December 10, 2019

Managing Student Behavior

GoGuardian Team
Photo of a teacher surrounded by a circle of students sitting on the floor and smiling

One of the most important skills you need to succeed as a teacher is effective behavior management. Being able to successfully manage a classroom makes your day-to-day smoother and less stressful. It enables you to spend more of your time focusing on learning and less time putting out fires. And you'll be seen by your administrators as a competent, trusted school leader—someone who doesn't need constant assistance to handle routine classroom drama.

Behavior management is critical, but it's often overlooked in teacher education programs. Typically, teacher training programs focus on planning effective instruction but often overlook effective strategies in managing the behavior of students. The reality is that without a strong behavior management plan, everything else you do in the classroom will be far less effective. Fortunately, building a behavior management plan is a lot easier than it sounds.

How to Manage Student Behavior

Learning to manage behavior effectively takes lots of practice. There's no substitute for working directly with students. But with the right approach, you can seriously simplify the learning process.

Build Relationships

Building strong relationships with your students is the single most effective thing you can do to manage your classroom. Kids are far more likely to meet expectations and far less likely to be disruptive if you have a healthy, positive relationship with them. In fact, a recent study in School Psychology Review found that when teachers focused on building relationships, academic engagement increased by 33 percent and classroom disruptions decreased by 75 percent.

Make sure you know every student's name, and learn about their interests. Starting written conversations during the first week is a great approach to relationship building. Share about your background and interests with students. During class, avoid sarcastic comments or negative reactions to student behavior that can damage your relationship with students.

Set Clear Expectations

At the start of the year, make sure your behavior expectations are crystal clear. Create a set of classroom expectations, and post them in a prominent place where you can call students' attention to them easily. To help students buy into your classroom expectations, consider creating your classroom rules with your students during the first week.

One of the biggest advantages of setting rules with students is that they'll get to discuss all the classroom expectations and understand exactly what they mean. If you have a rule that students can't use mobile phones, for example, expect that they may interpret it differently than you do. Whatever your classroom rules are, make sure your students understand what you expect.

Correct Missteps Right Away

Once your behavior expectations are in place, you need to maintain them. Expect students to test the limits. They're naturally curious and want to find out what you'll allow and what you won't. Correcting mistakes right away is the best way to ensure that your students meet expectations.

Before you offer a direct verbal correction, start with nonverbal cues. There are a variety of ways you can nonverbally cue a student who is getting off track, such as making eye contact, shaking your head, or giving a hand gesture. Often, this approach will get the student's attention and redirect them without any further action on your part.

Keep corrections as minimal as possible, while still being effective. When you notice students off task, you might simply pause instruction and scan the room until you have everyone's attention. If two students are talking, you might say, "We need two more people to join us." Always keep corrections brief and drama-free.

Don't Take Anything Personally

Kids are complicated. Every single one of your students brings their own issues, frustrations, and challenges to the classroom, and they rarely check them at the door. Maybe they're having problems with other students in your class. Maybe they're experiencing cyberbullying and don't know who to talk to.

You never know what might be driving a student's behavior. The best way to stay in control is to not take your students' comments or actions personally, whatever they do. Remember that disruptive behavior isn't necessarily a personal attack, and always keep in mind that you don't know everything about your students and their motivations.

Be Aware of Your Own Reaction

How you react to a student's behavior has an enormous effect on how the situation develops. Negative or sarcastic remarks rarely shut down disruptive behavior—they’ll more likely trigger an escalation. Simply showing that you're annoyed can invite future disruptions as students try to get under your skin. If you deliver a consequence that a student perceives as arbitrary or unfair, you'll not only negatively affect your relationship with the student, but you’ll also set yourself up for more conflicts in the future.

Always stay calm and maintain your sense of humor. Remember, kids relate best to adults they've developed a positive relationship with. Use your reaction to show that you care about them and want the best for them—and that's why you have high standards.

Offer Positive Reinforcement

One of the most common blunders new teachers make is allowing their classroom to spiral into an endless cycle of consequences and corrections. It's critical to balance correction with positive reinforcement when you see students meeting your expectations.

Positive reinforcement improves students' ability to make good decisions in the classroom. When they know what good behavior looks like and that it will be recognized, they’re more likely to meet your expectations in the future. One of the simplest ways to do this is to leave a private note on a student's desk. Consider sending positive notes home as well. Your students will love when you do this because their families love getting them.

Although the right techniques will take you a long way, they're only a start. To create a safe, effective learning environment for all your students, it's essential to develop a comprehensive student behavior management plan. Let's look at what goes into a plan in more detail.

