Key approaches to behaviour management lecture


This chapter, and chapter 10.2 which follows, is concerned with behaviour management in learners, and with strategies to deal with both positive and negative behaviour from learners. This first chapter discusses first the importance of behaviour management for teachers from a range of perspectives, before going on to analyse different kinds of behaviour which a teacher might encounter in their classrooms, and different ways of conceptualising such behaviour. The third section discusses perspectives on classroom management and on practical approaches to addressing behavioural issues. The fourth and final main section makes links back to pedagogic theory regarding behavioural management.

You may find it useful to revise your previous engagement with these theories; a prompt to do this is given in the relevant section. Issues related to the management of classroom behaviour and teacher strategies to address these kinds of issues are contextualised in a practical scenario which may be found after the concluding section. Throughout the chapter there are reflective prompts to stimulate your further consideration of learner behaviour and its management.

Learning objectives for this chapter

By the end of this chapter we would like you:

  • To be able to appreciate different reasons why learner behaviour is important for teachers to be able to moderate through effective teaching
  • To be aware of the range and potential severity of poor classroom behaviours which may be exhibited
  • To be able to implement appropriate strategies to guard against poor behaviour being initiated, and to deal with incidents effectively as they arise.
  • To appreciate the links between theory and practice in learner behavioural management, and the value of drawing inspiration from across pedagogic paradigms

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Why is behaviour management important?

Behaviour management is important because it promotes learning. The prime function of the teacher is to educate, and that means the provision of an environment which is conducive to that learning taking place. Key to that, then, is the establishment and the maintenance of classrooms where class behaviour is positive, productive, and enabling, and where distractions to engagement in sessions are removed wherever possible.

This is perhaps easier said than done, and for many new and trainee teachers, the prospect of having to deal with behaviour management can be a daunting one (Department for Education, 2010). Many models of teaching can present an idealised view of the profession, where learners are always motivated and engaged, and where there are no external or contextual circumstances which will disrupt or prevent full and open engagement in the session. The reality may be a little different to that, but studies indicate that the clear majority of schools do not have significant behavioural issues, and that learners and teachers alike enjoy positive and rewarding classes which do not have disruptions (HM Government, 2012). However, effective classroom management and tactics to promote positive behaviours and to defuse and deny negative or unwanted behaviours are a central part of the effective teacher's suite of competencies.

Behaviour management is important across the school, and your setting will have behavioural expectations and statements reflective of the school's ethos and values which will inform this. To some extent, the individual classroom is a microcosm of the wider school, and the school-wide approach will inform your classroom authority and the ways in which your position as teacher is appreciated by learners. The relationship between school and class is important, as it helps to support clarity and consistency concerning acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. Such concepts and their application in an individual setting go towards making the written and unwritten rules related to behaviour more straightforward for learners to both understand and appreciate.

In order to teach, the teacher needs the attention and focus of learners, and an appreciation of the teacher's authority to both teach and to control the learning environment. If these are destabilised, then learner investment in the teacher and the subject will be compromised, and distractions will impact on the session's success. A loss of confidence in the teacher's abilities may be exploited by some learners; in addition, other learners who are engaged and motivated to learn will have the quality of their educational experience negatively affected. It is necessary to be in control of the session, and to deal with lapses in behaviour quickly and effectively so that the smooth running of the session can occur.

UK governmental statements of teacher standards make the obligations on educators in relation to behavioural management clear (HM Government, 2016). There is the expectation that teachers will produce an environment which is safe, stimulating, and rooted in a culture of mutual respect, as well as embodying the positive values, attitudes and behaviours expected of learners. Furthermore, there is the expectation that teachers will manage behaviour effectively, ensuring that a safe and appropriate environment for learning is provided. This element has multiple components in the teaching standards framework (UK Government, 2013):

