I’ve taken my share of business classes and suffered through enough Harvard Business School case studies to last a hundred lifetimes. But you know what? If you really want to know how to manage, skip the formal business training and take some lessons from a first-grade teacher instead.

This thought occurred to me earlier this week when I was back-to-school shopping, not with a kid, but with a teacher. As we strolled the mall, this teacher chatted about how she’s managed — and managed to educate — a roomful of six-year-olds from September to June every year for the past 12 years. And as I listened, I realized that many of her techniques would apply in a business setting as well.

This teacher gets heaps of praise from parents at the end of each school year, so she must be doing something right. So as we approach the traditional back-to-school week, here are a few of her lessons to try out at the office:

  • Give advance warning before transitions and plenty of reminders. For example, “Snack will be over in two minutes. Finish eating.”
    Business Translation: Give advance warning before deadlines and plenty of reminders that time’s almost up: “That project is due in two days. Please provide a status report by noon.”
  • If a lesson isn’t going well, don’t be afraid to abandon it.
    Business Translation: If a project isn’t going well, don’t be afraid to abandon or reassess it.
  • Write parents notes when their child is doing well.
    Business Translation: Establish rapport with higher-ups and others who matter.
  • Use praise liberally. Tell students when they’re doing things right as often as possible. You will spend less time correcting and punishing bad behavior.
    Business Translation: Call out good behavior so your staff can emulate it.
  • Give rewards to increase positive behaviors.
    Business Translation: There’s nothing like handing out raises to boost staff morale and productivity.

This teacher will be the first to tell you that these lessons didn’t come easy. She learned them the hard way — by trial and error and reflection — over the course of her teaching career. Yet I wonder, do the rest of us sometimes get so caught up in the latest management fads that we forget the basics? Is good management often this elemental?