One of the most important tasks for a teacher at any grade level is to develop a system for managing student behavior. This includes encouraging positive behavior in the classroom and curtailing inappropriate behavior at the same time. But where do you start?
Whether you're a new teacher or a veteran struggling with a difficult class, there are 4 simple steps you can take to create an effective classroom behavior management plan and transform your classroom environment.
Creating Your Classroom Behavior Management Plan
Step 1 - Classroom Rules
Step 1 is to develop a set of rules that you can enforce fairly and consistently. To be effective, your rules should consist of 5 to 7 non-negotiable items. They should be clearly and explicitly stated in a way that all students can understand.
Remember, rules are different than expectations. Classroom expectations are things like being kind, respecting others, and doing your best work. They focus on building character and work ethic over time. You should definitely set expectations for your students to help them grow into the best little people they can be. But expectations leave room for interpretation and are not specific enough to be part of an effective behavior plan.
Rules, on the other hand, are specific behaviors that focus on creating a safe classroom that is conducive to learning. They should be taught right at the beginning of the year and followed starting on day one. Some examples of classroom rules that you might consider are:
Ask for permission before leaving your seat
Keep your hands and feet to yourself
Do not run in the classroom
Follow teacher directions the first time
Clean up your space before leaving
Be quiet when someone else is speaking
Ask for permission before using someone else's things
Do not damage classroom materials
These are all things that students have the ability to do even in the lower grades. They are specific and aren't open for debate which will prevent power struggles with the teacher. Did you or did you not run in the classroom? There's only one correct answer. Rules like these are so much easier to enforce consistently than something vague like "Be nice to others."
Step 2 - Behavior Monitoring System
Once you decide on a few important rules for your classroom, you need a way to monitor student behavior. This is important for a couple of reasons. First, students should be active participants in monitoring themselves. It gives them ownership of how they act at school which goes a long way toward creating a positive classroom environment. Second, a monitoring system is essential for documentation. You want to give parents accurate information about any behavior issues their child may be experiencing. If you have an IEP meeting, you must be able to provide data. Without a monitoring system in place, you'll just be guessing.
With younger students (elementary school age), there are a few tried and true behavior monitoring systems. Two of my favorites are the clip chart and the pocket chart system. Both of these options are great because they allow students to play an active role in your behavior plan.
What is a behavior clip chart?
A clip chart is usually made up of 5 to 7 sections. Each section contains a descriptor or rating of the child's current behavior. Typically the chart has excellent, role model behavior at the top and works down to unacceptable behavior at the bottom. Many teachers like to use a clip chart because they can color code each section to match their school-wide behavior plan.
How does a clip chart work?
To use a clip chart, you just need a set of clothespins labeled with your students' names or assigned numbers. Each morning, students start the day with their clips on the center section. This might be labeled "ready to learn" or something similar. As students demonstrate good behavior choices, you can let them move their clips up to a higher section. When they break a rule, the clip gets moved down. This provides kids with an effective visual representation of how their day is going and also allows them to change course if needed. The way a clip chart works allows you to give positive feedback instead of just addressing problem behavior.
What is a pocket chart system?
A pocket chart system can be created using a calendar style pocket chart. It just needs to have enough pockets so each child has his or her own slot. The pockets are labeled with students' names and hold a set of cards or popsicle sticks. These can simply be colored green, yellow, red like a traffic light, numbered 1, 2, and 3, or decorated with smiley, straight, and sad faces - whatever visual you want to use to represent their behavior choices.
How does a pocket chart behavior system work?
When a rule is broken, a card or stick gets removed. The goal is for the student to keep as many as possible and not run out by the end of the day. This type of behavior chart can also be supplemented with additional cards or sticks that students can earn as positive reinforcement. It can be as simple or as fancy as you like. For older elementary students, a themed chart like this Baseball 3-Strikes Pocket Chart is very effective and doesn't seem babyish.
Whatever monitoring system you choose, make sure you have a way to record your students' daily behavior. I keep a simple calendar page in my students' daily folders that gets marked at the end of the day.
Step 3 - Logical Consequences
Now that you have a set of rules and a way to track how well your students are following them, you'll need to decide on consequences for undesired behavior. Simply put, what are you going to do when a kid is breaking your class rules?
The best consequences are logical consequences - punishments that fit the crime. For example, if a child draws all over her desk, she might spend our Fun Friday time cleaning desks instead of playing games. If someone can't stop kicking his neighbor's chair, he'll have to sit by himself at the time out desk for the day. If a child visits an unapproved website, she loses computer privileges for a certain period of time.
Coming up with logical consequences takes some creative thinking but it's the best way to address behavior problems. For consequences to be effective, they should be relevant and realistic.
Relevant means that the consequence is related to the student's actions in a logical way. This helps children make a connection between what they did and the result.
Realistic means that it's an age-appropriate consequence that you can follow through on.