  • Providing clear rules and routines for classroom behaviour, and being responsible for good behaviour and courtesy in class and throughout the school
  • Maintaining high behavioural expectations, maintaining discipline within a fair framework of sanctions, praise, and rewards with consistency and openness
  • Having effective classroom management skills, motivating and involving learners appropriately to the contexts and levels of their learning
  • Upholding good learner relations, while exercising authority as appropriate, and employing decisive action where relevant to do so

School inspections and teacher observations, both internal and external, take note of teachers' abilities in respect of behavioural matters and their competencies in classroom control, not least because they inform the whole school (UK Government, 2014). The applications of good standards of behavioural management, combined with consistency, fairness, and reasonability in the use of both praise and sanctions, is good practice, particularly when extended across the school so that there is uniformity of purpose and effectiveness (UK Government, 2016). This is perhaps particularly important in secondary schools, where learners will have multiple teachers for different subjects; clarity and consistency needs to be maintained so that learners and teachers alike know where they stand, and so that behavioural interventions make sense.

Effective classroom management helps support a productive environment which is conducive to learning. Having procedures, structures and competencies in place which will support a well-managed classroom is fair to learners as it respects them and their intent to learn. Furthermore, well-managed sessions tend to have structure, direction and purpose which contextualises and makes learning meaningful; if the reasons for the learning are apparent to learners, then their investment in the subject will be developed. Structure and consistency also means that students know what is expected of them; having such knowledge avoids the confusion which may lead to uncertainty or criticising the relevance of the learning. Session time will be maximised in a well-managed lesson; the focus throughout will be on the learning-related activities and not lost on peripheral issues that will tend to distract from learners' engagement.

Finally, for this section, effective management of the class and of behavioural issues should they arise is an expression of the teacher's efficacy. Behavioural management may be an expression not only of the competence of the teacher, but of their expertise. When a class is going well, then the focus is on learning, and teaching is positive and affirming for the educator and for their learners. If a behavioural issue arises, though, that is potentially when a teacher's true abilities surface. To address a behaviour-related incident with calm, efficiency and with fairness so that the lesson can be continued by all with minimal - or with no - disruption is perhaps the clearest mark of a skilled, motivated, engaging and respected teacher (Rogers, 2015).


What is your attitude towards managing learners' behaviour? Does the prospect of dealing with unruly, inattentive, or disengaged learners thrill you, concern you, or make you doubt your abilities as a teacher?

What kind of learner have you been in the past? Have you ever been bored, or distracted, or annoying to teachers or other learners? If so, why was that? What kinds of reactions did your behaviour generate in others?

To what extent is a well-managed teaching session one in which everything goes to plan? To what extent is good management related to how the unexpected and unwanted is dealt with as well as that which can be planned for?

What kinds of behaviour must be managed?

As might be imagined, the diversity of learners and contexts in which learning may take place is broad; this section can only provide an overview of the range of behaviours which may be experienced in class. It should be noted again, though, that this chapter is completed in conjunction with Chapter 10.2, as this deals with the more extreme ends of the behavioural spectrum, as well as considers more formal aspects of disciplinary and other forms of intervention. This section considers the lower-level poor or unacceptable behaviour which might be experienced; ways to deal with such behaviours are addressed in the section that follows.

For Shorter (2013), the following kinds of disruptive behaviour might be found in a typical classroom:

  • Not finishing work, or avoiding doing the set work
  • Teasing other learners
  • Interrupting and calling out
  • Entering the class late and/or noisily
  • Constant talking
  • Not complying with reasonable instructions
  • Use of mobile phones and tablets
  • Personal grooming; applying make-up, combing hair
  • Passing notes
  • Being rude, cheeky, or inappropriate
  • Swearing or other inappropriate language
  • Not respecting others' property and personal space
  • Eating and drinking in lessons

These kinds of behaviour may be incidental or sporadic, or may develop in frequency, severity, or level of disruption caused.

More profoundly disruptive behaviours (discussed in Chapter 10.2) may include refusal to engage in work whatsoever, direct confrontation, inferences of violent behaviour, destruction of property, violent outbursts, and petulance; these may be combined with patchy attendance, itself a negative learning behaviour.

