How can I manage classroom behaviour effectively?

This article has been produced by the Education Support Partnership. It is the UK’s only charity providing mental health and wellbeing support services to all education staff.

Rules & procedures

Classrooms become more orderly places when rules are explicit and clearly stated. Pupils will perform even better when rules have been negotiated, discussed and justified.

Here are ten steps for improving classroom rules, routines and procedures:

  1. Create rules and express them positively. It shouldn’t just be a list of “don’ts”
  2. Justify rules and rehearse them. “Because I say so” is not a persuasive justification
  3. Discuss rules with the class and explain their purpose
  4. Negotiate with the pupils to get commitment. Ask for suggestions and remember to justify and compromise.
  5. Regularly review the rules together
  6. Encourage pupils to devise rules and take ownership of them
  7. Remind pupils of any relevant rules before a potentially disruptive activity or if you are aware of “something brewing.” This kind of pro-activity can drastically reduce inappropriate behaviour
  8. Encourage and develop team working
  9. Regularly get your classes to self-assess their own behaviour set against the rules]
  10. Review your rules, if they are ineffective, look at creating new ones as long as they are in accordance with your school’s behaviour policy

Teacher-student relationships

Think about the style of relationship you have with your students. This will, of course, depend on the class or group, but a balance between a dominant and cooperative style is regarded as the most effective way to improve classroom management.

How do you increase your dominance and assertiveness?

Dominance and assertiveness is about effective leadership, having a clear path to learning goals and good behaviour, pursued with vigour and enthusiasm. It should also be student centred. Here are a number of tips to increase dominance and assertiveness in the classroom:

For the class or group

  • Negotiate ground rules
  • Set goals and assessment criteria
  • Set learning objectives
  • Set specific behaviour objectives

For you

  • Be authoritative – in your speech and in your body language
  • Fake it until you make it – be absolutely confident and in control even if you don’t feel it
  • Get out of the habit of sitting behind the desk
  • Try the PEP approach:

Proximity: Walk around the classroom, and stand by a student who may be about to misbehave. Stand a “little too close for comfort” but don’t invade personal space. A difficult judgement sometimes. You don’t want to come over as aggressive or intimidating.

Eye contact: holding eye contact expresses dominance. What you say will be taken more seriously if you can maintain eye contact before, during and after speaking.

Posing questions: rather than telling a pupil off, pose a question, such as “Why have you not started your work?

These actions are often more effective and far less exhausting than getting angry or shouting and will make you appear in control (even if you do not feel it).

How do you increase cooperation and collaboration?

We all know how challenging it can be to cooperate with badly behaved young people. How many times have we or our colleagues talked about that class or that year group. Sometimes a cycle can develop between the teacher and the students that makes things even worse. They misbehave more; you dislike them more; you are less positive and friendly; they dislike you and your classes more; they disrupt more; and so it goes on. The cycle needs to be broken.

The next time you have a class with a particularly difficult student or a challenging group, why not try the following:

First try focusing on putting clear rules in place which are negotiated with the class. This will often require a great deal of emotional generosity and patience or restraint! The main aims are to be more positive, friendly and fair. Then:

  1. Meet and greet the students by the door. Get off to a good start.
  2. Catch them doing the right thing and comment positively in private. A lot of inappropriate behaviour is attention seeking.
  3. Give each student “intensive care”. Smile, use their name positively, ask for their opinion, make a point at looking at their work, comment favourably about genuine effort or achievement. Talk to them, be patient and helpful, have high expectations and keep calm. Show that you value them. But don’t overdo it! Be fair, use this approach with your well-behaved pupils as well.
  4. Learn their names. This is especially valuable when you are new to a school
  5. Engage your class in an informal way. Let them know you don’t just see them as pupils but also as individuals with interests, hobbies, and lives outside of school
  6. Use eye contact and proximity
  7. Collaborate and problem solve together. What’s the problem here? What can we do about this?
  8. Build team and group work
  9. Have high expectations and let them know what those are
  10. Develop flexible responses and teaching styles
  11. Give responsibilities to particular pupils
  12. Avoid sarcasm. What you might think is light may damage your relationship irrevocably
  13. Check for understanding, reinforce learning goals and expectations
  14. Be a good role model by acting in the way that you want them to behave

Disciplinary interventions

Think back again to how you respond to inappropriate behaviour in the classroom. Are you reactive? Do you wait for problems to happen and then respond? Are you consistent? Are you fair?

A proactive approach to improving behaviour is usually much more effective. Remember managing behaviour is not just about responding to inappropriate behaviour. It is about creating conditions that encourage positive actions. Try the following approaches:

  • Remind students of the rules before activities take place
  • Reinforce appropriate behaviour … use tokens and symbols which can be used for privileges
  • Encourage students to self-assess their behaviour and award themselves appropriate tokens/points
  • Use individual, group and whole class rewards. To receive these, there needs to be very clear success criteria.
  • Mild punishments: what’s important is the consistency and fairness of the punishment. Its success is also dependent on the assertiveness in which it is given. It means being firm, unemotional, unapologetic and confident. It does not mean being hostile or aggressive

Mental state

Although you are not solely responsible for improving student behaviour, improving your attitude to classroom management can have dramatic effects.

Be ‘with-it’

‘With-it-ness’, a term first used by educational theorist Kounin in the 1970s, is an awareness of what is going on in all areas of your classroom and having a quick response to actual and possible disruptions. It’s a ‘nip in the bud’ approach that stops inappropriate behaviour spreading.

Think about how you will respond to disruption and not letting your emotions lead the way.

With-it-ness strategies

  • Invest time getting to know your classroom and students
  • Understand the physical, social and psychological settings that you and your pupils find yourselves in
  • Find out where the “hot spots” are … run a behaviour audit or make this part of classroom observation
  • Position yourself so you can scan regularly and make eye contact with as many of the class as you can
  • Intervene promptly. Make sure your pupils know straight away, or even before it happens that their disruptive behaviour will not be tolerated
  • Combine eye contact and proximity approaches as mentioned earlier. Early identification and intervention is an essential factor in successful behaviour management
  • Use of names combined with eye contact and a sharp tone
  • Use a silent and still approach. Stop what you are doing and remain silent. Maintain eye contact until you get the response you want, then continue
  • Non-verbal reminders and commands. These are quite traditional but are still effective, for example, finger to lips to ask for silence, standing straight with hands on hips to signal displeasure, clicking fingers to signal “stop it”.
  • Be organised. Prepare your classroom and have materials ready!
  • Use reminders and warnings about rules before an activity
  • Walk about with plenty of eye contact

For more information, please download Education Support’s full guide to Managing Pupil Behaviour.

The following Life Guide on managing behaviour from the Education Support Partnership provides some more practical tips on how to achieve a better work-life balance. If you feel you need extra support, you can call Ed Support’s free helpline on 08000 562 561 or email [email protected]

Was this article helpful?

The information contained within this article is not a complete or final statement of the law.
While Edapt has sought to ensure that the information is accurate and up-to-date, it is not responsible and will not be held liable for any inaccuracies and their consequences, including any loss arising from relying on this information. This article may contain information sourced from public sector bodies and licensed under the Open Government Licence. If you are an Edapt subscriber with an employment-related issue, please contact us and we will be able to refer you to one of our caseworkers.