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What New Teachers Need to Know About Managing Behaviour


Behaviour management is key to making sure children are happy and productive in the primary classroom.

Principles for effective behavior management

Classroom teaching can be regarded as more art than an exact science. What works for one may not work for another but that’s not to say there isn’t a number of key things that are always present in every effective teacher’s arsenal. Teachers with the most firepower will almost always possess exceptional behaviour management skills and their approach to managing classroom behaviour will be somewhat unique. However, there are a number of key principles that underline all effective behaviour management practices.

Policy is the best policy

One such fundemantal principle of effective behaviour management is the teacher’s familiarity with their school’s behaviour policy. Without knowledge of their school’s system of sanctions, rewards and rules, a teacher may be left flailing when it comes to dishing out discipline. It is therefore crucial that you get to grips with the behaviour policy at the earliest opportunity. Familiarising oneself with the behaviour policy is key to ensuring another foundation of successful behaviour management can be built: consistency.


Children are happy when they have boundaries. Teachers are happy when the children know those boundaries and the only way to get them to learn what constitutes ‘crossing the line’ is to let them know using a consistent system of consequences. Now, this is easier said than done but adhering to a behaviour policy, which should outline a system of sanctions and rewards, goes a long way towards ensuring that you are perceived as fair.

Clear expectations

Part of being consistent is making clear from day one your expectations with regards to pupil conduct. If you are clear in what you expect from the outset, children and their parents will find it more difficult to fault and criticise you as a teacher. With clear expectations of pupil conduct, every stakeholder will see you as a firm but fair practitioner and your classroom will be a happier more productive place.

A little praise goes a long way

An effective teacher is able to use praise to good effect. Almost everyone responds to praise for what they’re doing well and primary school children are no exception. Offer a sincere ‘thank you’ to the child who responds first time to your instructions and give them a house point or two to show your appreciation to those who tow the line. Send certificates home to the parents/carers of children who do nothing but work hard and try to impress you day after day.

Ultimately, every child in your class will enjoy being recognised for good behaviours and it is up to you to keep them making the right choices by praising and rewarding them appropriately.

Choice, responsibility and mutual respect

The old adage ‘respect is earned’ contains an element of truth, particularly when it comes to teachers. Teachers should expect their pupils to show respect to adults but teachers must also know that pupils’ respect for you is delicate and dependent on many factors, mainly upon how you as the professional conduct yourself.

Show respect to your pupils by understanding their circumstances, treat them as unique individuals and seek to guide them through your words and actions and that respect will be returned in the form of pupils who are willing to work for you. Teachers should not seek to humiliate their students or simply punish them for wrongdoing but instead we must offer proportionate, justifiable consequences in accordance with whole school behaviour policies that ideally enables the student to reflect upon their actions.

Respect the students’ rights to choose by treating positive and negative behaviour as a choice to be made by the individual and place all of the responsibility for making these choices in the hands of the pupil. Remember that you are not responsible for the choices children make but you are responsible for managing how they make those choices and how they are dealt with.


To differentiate your approach to managing the behaviour of each of the thirty-odd learners in your classroom seems at odds with the consistency principle. How can you appear consistent in eyes of the majority whilst also treating each child as an individual with their own set of unique circumstances? The short answer is you can’t. It simply isn’t possible to do both all the time so you must aim for a happy medium whereby you endeavour to treat all as equally as you can without neglecting each pupil’s emotional and behavioural needs. Allow me to elaborate…

During my first years of teaching, I taught a class containing numerous challenging pupils (as well as some excellent students) but there was one pupil in particular who came to my class with a reputation for being disruptive, abusive and even violent towards other children and school staff. Initially, I took the zero tolerance approach to this pupil’s behaviour and would attempt to be stern in reprimanding this pupil for misbehaviour. Soon, the zero tolerance approach became exhausting and I realised that this pupil was not fazed by my sternest, most cross facial expressions and so I accepted that a change of approach was necessary.

Eventually, I began to be selective about which incidents of disruption I would respond to and I began to tactially ignore many of the more minor disruptions. Of course, violence and abusive behaviour was always dealt with using the school’s system of sanctions but getting on with teaching required me to do a number of other things to manage this child’s behaviour:

1) I became more active and determined in noticing and praising the positive behaviours of this child. I made sure that positive behaviours were always praised. Similarly, I began to pick my battles more carefully and would tactically ignore certain low level disruptions caused by this pupil.

2) I coached my class to ignore his attempts to disrupt teaching and learning in my class. Realising that the child was motivated by attention (negative or otherwise) from his peers, I talked to them very generally about how each person in our class was unique and how by ignoring the undesirable behaviours of others such as calling out and rude noises, we could have a happier class. I then made extra efforts to praise those pupils who would remain focused on the lesson and would not allow themselves to be distracted by one or two disruptive pupils.

3) I tightened up on communicating with the pupil’s parents. I would call to report positive behaviour and this kept the parents happy and more willing to support me when I would notify them of incidents of misbehaviour.

4) I learned about the child’s background and what motivated them to behave or misbehave. Learning these things made me more effective in adapting my approach to managing his behaviour. One particularly important conclusion I made was that the child was seeking control in many aspects of his life and that misbehaving made him feel powerful and more in control. This, combined with the child’s utter lack of trust in authority, led me to the realisation that managing the child’s behaviour would require a gentler approach based on negotiation. So, whenever he would refuse to participate in an activity or follow an instruction, I would be able to tailor my approach appropriate to the situation. Ultimately, by being able to remain calm and by always having somewhere else to go in the behaviour management transaction, I would ‘win’ control and maintain my position of a firm but fair authority in the eyes of the other children. Gradually, through consistency and persistance in my approach, the child who was on the verge of permanent exclusion began to enjoy school and a positive relationship between pupil and his teacher grew. The child is now reaching the end of his time in primary education without having been excluded. A remarkable feat considering his starting point in life.

One more thing to remember…

It’s called behaviour management for a reason. As the teacher, you are not there to ‘fix’ the child and you can not always expect total compliance. You can only expect yourself to manage the behaviour of the pupils under your tutelage. Managing behaviour effectively requires you to know all three of tese things and to apply the principles outlined in this article to your classroom practice the best you can.

Still struggling with behaviour management?

Check out ‘You Know the Fair Rule’ by Bill Rogers. It is easily the best book on behaviour management that I have read and it serves as the basis for the behaviour management principles outlined in this article.

By | 27 June, 2015 | Blog

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