How Do You Manage a Socially Distanced Classroom?

Author: Bethany Spencer

Posted: 09 Jun 2020

Estimated time to read: 4 mins

As lockdown measures ease and some primary school students in England begin their return to school, many other schools across the UK, both primary and secondary, are beginning to imagine what their eventual return to the classroom may look like.

With students and teachers having been absent from school for so long, it’s going to take them a while to adjust when they eventually do return especially because the classroom they'll be setting foot in will be starkly different to the one they left. 

We can assume that secondary schools, much like the primary ones we’ve seen in England, will still need to abide by social distancing measures - including one-way corridors, staggered start times and socially distanced seating plans. 

The logistics of getting round school is just one issue. Teachers will also be faced with the challenge of managing an entirely different classroom with a completely different set of rules - so how will a teacher exert good classroom management under these new restrictions?

We look at the four pillars of classroom management - praise, seating, behaviour, and lesson plans and see how these will need to be adapted and applied to the new learning environment. 


With students having been away from the classroom environment for so long, there are concerns from teachers that some will have forgotten how to behave, especially those who haven’t been following a structured routine at home and have been left to complete their studies independently.

The return to school and discipline may come as a shock to their system. This is also the case for younger pupils, or those with special education needs, who during their time away from school may have unlearnt some of what they have been taught.

To support this transition from home-school to the classroom, and nurture positive behaviour in your students, consider reviewing both your school behaviour policy and your classroom rules - if you don’t already have these consider putting these in place. 

New, expected behaviours you may want to include that weren’t present before the pandemic could be:

  • Respect teachers’ and peers’ personal space, remain 2m from them at any given time 
  • Only use equipment that you have been supplied by your teacher or brought into school yourself 
  • Try, as best you can, to keep your hands to yourself 

New call-to-action

Lesson plans

Entering your classroom prepared, with an outline of what you’re going to cover is a pillar of good classroom management as it allows you to take the attention of the class and keep them engaged. 

Usually, in a normal classroom setting, lesson plans are sequenced and rolling, in line with the curriculum. However, the disruption caused by COVID has meant that the classrooms teachers and students have, and will be returning to, are starkly different environments.

Teachers may be asked to cover lessons that aren’t their specialism, for different year groups, pupils and potentially teach mixed classes and abilities. Or, they may be having to prepare lessons online ahead of time in addition to preparing for an in-class delivery of the same content. 

The uncertain circumstances definitely makes planning for regular lessons much harder to do but it’s still important for teachers to come to class prepared, but that preparation may look different. 

For teachers who are lucky enough to continue teaching their regular class, for their first initial lessons, try and gauge students’ understanding - how much learning has been lost? How well have they understood the work that’s been set to them during distance learning? And build a plan from there - prioritising lost learning and any gaps in knowledge. 

For teachers who have a little less control over their classes, consider structuring lessons by allowing students to work independently on activities that have been issued to them online. Or, if this isn’t possible, use reputable online resources to help students understand the state of current affairs - including:

  • The importance of practising good hygiene
  • What a pandemic is 
  • The reasons for the Black Lives Matter protests
  • Steps people can take in being anti-racist 

These can facilitate important classroom discussions and allow students a safe place to talk, discuss and grow. 

classroom management socially distanced classroom

Seating arrangements

The layout of your classroom and the way in which your students are seated is instrumental to good classroom management and reflective of your preferred pedagogy. A traditionalist approach to pedagogy might prefer a traditional classroom - students in rows facing the front, whereas a liberationist approach to teaching could see students find their own seats and a social constructivism classroom could lend itself to clustered arrangement to encourage conversation. 

With social distancing measures in place, the free rein teachers once had over their classroom layout is restricted and instead, classroom layouts will most likely be individual students on desks spaced 2m or more from each other, to allow teachers to walk through the classroom. 

This being said, teachers can still plan for these new seating arrangements, taking into consideration the key inclusion data and personal needs of pupils to ensure their socially distanced learning environment is still one they can thrive in, these consideration are:

  • Medical needs
  • Chatty students
  • Friendship groups
  • Positive and negative influences 
  • Fire exits 
  • SEND 

By still adhering to these considerations you can experience positive classroom management and create a thriving learning environment. 

New call-to-action


The role praise plays in classroom management is vital in encouraging students to demonstrate positive behaviour.

Praise and behaviour are intertwined as they influence one another directly. Therefore, we expect student behaviour to change as a result of a socially distanced classroom the way in which praise will do. 

Firstly, the reasons for praise will change in line with new behaviour policies or classroom rules as will the way in which teachers give praise. They will no longer be able to give students physical aspects of praise eg - stickers or writing in books as this could encourage the spread of the virus. Instead, we would suggest praise is given electronically or verbally.

Additionally, teachers will still need to praise those students who are working remotely for the actions they are demonstrating through online work - see this poster for examples of such behaviours. 

However, the fundamentals of giving good praise still remain regardless of where you are giving it or what the types of behaviour are:

  • Don’t over praise 
  • Reinforce positive behaviour 
  • Give directed praise 
  • Make praise specific 
  • Avoid generic praise

Returning to school health & safety checklist