Lewis (2008) suggests an alternative schema, which seeks to group behavioural issues not in respect of the behaviour itself, but in terms of the pupils involved. In Lewis's approach, four such groups are identified:

  • Group A: these learners generally are responsive to the teacher and to lessons, and complete the work set for them. These learners generally see the value in the work they are given to do, and can work capably in achieving session learning outcomes. These kinds of pupils will be responsive to the teacher when corrective approaches are made when behavioural standards slip, such as becoming quiet when the teacher pauses, or approaches their desk when working, or asking a direct question of the learner.
  • Group B: learners in this category tend to be less interested in the work given to them to do, and may have less confidence in their abilities to complete it meaningfully. This can lead to distraction, and becoming a distraction to others in turn. Lewis (2008) suggests, though, that such learners generally respond well to a teacher's use of reward and recognition, as well as to appropriate sanctions when fairly applied.
  • Group C: these pupils, for Lewis, are sufficiently challenging to warrant dealing with in isolation or occasional removal from thee class environment, Lewis suggests that individual learning contracts may be of use here, particularly when reinforced over time. Eventually, the severity and frequency of poor behaviour declines, and the learner tends to move between A and B groups in terms of their behaviour.
  • Group D: Pupils who repeatedly misbehave despite the application of the full range of teacher sanctions. Pupils who are not responsive to reasonable intervention at the teacher level, or whose behaviour is similar across classes, is referable to school line management regarding behavioural and/or disciplinary measures. There may be a case for a counselling or other professional intervention.

Lewis is careful not to type pupils by their behaviour alone, but seeks instead to give an indication of the levels of behaviour which might be associated with learners. The clear majority of learners will exhibit group A behaviour, descending in number down to group D behaviour, which will be between rare and exceptional in its occurrence.

Whether behaviour is categorised at the level of the type of incident, or the type of pupil, there is, of course, the need to respond effectively and quickly to maintain the teaching session focus, and to prevent further similar disruption.

The following section considers a selection of approaches to take which have currency in the teaching profession. Teachers will draw widely from multiple approaches in their practice, and may also take advice and inspiration from colleagues and their own developing experience as they become more competent as educators.


What kinds of poor or unwanted learner behaviour might you expect to see? How would you deal with them?

To what extent might poor behaviour be linked to academic ability? To what extent is there no relationship between the two?

It is perhaps tempting to type learners as 'good' or 'bad'. What are the problems you can identify with labelling learners in such a way?

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What techniques or strategies are generally considered effective?

This section presents a selection of approaches to good classroom management, with emphasis on the management of behaviour. There is some overlap between these positions as might be expected; the commentators are discussing the same topic, and many of their approaches are informed by the same educational theories. These theories form the basis of the final substantive section of this chapter, and follows this section.

Petty (2009) sees classroom discipline and learner behavioural management as interrelated, and based on four key principles:

  • Having effective lessons based on a well-designed curriculum
  • The teacher having good organisational and planning skills
  • The maintenance of good learner/teacher relationships
  • Effective discipline (which cannot be achieved without the first three being in place)

For Petty (2009), discipline and good behaviour can to some extent be achieved by design. The lessons need to be well-prepared, be meaningful, have activities and an end point which makes sense to learners. Effective and well-run lessons foster meaningful and positive classroom relations, and these form the basis of appropriate classroom behaviour. Students respond well to meaningful education led by an approachable and effective teacher; respect for the process and the execution leads to respect and consideration for the teacher, and so their authority is recognised and respected. If that respect is not in place, it is difficult to realistically expect full engagement for learners. Though authority may be used also, the threat of sanction or the imposition of control is much less positive an experience for both learners and the teacher than working together in a mutually respectful environment.

Petty (2009) also advises the use of clarity and consistency in approach; if rules are not enforced and fairly applied, then learners cannot realistically be expected to comply, as the boundaries of what might be acceptable are open to interpretation. It may be useful to have agreed sets of rules for each group; this empowers learners in the setting of rules, and it is difficult to justify the breaking of rules that one had a part of design.

