you have a calendar on your refrigerator to help you remember important dates. Or you always make sure to tidy up your home before going to sleep so you wake up feeling refreshed and at peace.

These behaviors didn’t just happen. You realized what you needed to be successful, and then you acted upon them.

This is something that students and young learners need help with.For example, here are some common questions to ask to determine if a student needs more self-management practice:
• Can the student pack up his or her backpack?
• Can he or she complete homework?
• Can the student raise his/her hand before speaking?
• Can the student calm down when upset?
• Can the student transition well to other tasks?
If you found yourself answering “no” often, it likely means this student struggles with self-management skills. But, the good news is that these skills can be taught.

How can we best help students develop self-management skills?

We can support our students’ journey into better self-management through explicit lessons and open dialogue. More specifically, instead of addressing and reacting to the problem, like scolding a child for calling out, we can intentionally practice this in the form of skill-building opportunities.

Here are five easy ways to instill self-management skills in your students:
1. Responsibility

Day-to-day classroom activities require a certain level of responsibility from our students. How to effectively participate and avoid calling out is a form of responsibility. This is something every student needs to develop because it’s turn-taking. Instead of negatively reinforcing a student who calls out, you can flip the attention to positive reinforcement.

Every time a student raises their hand, you call attention to their behavior and praise them for it. This can be in the form of verbal praise or you can concretely incentivize students by filling a jar with marbles. Once the jar is full, offer different rewards for the entire class to vote on like having class outside or watching a movie, for example.
Another way to reinforce positive participation is through sign language and sticky notes. Provide every student with a sticky note on their desk. When they want to share something, encourage students to write it down on their sticky note and perform the ASL sign for “share” to nonverbally participate.
2. Stress Management

Provide time at the beginning of class to ask students how they’re feeling. When students bring up they’re feeling stressed, scared, or nervous, you can take that teachable moment to deliver a powerful learning opportunity.

When students are able to identify their feelings, it’s important to listen to them and validate their feelings with phrases like, “Yes, you seem like you’re feeling (paraphrase the emotion).”

Then, ask students to brainstorm ways they can alleviate their feelings. Ask students to complete a Think-Pair-Share activity where they think about how they help regulate themselves. Then, students share out with a partner, and finally as a whole-class discussion.

You can write down how students help themselves manage feelings of overwhelm and post the tips in the classroom where it’s visible for everyone to see. When students see how their peers handle certain feelings in specific, concrete ways, they will start to try out those coping strategies as well.
3. Productivity

Students struggle with staying on task, task completion, and prioritization. So, an easy and effective way to help students with their productivity is through games. (This game was adapted from Time Doctor.)
1. Place students into small groups of 3-5 students. Give each group some colorful blocks.
2. Instruct students to pick up as many blocks as they can in one minute using their non-dominant hands.
3. Once the minute’s up, award one point per block to each student.
4. Complete the task again, but this time, inform students that certain blocks have a higher point value. For example, red blocks are worth 10 points; blue blocks are worth 8 points, and so on and so forth. This will require students to strategize and prioritize which blocks they need to grab in the allotted time.
5. Once they’ve finished, tally up their points and discuss how they went about collecting their blocks. Ask students how this relates to productivity and task completion.
4. Self-Awareness

Students need strong self-awareness in order to make better decisions for themselves in and out of the classroom.

Instruct students to write a letter to their former selves where they identify things they regret. Then, they must forgive themselves for their behaviors. This forgiveness letter helps students to see that their mistakes don’t have to define who they are. It also reminds students that they’re humans, and no one is perfect. This is a wonderful opportunity for students to practice writing skills and reflect on their experiences in writing.

Another way to promote this metacognition is to have students track their emotions. This can easily be done in daily journals or using habit/emotion trackers. It can be digitized using online forms or learning management systems. These feeling logs can be a quick check-in, but they’ll help students see common threads as the year progresses, and give you valuable insight into their lives, too.
5. Regulation

An easy way to promote better regulation among students is through scaffolding.

When you articulate clear expectations, parameters, and chunked processes, your students can find success with their assignments and in your classroom.

It is particularly powerful to model this metacognition for your students. By sharing when you yourself need to regulate your own emotions, you are creating a safe space for empathy, open dialogue, and demonstrating to your students that regulation is a lifelong process.

Conclusion

Self-management skills are vital to a positive classroom learning experience, and it’s equally important to teach them as concretely and explicitly as possible. We can never be too clear with our students, and the more deliberate we are in teaching self-management, the more our students become autonomous practitioners.