How To Get Better Behavior... From the Start!

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There are so many different techniques for dealing with behavior, but the most important work begins before students even step into your classroom. It's true. They say teachers have the summers off, but the truth is that great teachers do most of their classroom management before school even starts. In order to create your ideal classroom environment, you need to plan ahead of time. Think of how you want your students to act in class, how they’ll complete specific tasks throughout the day, and what you expect of them. Plan it out and put your plan into place before the students arrive. Don’t wait until you have a behavior problem before you figure out a way to deal with it!

Set it up.

You’ll need to set your expectations ahead of time. What do you expect from your students? Is it okay if students talk quietly to each other during class? What should they do when they need to use the restroom? When should they sharpen their pencils? What if they need your attention or have a question? Set your expectations by creating rules and routines for your classroom. Think about every part of your school day: Entering the classroom, unpacking book bags, handing in homework, etc. Write out each step of the day and have a specific routine in place for every single part of the day. Seems excessive? What, you think teaching all of those routines would take too much time? What if I told you it would save you time in the long run?

Putting specific routines in place, practicing, and reinforcing them teaches students exactly how you expect them to behave throughout the day. There is less confusion, less “I didn’t know,” and more chance they’ll remember the routines you’ve put into place and meet your expectations. This is how you turn your rules and routines into the classroom norm. And establishing an organized and productive norm is part of how you create a positive classroom environment!

Keep in mind that different teachers have very different expectations for their students, so you can’t expect that your students will walk in already knowing what to do. Last year’s teacher may have been fine with students calling out instead of raising their hands. As a self-contained special education teacher, many of my students had never been asked to raise their hands before because they were always part of such a small group. As the teacher, it is up to you to set your expectations, establish it as your norm, and create the classroom environment that you envision.


Reinforce It.

Okay, so now your students know what you expect of them, but do they know what can they expect from you? What will you do when students fall short of your classroom expectations or make poor behavior choices? Will there be consequences? If so, what? What will you do when students rise up to exceed your expectations? Will you provide incentives or rewards? Make a list of your consequences, consider creating a hierarchy, and decide when each of your consequences would be appropriate. Know ahead of time how you’ll handle poor behavior so you’re not caught off guard in the moment. Think about the rewards and incentives you can offer to motivate students. When will you use them and how often? Again, make sure you know ahead of time!


Be consistent.

Your rules, routines, consequences, and rewards will all depend on the age and needs of your students. The important thing is that you stay consistent in what you choose for your classroom. If you tell students they will lose a privilege for not meeting a certain expectation, make sure you follow through. Be specific so that students know what to expect and know that you have a plan. After all, you are the one in charge and you do have a plan, regardless of the choices they make. Your students’ words and behaviors do not control your classroom. Remember that, and allow your well-planned classroom management system guide you and your students throughout the year.

Stay Positive.

There are many ways to manage classroom behavior, but I am a firm believer that positive reinforcement is always the best approach. You want your students to want to be their very best in your class. You need to make it so that it is in their best interest to meet your expectations. Make sure your rewards are effective and items or privileges that your students actually want to earn.

Choosing your behavior modification plan can be tricky and personal. What works for someone else might not work out for you. You’ll have to find a behavior management plan that you love and can apply to your lessons throughout the year. My CHANCE program changed everything for me. It helped me turn a truly challenging year into a positive and productive one. This token economy has helped me to set students up for success quickly, easily, and without spending a lot of money. Previously, I had been spending a ton of money on erasers, stickers, pencils, and small toys to give out all the time for homework and behavior. Silly! This program cut down on my expenses…drastically. It had been a long road finding that perfect behavior management system.




Personally, I don’t believe in writing students names on the board, using traffic light behavior systems, or any other behavior modification technique that calls out the “bad kids.” Students who fall short of expectations are publicly shamed with these systems. If they end up being called out for their poor performance too often, students begin to accept it as the norm, rendering the system ineffective.

Even sticker charts can be tricky. Many teachers award a prize for filling a chart with stickers, for example, a week’s worth of homework. But what if the student misses the first sticker? The whole point of the chart is to motivate students to complete their homework for the whole week, but if they miss it on Monday, there is no incentive to do any homework for the rest of the week since they already lost their chance to get all 5 stickers.
Every behavior management program has its pros and cons, but at the end of the day, I firmly believe in the power of positive reinforcement. After all, why do most of us go to work? Sure, we love our jobs, but hat paycheck sure is a great incentive. That is why I’ve always used the CHANCE Token Economy System in my classroom. A token economy is a system that rewards students for good behavior and/ or school work. Students earn tokens for engaging in targeted behaviors, such as following directions, appropriate behavior, classwork, homework completion, or whatever goal or behavior you are focusing on.

CHANCE allows me to award students:

  • without disrupting the class
  • without spending a ton of money on little prizes
  • without calling out “the bad kids”

Instead, CHANCE allows me to: 

  • Award students quickly and easily
  • Set students up for success, even if they’ve struggled earlier in the day/ week
  • Modify expectations for students with challenging behaviors or special needs
  • Provide manageable goals by breaking the day/ week into opportunities to achieve success
  • Establish good behaviors and positive interactions as the classroom norm
  • Create a positive classroom environment
  • Introduce the concept of earning and saving, a valuable life skill

Behavior is a form of communication.


It’s true. I learned this while working with nonverbal children in an autism program, but it is true for everyone. Really, it is. A baby cries if because is hungry. A child pushes a friend because she wants him to move over. An adult taps because they are bored or impatient. There are examples all around us, and we too communicate through our own behavior as well. If we think of behavior as a form of communication, then we can use it as a tool to understand our students’ thoughts and needs. A student becoming irritable and impatient at the same time each day might be hungry (or “hangry,” as some might say). A student constantly kicking the chair in front of him may need more physical stimulation and movement during the school day. Looking at behaviors, especially recurrent ones, as a form of communication can help us understand WHY students are behaving as they are. Once we better understand our students, we can help them to be their very best selves.


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Keep teaching. Keep learning.
~Christy D. from Exceptional Thinkers



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