Start times, both of the session and of activities within it, need to be clear and unambiguous. Rules around silence when the teacher is talking, for example, should be enforced without exception. Other competencies to develop to maintain classroom behaviour and positive control of learning include:

  • Awareness: be with the class in respect of awareness, attentiveness, and observation of their behaviour
  • Firefight: slips in conduct should be addressed immediately, to restore good order, to resist its spread, and to prevent the learner developing other misbehaviour
  • Praise and humour: the environment should be positive, so use praise, humour, and rapport with learners to encourage rather than an authoritarian approach might may give compliance, but which may erode respect

Ellis and Tod (2015) are among a series of educational academics who advocate a Behaviour for Learning (BfL) approach. BfL sees learning behaviour as being constructed from the relationships generated between a learner and their contexts, and which associate positive learning behaviour with developing self-esteem and efficacy, and negative behaviours with aspects which destabilise this sense of self.

Learning Behaviour Cycle

BfL learning behaviour cycle, adapted from Ellis and Tod (2015)

Strategies advocated by BfL approaches include:

  • Prioritising positive feedback over praise: seeing the good in all work, and working constructively with learners, rather than focusing on achievement/non-achievement
  • Tailoring feedback to individuals: making learning meaningful and personal
  • Using class-based feedback to develop learning communities
  • Making effective use of reward structures
  • Monitoring the distribution of rewards; avoiding an us/them divisiveness
  • Respectful and positive correction when needed
  • Tactical ignoring: use discretion, and do not focus on individuals
  • Proximity praise: addressing others nearby positively, so the misbehaving learner can re-frame their own behaviour
  • Non-verbal signals: eye contact, rule reminders, gesturing
  • Use of question and feedback to frame acceptable and unacceptable behaviour and their rectification
  • Avoiding unnecessary escalation: deal with issues as they arise rather than allow them to develop; do not make things worse for the learner by giving them latitude to develop poor behaviours

A final point for this section is the notion of repairing and rebuilding. The session ends, and with it should end the behavioural expectations for that class. Try not to carry over issues from one session to the next; focus on the session, not on the individual. If a learner has been admonished repeatedly in a session, consider the value in summary positive feedback at the end of the session to show that you have acknowledged their efforts.


These approaches have considered learner behaviour largely in proactive rather than in reactive ways, seeing that preparedness and organisation is key. To what extent do you agree or disagree?

Are there advantages to taking a more rule-bound, authoritarian approach? What about issues with such a tactic?

Think of the good teachers you have had in the past. How did they deal with behavioural issues? What about the teachers you might have experienced who may not have been so good?

Which theorists have impacted on current views on behaviour management?

This section examines the links between theoretical schools of educational thought and classroom behavioural issues. The section does not cover the theoretical positions in detail, as this is material which you will be familiar with from Module 1; you may find it useful to refer to that module to refresh your memory.


Behaviourism focuses on observable behaviour, and on acts and training which can moderate that behaviour; by a better appreciation of what causes certain behaviours to occur, then those causes can be addressed so that a change in observed behaviour for the better may take place. There are, as you will remember from your earlier studies, two main aspects to behavioural change in this paradigm: classical and operant conditioning. Classical conditioning, associated with the work of Ivan Pavlov, seeks to pair stimuli with unconscious behaviour by reinforcing positive behaviours with certain stimuli to promote that positive behaviour. Operant conditioning, linked with the work of BF Skinner, focuses on conscious rather than unconscious behaviour and on the consequences of actions rather than on the actions themselves; behaviourism as applied to classroom management draws from operant rather than classical conditioning.