Student Behavior Management Plan

An effective behavior management plan will make an enormous difference in your classroom management. Your plan lays out your classroom rules, procedures, and consequences, enabling you to manage behavior in a consistent and thoughtful way.

Statement of Purpose

Your statement of purpose is the foundation for everything else in your plan. It communicates to parents and students the reason for your classroom expectations. When students and parents understand the rationale for your expectations, you can hold students to high standards without conflict or resentment, and you can focus on building meaningful relationships with your students.

A strong classroom management plan is:

  • Focused. It states classroom goals and lays out what's expected of students.
  • Positive. It communicates what's expected of students in a positive manner.
  • Direct. It's short: three sentences or fewer.
  • Easy to understand. It uses clear language and steers clear of teacher jargon.


Communicate your expectations in terms of classroom rules. Rules enable students to know what you expect and monitor their own behavior. Good classroom rules make sense to students, are easy to enforce, and are clear and unambiguous, discouraging arguing and back-talking.

Fewer is better. The fewer rules you set, the easier it'll be for students to be clear on your expectations. Whatever rules you set, make sure they're easy for students to understand and remember.

Strong rules are:

  • Specific. It should be absolutely clear whether a rule has been broken or not. Don't allow any room for debate.
  • Clear. Students must clearly understand your expectations in order to follow them. To make your rules as clear as possible, focus on observable behaviors.
  • Comprehensive. Classroom rules need to cover every eventuality. Students will feel that you're being unfair if you modify your rules on the fly to cover behavior your rules don't address.
  • Positive. State what you expect of students, not what you expect them not to do.
  • Few in number. Create as few rules as possible, ideally five or fewer.


Creating effective classroom rules is the first step, but it's not enough. To really create a classroom that runs smoothly, you need to define classroom procedures. Though every classroom needs effective procedures, they're especially important when crafting behavior management plans for elementary school students because younger students are still learning basic routines for moving through the school day.

Consider all the tasks and activities your students complete on a regular basis. These can include activities like:

  • Entering the classroom
  • Completing warm-up activities
  • Sharing ideas during class discussions
  • Going to the bathroom
  • Sharpening pencils
  • Turning in assignments
  • Taking assessments

For activities that are regular and predictable, think through the steps that will enable your students to complete them quickly and easily. Take time at the beginning of the year to teach procedures to your students. For key procedures, create signs for your classroom to help students remember your procedures.


A consequence is not a punishment. It's a logical response that follows when a student does not meet expectations. The purpose of a consequence is simple: to help students understand your expectations and learn to meet them. When you deliver a consequence effectively, you correct the behavior in a positive way that preserves the student's dignity and maintains your relationship with them. Successful consequences help students stay motivated and get back on task.

Just like classroom rules, the best consequence systems are simple. An effective system of consequences is:

  • Logical. Never deliver consequences arbitrarily; it's one of the fastest ways to lose your students' trust. Students should understand that consequences are a logical result of failing to meet expectations.
  • Easy to enforce. Your system of consequences should require minimal effort from you to enforce. If your system creates a lot of extra work for you (for example, lots of letters or phone calls home), you're bound to let enforcement slide.
  • Carry weight. Whatever consequences you settle on, ask yourself: "If I were a student, would this dissuade me from misbehaving?"
  • Non-interruptive. It's critical to be able to deliver a consequence without disrupting the flow of class.

Action Plan

Now that your plan is worked out, it's time to put it into action. You'll need to create supporting materials, such as signs to remind students of classroom expectations, pre-printed notes to send home, and behavior referral forms from the school office.

Develop lessons to help students learn your classroom expectations. These are great topics to cover during the first week. You might spend a day developing classroom expectations together, another reviewing your consequence system, and a third day practicing classroom procedures. Make sure parents are in the loop too. Use your school's LMS to send information about the plan home to parents, or talk about it with them at your school's parent night.

Although building relationships is crucial at every stage, it's critical when you implement a behavior management plan for high school students. High schoolers are approaching adulthood, and as they become more independent, they value teachers who build real relationships and treat them with respect. Consider how you'll make relationship building a part of your classroom management action plan.

How GoGuardian Simplifies Behavior Management in the Classroom

Classroom management can be a challenge, and GoGuardian is here to help. Our easy-to-use classroom management system provides a suite of tools to help you keep kids engaged and on task.

  • Our Activity Timeline enables you to take a look at every student's activity history in a session, all on a single page.
  • With Scenes, you can block out distractions and help your students focus on learning.
  • Teacher/Student Chat lets you engage with students one-on-one to answer questions or talk privately.

GoGuardian keeps your class on task so you can focus on doing what you do best: helping students learn. Learn more about how GoGuardian Teacher can help you level up your classroom management today!