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Home > In focus: managing student behaviour

In focus: managing student behaviour

Beginning_teacher_in_class_web_qual.pngThere are many different approaches to behaviour management; however one in particular is considered to be the most effective and conducive to learning in the classroom. 

An ‘authoritative’ behaviour management structure is founded on rules and reason, as well as a culture of respect. This sits in contrast to authoritarian, permissive or dismissive structures where the teacher is too strict, too lax or too inconsistent in their approach.

Creating an authoritative system involves clearly communicating behavioural expectations, providing positive recognition when these expectations are met and implementing a series of low-key but consistent consequences for when expectations are not met.

Most adults already have the makings of an authoritative teacher, but need to ensure their intentions and actions are more explicit when dealing with children or adolescents.

The classroom is the most important environment for managing student behaviour; 80% of students’ behaviour can be managed effectively in the classroom. However, it is also important to remember that when a student’s behaviour cannot be managed solely by the classroom teacher, assistance should be sought from administrators in line with school policy.

So how do you build effective behaviour management in the classroom?

It starts with two key principles: Ground Rules and Routines.

Your Ground Rules are the basic expectations that you have about student behaviour in your classroom and your Routines are common procedures or processes that you want students to follow.

What are your Ground Rules?

Ground Rules should represent the most basic behaviours that allow you to teach and students to learn in a safe environment. They should be expressed in observable terms and where possible expressed in a positive way, rather than always expressed negatively. A teacher should keep the number of Ground Rules manageable – five or so is a good number.

Examples of good Ground Rules:

  • I will be at school on time and ready to take part fully in class
  • I will keep my hands, feet and any unhelpful or hurtful  comments to myself
  • I will listen when others are talking and ask questions considerately and with good manners
  • I will follow instructions as soon as they are given and as best I can
  • I will show respect by looking after my classroom, school resources and others’ belongings

Even once you’ve taken the time to consider your Ground Rules, you need to accept that students won’t know them unless you communicate them. You need to actively teach students how to behave within your expectations. You need to have a set of rewards for when the desired behaviours are displayed as well as appropriate sanctions for when they are not. Most importantly of all, you need to be consistent and persistent about what the rules are…which leads us to Routines.

What are your Routines?

In addition to your Ground Rules, you also have to have some clear ideas around what you want students to do routinely. Routines are the procedures and processes that you want students to follow during regular occurrences in the classroom. E.g. what do they do when moving from individual to group work? What do they do when leaving assembly? By keeping Routines consistent and constantly reinforcing them, students will come to learn what your classroom expectations are, much in the same way as your Ground Rules.

It may also be valuable to make a ‘behavioural curriculum’ and incorporate classroom procedures and appropriate behaviours directly into your lesson planning over the first few weeks of the year. 

An example of how to do this would be:

Lesson 1  to pay attention
Lesson 2  to work independently
Lesson 3  to work with a partner, in a group
Lesson 4  to participate in class discussion
Lesson 5  to use the learning resource centre etc.

Giving feedback on behaviour

Once you have the foundation of your Ground Rules and Routines in place, giving feedback – either supportive or corrective – becomes an essential component of keeping them in place.

Supportive feedback is when you acknowledge and reward behaviours you want to see in your students; it can take the form of tangible or intangible rewards. It might be verbal praise or rewards such as stamps or stickers. 

In contrast, corrective feedback is used when you want to redirect a student from unacceptable to acceptable behaviour. It can take the form of verbal warnings or various disciplinary actions.

When applying corrective feedback, you should make a point of always emphasising the role of student choice. Let the student know that the option of compliance is always available to them.  And also make sure that you are applying sanctions that are appropriate for the level of offence. You wouldn’t, for example, remove a child from the classroom for a minor misdemeanour.

It’s important to remember that quick action is necessary if a student is misbehaving – a delay to act can appear to be permission for the student to behave in that manner. A ‘ten second rule’ can be helpful as a reminder to act swiftly.

A hierarchy of discipline

Feedback – supportive and corrective – works best when it is applied in a hierarchy. You may like to devise a five step hierarchy for each type of feedback. For corrective feedback, step one in the hierarchy might be a verbal warning with a range of actions leading to removal from the classroom at step five.

You should keep a record of the steps students are reaching in the hierarchy and reserve a ‘fast track’ where needed – e.g. removal from the room for extremely disruptive behaviour without use of earlier steps.

Clear directions

Managing behaviour is strongly founded on communication so it is essential that teachers give clear directions. If your behaviour management strategies are not working as effectively as you’d like, the situation could be improved by giving clearer directions – particularly during transitions periods in the classroom such as a lesson change.

Be as specific as possible when giving direction and consider ‘windows of opportunity’ such as the start of the year, start of term and start of day where students are receptive and you can set the scene for the intervening time.

Review your progress

Just as you assess student performance, you may find it helpful to review your own performance when it comes to behaviour management. Half way through term, pause to consider how your Ground Rules and Routines are tracking. The following five point score can be used to determine which areas you could improve on.

5 = All students promptly followed direction
4 = All but one or two students followed direction
3 = Most followed the direction
2 = Only about half followed the direction
1 = Most did not follow the direction

These tips provide a basic overview of behaviour management strategies but, as is the case with so many things, practise makes perfect. As long as you create clear expectations, remain persistent and ask for help when needed, you will be well on your way to effectively managing student behaviour.

Article contributed by Adele Schmidt. 

Adele Schmidt is our union’s Research Officer. She was previously a secondary science teacher in the state school sector.