Behavior management is a broadly used term in education. It all boils down to the steps that the whole school takes to create an environment where learning can flourish. These steps, in turn, allow educators to create a predictable, safe, and positive environment where students can struggle, learn, and grow. In short, as principal and TpT Teacher-Author and elementary school principal John from Created By MrHughes says, it’s “the engine that drives a learning environment.”

While implementing a school-wide behavior management program might be a lot of work up front, the benefits far outweigh the effort. In fact, experts have found that using behavior management systems — such as PBIS, Responsive Classroom, and Restorative Justice — have had a positive impact on students overall. Researchers at the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education, for instance, found that teachers’ use of practices associated with Responsive Classroom resulted in improved student achievement and higher quality instruction in math. Similarly, studies have found that when PBIS is implemented school-wide, it results in outcomes like improved academic performance and improved social-emotional competence.

In this article, we’ll dive into both the big foundational principles that school leaders should be thinking about when developing behavior management plans, and little things that teachers can implement in their individual classrooms right away.

Bigger Strategies: Some Fundamental Principles of School-Wide Behavior Management Systems

While school-wide systems of behavioral support vary depending on the needs and circumstances of the school, many approaches have certain universal principles in common. The research and editorial team at TpT reviewed three approaches to behavior management — PBIS, Responsive Classroom, and Restorative Justice — and outlined common themes that administrators should think about as they put their own plans in place.

Consistency throughout the building and across classrooms. 

TpT Teacher-Author Laura from Social Emotional Workshop, who has a decades’ worth of experience helping administrators develop holistic behavior plans for schools, says that first and foremost: “School leaders should make their approach to behavior intervention and discipline transparent and consistent.” To achieve this consistency, it’s important to get everyone on the same page and establish a continuum of strategies that can be implemented across the board. For example, one component of every classroom could be that teachers hold a morning meeting. With this in place, now everyone has a similar baseline for the management of their instruction that is reinforced day after day, year after year.

Commonly-shared techniques, like the one outlined above, are the foundation by which everyone in the school can set behavior expectations, reinforce positive behaviors, and discourage rule-breaking behavior. We heard one example of school-wide approaches in action from TpT Teacher-Author Felice of The Dabbling Speechie. “In our district, the entire district got trained on using C.H.A.M.P.S. This helped staff learn how to reinforce positive behavior and how to frame the expectation in a way that will exhibit positive change. For example, a teacher could say, ‘Don’t tap your pencil.’ Or, they could say, ‘Please write your name quietly.’ [In this way,] the teacher is expressing the expectation with a positive framework.” She also adds that having a set of school-wide approach is helpful for managing her speech therapy sessions. “As a speech pathologist, I find it very effective to follow what the teachers are implementing,” she says. “It helps my students have consistent guidelines [across the school] and it keeps behaviors from escalating.”

Time for teaching students behavior expectations. 

Before teachers can even get to teaching their first units, students must understand the rules, procedures, and expectations for the school and the classroom. For many school-wide approaches to behavior management, it’s recommended that the school allow a dedicated time to teach students appropriate behaviors and procedures during the first few weeks and as needed throughout the school year (i.e. after long breaks). As the principal of her PreK-6 school, TpT Teacher-Author Stephanie Mcconnell of Principal Principles creates the time and space teachers to tackle behavior management. “We create time to build systems to support students when they struggle with discipline or academics,” she says. “We also create time to recognize students who are meeting their goals — [such as] rewards, recognition programs, and positive family communication.”

Classroom rules that students are invested in (and that align to school-wide expectations).

Students are more likely to buy into the system if they feel as if their voice is being heard. Teachers can use the first few weeks of school to collaborate with students to come up with a list of classroom rules, behaviors, and consequences that are in line with school policies. 

Smaller Strategies: Tactics to Support Individual Classroom Management

Without strong classroom management practices in place, it can be hard for teachers — who sometimes have upward of 25 students in a room at one time — to create an environment that is conducive for learning. As Sara from The Responsive Counselor points out, “Positive and effective classroom management is what gives educators the time to actually teach and students the emotional and physical safety to learn.” With input from teachers, we’ve compiled a list of simple strategies that teachers can use to support their individual classroom management efforts.

1. Choose a structure for your classroom.

How you want your classroom to be structured is something you should decide in advance of the first day of school. Do you want a highly-structured classroom with assigned seating and where students have to ask before leaving their seats? Or would you prefer a more flexible environment, where students can choose their own seats and move about freely? Whether you want a high- or low-structure classroom, having a plan in place ahead of time will ensure that students aren’t confused and are prepared to meet your expectations.

2. Create individual learning contracts.

Learning contracts are tangible documents that can be referred back to that hold students responsible for their behavior in the classroom. At the beginning of the year, students can sign these contracts and keep them so they can be reviewed when the need arises. 

3. Use a behavior modification chart.

Behavior modification charts can be a very useful tool for practicing specific behaviors students (or a whole class) might need to work on. For a quick and easy intervention, TpT Teacher-Author Renee Dawn advises teachers to have a behavior management game chart for the whole class in order to encourage on-task behavior. “You won’t have to say a thing [once you start adding magic marker dots to the chart],” she says, “kids will sit up taller and focus. Every 20 dots, you can let them jump in place or dance to a pop tune — a well-earned brain break.”

4. Have a plan for the transitions. 

Most disruptions occur when students are switching classes or are in between activities, like getting into groups for collaborative work. For each transition you might have in a given day, ask yourself: how does this sound, and what does this look like? Once you have a clear idea of what, set up clear routines. When creating routines, Laura from Social Emotional Workshop advises teachers to consider how their class might be feeling at a given moment in the day. “When they return from recess do they need a minute to calm and reset?” she asks. “After a long time on the rug, do they need something to focus or energize them?” For example, in a middle school science classroom, you can turn the chaotic time at the beginning of each period into a time of organized, meaningful learning by implementing a daily warm-up activity routine. Something like this settles the students and provides the instructor with a few minutes to carry out the tasks required at the beginning of a class. Once you have your routines mapped out, the next step is to teach your students how to execute those routines by rehearsing them together. Doing a few practice rounds, 

5. Reteach, reteach, reteach. 

Sometimes, students may not embrace your class policies. Or they may not fully understand them. Or they might forget them. When this happens, don’t despair — instead, take a step back, and as Stephanie Mcconnell of Principal Principles advises, “reteach procedures often so it becomes the norm.”

If your classroom is in need of a reboot, one of the ways you can reteach norms and expectations is by having students lead the process themselves. For a slightly different, teacher-led approach, John from Created By MrHughes recommends playing a quizzing game: “When I was in the classroom, I would play Classroom Jeopardy to review all the school and classroom rules, expectations, and any other information that I wanted students to remember.” Either way, reteaching norms and expectations at various moments throughout the school year can help increase instructional time, so that your students can learn more.

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TpT Resources

Here are just a few popular resources to support behavior management efforts:

Further Reading 

Want to dive a little deeper? Here’s a curated reading list of the organizations and sources that we cited and referred to while writing this piece.