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Why Your Behavior Management System MUST Be Positive

Having a behavior management system in your classroom is crucial. I know this from teaching for 18 years now, and I’ve taught the whole gamete of kids: rural, urban, well-off, impoverished. You name it, I’ve been in it! I’ve learned, however, that a kid is a kid is a kid! Maybe with different needs, but still with the biggest need ever. LOVE. And with that need for love comes the very important concept of a behavior management system.

As I finished out Year 3 of teaching, it was as if I had an epiphany! Behavior management just clicked for me. Over the past 18 years, I’ve learned and I’ve grown in the area of behavior and classroom management. Here’s what I’ve learned and what I try and instill in new teachers I get to work with.


Advice I give in regards to behavior management systems to teachers who ask:

*The idea that you should give four positives for every one negative rule isn’t just a random, made-up number or rule. I used to yell and get frustrated with my kiddos, and the behavior problems I had never seemed to get better. Once I started applying that rule of being positive, the changes were EPIC. Think about it- how do you respond to criticism when it’s positive vs. when it’s negative?

*When you do have to give negative feedback to a kid, make sure to follow it immediately with a goal. “Johnny, we need to keep our voices on a Level 0 while we are working so that our friends can focus and do their best work. Show me what that looks like, and [insert praise or reward].”

*Form relationships with your kids. Spend time with them and talk about anything besides academics.

*If you set up a behavior plan, involve the child in the creation of it! It’s like planning to feed vegetables to a dog without asking the dog if he’ll eat the broccoli. The child is more likely to respond positively to a behavior plan if they get to help plan it.

*Laugh with your kids and allow them to have fun when appropriate. Kids can love you and respect you at the same time.

*Follow through. If you agree on a reward, give that reward. If you say a child has earned a punishment, deliver that punishment. One of the worst mistakes in behavior management is not following through on a plan. Your kids will see right through that, and you’ve instantly lost respect.

*As often as you can, encourage a behavior plan to continue at home. The more adults that are following the plan with the child, the more likely they are to succeed!

*No matter how frustrated, upset, angry, irritated, or discouraged you may be, remember that there is a child with a heart who is probably just as frustrated, upset, angry, irritated, or discouraged as you are.

*Set Clear Expectations from the Start: Clearly outline your expectations for behavior at the beginning of the school year or when you introduce a new system. Make sure students understand what is expected of them and the consequences for not meeting those expectations.

*Model the Behavior You Want to See: Demonstrate the behaviors you want your students to exhibit. If you want them to be respectful, show them respect. If you want them to be calm and collected, model calmness and self-control.

*Consistent Routine: Establish a consistent daily routine that students can rely on. Predictability helps students feel safe and understand what is expected of them, which can reduce anxiety and behavior issues.

*Use Nonverbal Cues: Develop and use nonverbal signals (like a hand signal or a specific sound) to get students’ attention or to remind them of behavior expectations. This can be less disruptive and more effective than verbal reminders.

*Positive Reinforcement Systems: Implement systems like token economies, where students can earn tokens for positive behavior that they can exchange for rewards. This tangible reinforcement can be highly motivating.

*Teach Social-Emotional Skills: Integrate social-emotional learning (SEL) into your curriculum. Teach students skills such as empathy, self-regulation, and conflict resolution. These skills can help improve behavior by giving students the tools to manage their emotions and interactions.

*Give Students Responsibilities: Assign classroom jobs or responsibilities. When students feel a sense of ownership and responsibility, they are more likely to behave positively and take pride in their environment.

*Reflect and Adjust: Regularly reflect on what is working and what isn’t with your behavior management system. Be willing to adjust your strategies and try new approaches if something isn’t working as well as you hoped.

*Document and Track Behavior: Keep a log of behavior incidents and positive behaviors. This documentation can help identify patterns and inform adjustments to behavior plans. It also provides evidence when discussing behavior with parents or other staff members.

*Empower Through Choices: Give students choices whenever possible. Allowing them to make choices about their learning or behavior can increase their sense of autonomy and responsibility.

*Stay Calm and Patient: Always try to remain calm and composed when dealing with behavioral issues. Students are often looking for reactions, and staying calm can help de-escalate situations.

I’ll also never forget what my first-year mentor teacher told me: Remember that the child who is driving you crazy is a child with a heart, a soul, and a family that loves him unconditionally. Speak to him with that unconditional love, and everything else will fall into place eventually.

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