There are four principal ways in which reinforcement strategies may be used to modify learner behaviour (Reed Global, 2015):

  • Positive reinforcement: linking rewards with positive behaviour, to promote the repetition of that good behaviour - examples might be praise, good grades, acknowledgement of effort, agreement.
  • Negative reinforcement: removing something undesired after the positive behaviour, again to promote positive behaviour - an example might be the removal of the possibility of additional catch-up homework if work is completed on time.
  • Positive punishment: links a negative stimulus to certain behaviour, and so encourages avoidance of that behaviour - examples include the possibility of extra homework, or catching up on uncompleted work in own time.
  • Negative punishment: this removes a positive stimulus following poor behaviour to decrease the incidence of that negative behaviour - examples may include having a child continue with their written work when others have completed theirs and been able to move onto a more fun activity.

As you might appreciate, many processes of reward and punishment are informed by behaviourist thinking.


Constructivist perspectives see the learner as central to the production of their own meaning in learning, with the teacher in a supportive facilitative mode, enabling that construction of meaning. Social constructivism privileges the ways in which the learner learns (from their environment, their peers, their society and its rules and codes of conduct) and learns to apply those to their own situations; norms of behaviour are internalised by the learner rather than being asserted by others, as might be the case in a strict application of behaviourist thought.

This means that the modelling of appropriate behaviour by teachers and others is important, so that the learner can appreciate for themselves the benefits of appropriate behaviour and the relative disadvantages and inappropriateness of poor or unwanted behaviours. Motivation to change or develop behaviour in the learner is thus internalised and made meaningful.

This means that learners will take from the punishment and reward of others as well as of themselves as their perception of their social world develops. Part of the role of the educator is, then, to create and sustain contexts in which appropriate behaviour is both natural and rewarding and where the consequences associated with behaviour - both negative and positive - are framed in such ways that the learner can make meaningful use of that developing insight. Motivation is central in such frameworks, particularly for lower-achieving learners, who might otherwise become disaffected by the success of others and struggle to see the meaning of both learning and of positive behaviour to themselves (Dix, 2010).

Cognitivist approaches

Cognitive approaches see a link between outcomes and the learner's perception of their own individual abilities; negative self-perception may lead to an inability to engage with the work, or else seek other ways than good behaviour to gain attention from the teacher. Part of the function of the educator in this framework is to have clearly established parameters for learning, and for those parameters to be made meaningful to all learners so they are enabled to assess success in their own terms, and not necessarily in direct competition with others.

The role that the educator has here is to define success appropriately, to individualise and make meaningful learning, and to set work with is staged, difficult, but which can register engagement and achievement appropriately; differentiated tasks can be of use here (Reed Global, 2015).

Common issues

No one theoretical approach has all the answers regarding learner and classroom behaviours, so approaches informed by multiple paradigms are only appropriate. Behaviour is not formed in a vacuum, but will be an effect of internal and external factors interacting in the class and with each learner. Nevertheless, learning-appropriate behaviour is associated with positive relationships, with unconditional regard, and with meaningful interactions; the relationship between the teacher and the learner is thus crucial in the development and sustaining of positive classroom behaviour.


To what extent do you see yourself as a cognitivist, or as a behaviourist, or as someone drawn to social constructivist paradigms in respect of their links to learner behaviour? Why is this, do you think?

Is learner behaviour linked to motivation, or should behaviour be seen only in terms of learners' observable engagements, and not on internal mental processes?

What forms of sanction work best with you as a learner? And what does not work? Why do you think this is?


This chapter has considered the relevance to teaching as a practice and a profession of educators being proactive and engaged in promoting good pupil behaviour, and in working efficiently and effectively in dealing with instances of unwanted or poor behaviour. Some practical approaches have been considered, and in the scenario below, more are explored. Links back to theory, and to other chapter input, have been made in addition.

The chapter has advanced the idea that managing the classroom environment is central to learners' positive experiences, to modelling good behaviour, to exemplifying high teaching standards, and to reinforcing the setting's ethos, and the standards of engagement and behaviour appropriate to learning. Learners can present at-times difficult and awkward, even annoying, behaviour, but learning not only to cope with such distractions but to deal with such instances effectively and positively is part of the process of development towards being a respected and valued colleague and educator at all levels of the profession.


