Behavior Management

Explore the fundamentals of behavior and find the management style that works for you and your students.

Behavior Management
  • Teaching
  • Classroom & Behavior Management

Behavior Management

The key to Behavior Management is to understand the fundamentals of behavior and then find the management style that works for you and your students. Behavior is a form of communication: Listen to what students are communicating with their behavior while being aware of your own.

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Maintain open communication with students even in challenging situations. Try to understand the motivation for the behavior while keeping expectations clear.

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Keep a couple of simple breathing exercises in your back pocket.

Try

If you’re having trouble engaging a student, ask them to help you with a task, like being the sound engineer and playing music for an activity.

What is Behavior Management? 

Behavior management is a series of strategies, procedures, and/or interventions used to manage or change student behavior. Behavior management interventions can happen on school-wide, classroom, or student-specific levels.

Learn more in the GIVE resource on Classroom vs. Behavior Management: What’s The Difference?

Why is Behavior Management Important?

Managing an ICT classroom can be a balancing act of pre-planned contingency strategies and on-the-spot interventions that can happen in many different configurations of people. Having a toolkit of resources for behavior management is key for supporting participants in meeting short and long-term learning goals and in collaborating with the school-based staff.

“Behaviour problems in a classroom increase the stress levels for both the teacher and pupils, disrupt the flow of lessons and conflict with both learning objectives and the processes of learning. They also change the classroom dynamic as the focus of attention shifts from the academic tasks at hand to the distractions provided by disruptive behaviors…children bring to school all sorts of concerns, distresses, reactions and patterns of behaviour established, permitted and supported outside of the classroom itself. Thus, targeting a child as ‘the problem’ may divert one’s attention from a careful examination of the classroom ecology or that of the wider school and the family and community environments… ” (excerpt from a report on Evidence-based Classroom Behaviour Management Strategies)

Understanding Behavior

The key to Behavior Management is to understand the fundamentals of behavior and then find the management style that works for you and your students. Behavior is a form of communication and stems from a desire to fulfill a need.

Four Basic Motivators of Behavior:

  • Escape – trying to avoid or delay an activity or situation that the student or students consider unpleasant.
  • Attention – student tries to get attention through unwanted or inappropriate behavior.
  • Tangible – the individual tries to gain access to a preferred item or activity.
  • Sensory – indicates behaviors where the body reinforces the action, e.g., it tastes good, smells good or feels good.

Assess what behaviors are causing the most problems in the classroom and what could be the root of those behaviors. Does there need to be a change in the classroom management plan that could possibly address those behaviors?

Understanding Behavior through an Equity Lens

Understand that your own assumptions about “appropriate” behaviors are based on your experiences, culture, identity, education, privilege, etc. and have been influenced by implicit biases. What was previously upheld as “standard” behavior has been derived from systems that are discriminatory and support white supremacy. This intersects what expectations we have of behavior in terms of both race and disability. Students themselves may have absorbed anti-blackness and other biases from learning about themselves through this framing. In How To Be An Antiracist, Ibram X. Kendi discusses the way racism invades all parts of the educational “body” and ways to combat this.

In fostering a classroom that is equitable and stigma free, it is also important to be aware that students may be experiencing or have experienced trauma that is related to their different identities and other experiences they have had. Behavior management strategies should take these factors into account and always address individual student needs.

Remote Teaching and Learning Tip:

If you are planning a remote residency or workshop and have questions about establishing student expectations for success, check out our resource for Remote Learning: Adaptations for Classroom and Behavior Management.

General Behavior Management Strategies & Models

Positive Behavior Support

Highlight positive behavior—both what you want to see and what positive behaviors can be seen and experienced by all. Acknowledge what is working well rather than what is not working well. Reinforce this by continuing to verbally frame the behavior expectations in a positive way.

Examples:

  • Raise your hand when you want to contribute an idea.
  • Thank you for waiting until I finished speaking to ask a question.

