Written by Tarun Stevenson, Director of Calmer Classrooms
Let’s be honest, student
behaviour in the classroom today is becoming increasingly difficult and even if
you are an educator with years of experience, I am sure you’ve had moments when
you’ve wondered if you even want to continue as a teacher.
I get it, I’ve been there. When I
first started teaching, I was so overwhelmed by the behaviour (or lack of…)
in my classroom that I was ready to quit teaching in the first six months.
The good news is; it doesn’t have
to remain that way. With some guidance and a lot of practice you can grow in
your ability to manage complex behaviour in your classroom and start spending
more time teaching and less time managing negative behaviour. I’d like to help.
In the article that follows, I
want to take you through five essential practices for managing behaviour
effectively. I like to call them my Behaviour Management Blueprint. Learn to
master them and you’ll be well on your way to establishing and maintaining a
Ok let’s get started…
Behaviour management does not
have to be complicated, but yet for many the concept of classroom management
can be overwhelming. With so many opinions and systems out there, teachers are
left confused and wondering, how, which or what system they need to use.
Often they will try one or two
ideas for a week, see no results, get discouraged and go back to what they’ve
When I go into the classrooms of
teachers who are struggling with behaviour management, in almost every instance
their struggle comes down to one or of these five areas.
- Establishing clear expectations
- Ability to follow through and enforce expectations
- Establishing simple consistent routines that minimise disruptive behaviour
- Understanding the function of the behaviour
- Building rapport
Now, although I said behaviour
management doesn’t have to be complicated, I didn’t say this is a quick fix.
You will have to practice these strategies to master them to get the most out
of them, but the good news is, if you begin implementing them consistently, you
will start to see positive results quickly.
greatest changes in children’s behaviour begins with changes in adult
behaviour.” Paul Leitch
More than anything else your
ability to master behaviour management will rise and fall on your willingness
to self-reflect and honestly assess and modify your own teaching practice.
As you read this guide, I
encourage you to read it, not with particular students in mind but rather with
yourself in mind. Ask yourself honestly if there are any aspects of your
practice that are contributing negatively to your students behaviour. Then be
patient with yourself as you adjust and take the time to master your classroom
You won’t get good in a day, but
with consistent practice you can become the teacher you hoped to be.
1. Establishing clear expectations
Students, like all human beings,
like to know the boundaries of their environment. If nobody clarifies the
boundaries, humans (especially children) are prone to define their own
boundaries of behaviour.
Although you entered the class
knowing exactly how you expect your students to behave, you can never assume
that they know (or even care) what you expect. If you have never communicated
your behaviour expectations clearly and/or regularly reinforced them, children
will be prone to test the limits of your classroom management even if they
“should know better”.
Take raising your hand to speak
for example: Almost every child has been taught to raise their hand at some
point in their school life. However every teacher enforces this rule
differently. Some teachers never expect hands to be raised, others expect it
occasionally while others enforce it stringently.
Until you have told your class
what you expect of this rule and what the consequences are if they do not
follow it, they will choose the means of classroom interaction that best suits
2. Follow through on expectations
The second area I see teachers
struggling in is follow through. It’s all very well to have a poster with your
classroom rules on the wall, but if you don’t enforce them, you might as well
tell the kids the rules are optional.
As I said previously, children
love to define their own limits in the absence of any clear expectations.
Inconsistent follow through communicates an attitude of importance (or lack of
importance) toward the rule.
If you are not consistent in
making the class raise their hands to speak, very quickly one person calling
out will become three then six and before you know it the whole class has
escalated to a crescendo and you are screaming yourself hoarse.
If you want students to follow
your expectations, you have to give them clear signals when they are and when
they are not meeting them.
It’s also important to remember
that follow through is not just about correcting inappropriate behaviour, but
also and perhaps more importantly, it is also about utilising positive
acknowledgment to reinforce and commend expected behaviour.
Learn to catch your students
doing the right thing and praise them generously. Very quickly your class will
know the type of behaviour you expect and the behavior that will get them
positive attention from the teacher.
Practice using four times as many
positive affirmations of good behaviour for every one correction of
inappropriate behaviour. When practiced and mastered, positive reinforcement
will become the number 1 tool in your arsenal of establishing and managing
behaviour in your classroom.
3. Establishing routines that minimise disruptive behaviour
Think through the dozens of mini
routines that you go through in a lesson or a day.
Are they designed in such a way
that they minimise disruption? Take lining up for instance. Lining up is a
starting routine that indicates to your students that their lesson is about to
start and they will need to enter the room ready to learn.