Now we have completed this chapter, you should:

  • Be able to appreciate different reasons why learner behaviour is important for teachers to be able to moderate through effective teaching
  • Be aware of the range and potential severity of poor classroom behaviours which may be exhibited
  • Be able to implement appropriate strategies to guard against poor behaviour being initiated, and to deal with incidents effectively as they arise.
  • Be able to appreciate the links between theory and practice in learner behavioural management, and the value of drawing inspiration from across pedagogic paradigms

Reference List

Department for Education (2010) The importance of teaching. Available at: (Accessed: 23 November 2016).

Dix, P. (2010) How to manage behaviour in the classroom. Available at: (Accessed: 23 November 2016).

Ellis, S. and Tod, J. (2015) Promoting behaviour for learning in the classroom: Effective strategies, personal style and professionalism. London: Routledge.

HM Government (2012) Pupil behaviour in schools in England. Available at: (Accessed: 23 November 2016).

HM Government (2013) Teachers' standards. Available at: (Accessed: 23 November 2016).

HM Government (2014) Below the rader: low-level disruption in 21st century classrooms. Available at: (Accessed: 23 November 2016).

Lewis, R. (2008) Understanding pupil behaviour: classroom management techniques for teachers. London: David Fulton Publishers.

Petty, G. (2009) Teaching today: A practical guide. 4th edn. Cheltenham: Nelson Thornes.

Reed Global (2015) Theories of behaviour management. Available at: (Accessed: 23 November 2016).

Rogers, B. (2015) Classroom behaviour: a practical guide to effective teaching, behaviour management and colleague support. London: SAGE Publications.

Shorter, J. (2013) Classroom management. Available at: (Accessed: 23 November 2016).



You have a new class; learners who you have not taught before. They are in Year 10, and have something of an informal reputation in the staff room for being an engaging and lively collection of learners who nevertheless can at times exhibit a range of mostly low-level but nevertheless distracting negative behaviours.

You have set aside time in your term planning to devote part of the first session to establishing ground rules for the class. What kinds of strategies might you adopt to deal with this group, and what sorts of ideas might you initiate to promote buy-in to rules and regimes which you wish to establish so that teaching is organic, fun, yet has structure and in which there is mutual respect?


Be early for the first lesson. Note who arrives on time, and who is running late. Do not allow the class to settle at their own pace but establish rules from the doorway. Straight to your desk, put nothing on the table, and tell learners to be quiet.

Quietness can be easier to establish than silence, and is less oppressive. Others will shush louder learners.

Raise your hand for silence. Tell them this means silence. Having clear and unambiguous rules offers clarity and coherence. Do not allow a margin for error.

For learner questions, agree a rule. Hand up means a question. This allows everyone else to listen to the question and the answer from you, because there's silence. One way of explaining this is that the lesson is like a meeting - all questions must come through the chair, and the teacher is the chair. Not because they're in charge, but because they're positioned centrally.

Now move to ground rules. This can be a group exercise. In groups, learners work to devise a series of class ground rules. Either the best set (as voted for by the class) is applied, or else individual rules can be voted for. Groups can present their framework back to the class.

You could use other sets of class rules as a guide, or else prepare your own for adding to the debate.

Discuss the rules, and the reasons for their existence. Common examples might be:

  • no mobile phones
  • no food or drink
  • quiet working during activities
  • starting classes on time
  • ending on time

Discussion and agreement gives ownership of the rules, and increases buy-in. Where there are similar, and equally workable sets of rules, then different groups' work could be applied in different sessions.

Make sure the rules are displayed, and that sanctions are understood and fairly applied.

Secondly, ask for a set of rules for you from the learners: expectations of you from them. Discuss the reasonableness of each proposal.

You should end up with mutually-agreed ground rules acceptable to everyone. Buy-in can be referred to as there was class agreement.

It may be useful to periodically use the ground rules as discussion points, to check their validity, and to reinforce the use value of the rules structure to the learners.

Such techniques can establish respectful communication offer a way to introduce you and your teaching style to learners, and support collaborative working; the class is a team effort, and you are the coach.

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