Positive Reinforcement

“By providing students with a positive outcome when they accomplish achievements or display certain behaviors, students are encouraged to do so again. Positive reinforcement should be age-appropriate, genuine, and awarded straight after the target behavior.” (excerpt from the article “5 Activities For Using Positive Reinforcement in the Classroom”)

Accessibility should also be considered when practicing positive reinforcement. A student who has a hearing disability, for example, may be better able to receive visual reinforcement than a student who has a visual disability.

Examples:

  • “I love the way that ________ is doing ____________.” (elementary)
  • “Great job (task) today, ________.” (middle/high school)

Concrete Consequences

This option gives students agency to exercise decision making in behavior management. Consequences should be developed with a mindfulness about how racial inequity impacts students and may affect their understanding of expectations, consequences, and how they express themselves.

Examples:

  • “IF you do not finish your drawing, THEN you will not be allowed to participate in the next game.”
  • “WHEN you talk during directions, THEN you won’t understand what to do during the activity.”

Positive Concrete Outcomes

An understanding of concrete reasons for an activity or class can make a big difference in attendance and participation.

Examples:

  • “Completing this assignment brings you a step closer to finishing _______.”
  • “At the end of this class, you will have achieved _______, _______, and _______.”

Breathing

Take a few breaths together as a class. Use this simple strategy to calm, ground and focus students.

Guide to Using Gifs in the Classroom to Regulate Breathing as a Group

Article on “Keep Calm and…Just Breathe”: The Power of Deep Breathing for Classroom Management

Change the focus

Ask students to focus their attention on something different or a series of things to refocus them onto the task at hand. This helps reset the brain away from the distractions.

Example:

“Show Me Your Eyes, Show Me Your Ears, Show Me Your Nose, Etc.”: This strategy is helpful with younger elementary students and students with Autism. As the teaching artist calls out these different prompts, students are asked to point to different parts of their body as a way to slow down and re-focus.

“Eyes on the ceiling, eyes on the floor, eyes on me”: This strategy is also helpful with younger elementary students and students with Autism. Guide students to look at the ceiling, on the floor, and at you, respectively, as a way to reset and focus on the teaching artist.

Debrief

Give space to talk about what happened after something occurs. If you ignore the moment, the tension in the space will remain.

Frequently Asked Questions

That’s ok. There is no one size fits all model. Check in with your partnering classroom professionals. In some cases, a teacher may have an individualized behavior management plan in place for a specific student that you can follow or incorporate into your facilitation. Also, feel empowered to check in with that student. Find out what they like! A student might be behaving for a reason that is not immediately apparent without their insight.

According to the official “PBIS” or Positive Behavioral Interventions & Supports website, PBIS is “a multi-tiered approach to social, emotional and behavior support. The broad purpose of PBIS is to improve the effectiveness, efficiency and equity of schools and other agencies. PBIS improves social, emotional and academic outcomes for all students, including students with disabilities and students from underrepresented groups.” Over the past 2 years, several NYC schools have shifted to incorporate this system into their school-wide behavior management system.

Don’t take it personally. Every classroom has reluctant students, especially when students are exposed to something new. Here are some strategies to use that leave the invitation open for students to participate:

  • Move their spot to the heart of the action.
  • Ask them to help you with something (anything!)
  • Give choices.
  • Give them time, invite them to join in more than once throughout the residency/lesson.
  • AVOID: Punishing the student, sending them out of the room, threatening or embarrassing the student, and assuming they are lazy.

As classroom visitors, it can be hard to predict when or why a student might have an outburst in the classroom. If it does happen, model calm behavior. If you are calm, the other students will remain calm. Know that it is not solely your responsibility to deescalate the situation. Alert the classroom professionals in the room as they may already have coping strategies in place. Do not try to physically stop or ease the student. Give the student the option to cool-off in part of the room with another adult. If you are able, try to check in with an adult for more information after the outburst. Depending on the student, it may or may not be appropriate to go directly to them once they have cooled down to talk about what happened.

External Resources