For example, having a first grader clean up his own mess is realistic. However, cleaning up the entire classroom is not. Writing an apology note is completely appropriate for a fifth grade student, but not for a a kindergartener.
Whatever consequences you set up for your students, they must be delivered in a calm, matter of fact, and respectful manner. You aren't angry at the child. You are simply teaching him that negative behavior has negative consequences and are giving him a way to correct what he did wrong. It is a learning opportunity.
A great way to help children take ownership of their own behavior is to give them input when deciding on a consequence. If Johnny throws food in the cafeteria, ask him, "Johnny, what do you think the consequence should be to help you remember not to throw your food ever again?" This gives the student an opportunity to reflect on his behavior. It's quite likely that the child will suggest helping to clean the cafeteria or eat at a time out table the next day - both of which are entirely logical and appropriate consequences.
Step 4 - Reward Good Behavior
A highly effective behavior management system doesn't just focus on the negative. Good behavior has consequences too and they usually take the form of praise or rewards.
If you are using a clip chart, positive recognition is already built into it by allowing students to "clip up" rather than just down. This is motivating enough for a few kids, but the novelty will wear off for most and you'll need something else reinforce their good choices. This can be done with incentives for individual students and whole class rewards.
Incentives for Individual Students
In an ideal world, every child would have intrinsic motivation to do the right thing all the time. They would find it personally rewarding to be good just for the sake of being good. Unfortunately, that's not how things work. Many students need something more tangible than good feelings to stay on the right track. So to do that, you can set up some kind of incentive that students can earn.
One of the most effective behavior management strategies is to set behavior goals with your students. If you have a child who has a real problem following directions, it can be very helpful to have a little sit-down with that kid and talk about the problem. Explain what he's doing wrong and what you expect him to do instead. But don't stop there! Come up with a clear plan for him to get there. Set a goal - together - for mastering the skill of following directions. Then decide on something he can earn when he shows improvement.
A reward should be something meaningful to that child. Maybe half of the class would want a piece of candy, but this particular kid would rather have lunch with the teacher. How do you know if you don't ask?
Find out what the student will work for and then give him plenty of opportunities to work toward and reach the goal. When he earns that meaningful reward, he is so much more likely to keep trying to do well.
It takes a lot of time for some kids to make the connection, but when they finally realize that good behavior produces good things, they are on the way to having that all-important intrinsic motivation.
Now if you're lucky, you have some students who won't ever need to set a behavior goal. They don't need extra recognition or incentives to follow your rules and it's really easy to overlook those kids. Instead, make a point to notice and reward them occasionally too.
I prefer to reward my students with activities rather than material things. Some of the incentives I often use are a positive phone call home, eat lunch with a friend, getting to sit in the super star seat, or working at the teacher's desk.
For more ideas like these that don't cost money, check out these Classroom Reward Coupons. I also like using Brag Tags which are just a cute way to recognize a student's hard work and effort at the individual level.
Whole Class Reward System
At the beginning of the school year (for the first week or two anyway), most kids will be on their best behavior. Take advantage of this honeymoon period by doling out whole class rewards. Show them that learning and following your classroom rules pays off. For example, if everyone cleaned up their spaces just like you taught them to do, give them 5 extra minutes of recess.
Rewarding the entire class frequently at the start of the school year is a great idea. It provides a constant reminder and reinforcement of the behaviors you want to see. It also promotes a positive, team-player mindset - if we all work together to do our best, we will earn something wonderful and exciting!
As you get into a routine and the school year progresses, make whole class rewards a little bit harder to earn and give them out a little less frequently. Children shouldn't expect to get a prize every single time they do the right thing.
Sometimes your rewards can be spontaneous - Hey, you guys have done an amazing job at taking turns during class discussions this week. I really appreciate that so let's have a mini dance party to celebrate!
But I also like to set whole class goals that they can work towards. We do this in a class discussion during our afternoon meeting time. Once we agree on a behavior goal and the reward they are working towards, I write it as a positive state to post at the front of the class. It is probably one of the most effective classroom management strategies I've found and it works for both younger and older students.
Handling Disruptive Behavior
One important thing to consider and plan for is disruptive student behavior. No matter how strong your classroom management skills are, certain behavioral problems require something more.
If a child is truly out of control, disrupting the entire class, or posing a danger, there must be a plan to deal with it quickly. Things like hitting, fighting, and destroying property are non-negotiable. Right on the first day of school, I let my students know what actions will result in immediate removal from the room. This is something that should be in your school's behavior plan and backed up by administration.
I hope these ideas will help you as you work to develop your own classroom behavior management plan. Whatever rules, consequences, and rewards you decide on, the important thing is consistency, consistency, consistency! Becoming a good classroom citizen is a learning process. Be patient with your students, guide them, model what you want to see, and always remember that tomorrow is another day and another chance to start over again.
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