If your line is in chaos and your
students are loud and unruly before entering the class, don’t be surprised if
they enter the class in a similar manner.
How they transition between
classes, how they move between different activities and even how they enter the
room, will all have a major impact on their ability to focus.
Take some time to assess the
mechanics of all your routines and don’t be afraid to modify them to promote
calm respectful behaviour. Once you have designed and taught appropriate
routines and transitions to your students, ensure that you practice them
consistently. Routines will only promote a calmer classroom if they become a
habit and are the expected norm for all students, rather than an optional
The more aspects of your
classroom activities and routines you can automate (turn into embedded habits
that students execute without your input), the more time you will have to focus
on teaching instead of managing hundreds of spot fires every lesson.
4. Understanding the function of behaviour
All behaviour has a purpose. At
the most basic level it is either to gain something or to escape something.
Behaviour is never the point, it is a symptom of another problem that your
students can’t or won’t express verbally, such as, “I want attention”, “I don’t want to work”,
“I need help” etc. To understand behaviour you will need to become very
observant of your students. Often you will have to do some probing to establish
what the root problem is. When you deal with the root cause or trigger of
behaviour, the behaviour will frequently disappear.
E.g. For many children who call
out in class, the function is to receive attention. If they can’t get it
appropriately, they will opt for negative behaviour to receive the attention.
You shouting at them for calling out, is still attention. It’s not positive
attention, but it still allows them to be the center of the room and draw
everyone’s attention away from the lesson.
Noticing them when they are doing
the right thing, giving them opportunities to participate and receive teacher
attention in appropriate ways will minimise their need to resort to
misbehaviour to achieve the same result.
If you don’t take the time to try
and understand the function of their behaviour, frequently your responses to
the behaviour can actually feed it or make it worse if it helps the student
achieve what they want.
Frequently misbehaviour can be an
indicator of stress, fear or worry. Alleviate the cause of the stress and you
will alleviate the misbehaviour. It is not a coincidence that behavior
escalations in schools always increase around the time of assessments. Many
children will opt to misbehave and get sent out of the class just so they can
avoid the stress of an assessment. Swearing at the teacher or punching a fellow
student is just a means to an end… Getting out of the assessment was the
5. Build Rapport
The ability to build and maintain
positive relationships with your students is imperative and underpins all
effective behaviour management strategies.
If you struggle to build
meaningful relationships with your students, then I would recommend that you
learn how to or get out of teaching.
I don’t say that to sound harsh,
but the reality is, relationships are the backbone of teaching and if you don’t
master this skill you’d be fighting a losing battle in the classroom.
John Maxwell says: “They don’t
care how much you know until they know how much you care…”
Don’t expect your students to be
enthralled with all the work you put into your amazing lessons if they don’t
know, like and trust you. They just don’t care that much about your lesson plan
(especially boys!). Your ability to engage them in a lesson will largely be
dependent on your ability to build rapport with them.
Take an interest in their world.
Learn what makes them tick, what they enjoy doing outside of school and be
When you take an interest in them
and show them that you care, they will start to take an interest in you and the
things you want to teach them.
Ok now it’s your turn to go and put these strategies into practice…
I recommend you pick just 1
strategy and spend 1 – 2 weeks practicing and implementing it. Once you have
mastered it and it becomes a part of your routine, pick another one and
Remember, mastering behaviour
management is a marathon not a sprint. Small changes everyday over time result
in big results in the long term.
To help you dig a little bit
deeper on these skills, I have created a FREE
video course and booklet that will help you implement the Behaviour Management Blueprint in
practical and relevant ways for your classroom. Check it out here:
To go deeper into the subject of
behaviour management and learn what it really takes to establish and maintain
calmer classrooms, I have created a range of comprehensive online courses to help teachers just like you become what they know
they can be. Head over to https://calmerclassrooms.today/online for more
For additional free resources follow us on
About Tarun Stevenson
Tarun Stevenson is an established
consultant who works with teachers and school administration teams in the area
of Behaviour Management and Leadership Development.
He is an educator with over 10
years experience in Primary, Secondary and Tertiary settings and draws on his
wealth of experience as a Classroom Teacher, Behaviour Support Coach, Deputy
Principal and Vocational Trainer to provide professional development that is
both relevant and engaging.
Tarun is passionate about
equipping teachers and school leadership teams with tools to effectively
connect, communicate and manage students with confidence, care and socially
just practices. He is an exceptional presenter with the ability to connect with
educators, to challenge them and provide practical strategies that work.
Tarun is a trained Essential Skills trainer and experienced practitioner of Whole Brain Teaching. He currently resides in Brisbane Australia with his wife and three sons.