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The behaviour of students is discussed daily in every staff room. The main difficulty we, as teachers have, is defining exactly what we mean by the word “behaviour”. This is because the behaviour of students and adults varies according to the situation. The expected actions of a student at break time are quite different to those expected in class. Behaviour therefore varies according to the situation and the established rules.

All organisations need established rules that are appropriate to the circumstances. These rules must be understood by everyone. The fewer the rules, the easier it is for students and young children to follow them, and for adults to enforce them. Schools generally need three rules that are overarching so that rewards and sanctions can be linked back to the rule. Three simple rules that tell students how they are to behave are – ‘good looking; active listening; kind hands’.

Teachers must discuss these rules in detail and explain them clearly, so that everyone understands the deeper meaning. For example:

“Good looking” means making eye contact with peers, looking at the teacher and giving full attention when ideas are being explained or when images are being shown.

“Active listening” means listening to the teacher and to peers, engaging in fruitful two-way conversation with a partner and sharing ideas. It means being an attentive listener at all times. This leads to being able to pose sensible questions if you have not quite grasped a new idea or concept. “Kind hands” means being helpful with peers and showing initiative in all aspects of school life, such as helping to tidy away resources and equipment, putting litter in bins and generally using your hands to create a better learning environment.

The rules must be posted on the corridors and classroom walls. Students and teachers must all be aware of rewards and sanctions.

The most important way of promoting appropriate behaviour is through offering praise to those who are behaving correctly according to the situation. Whenever a student misbehaves, teachers should try to ignore it unless the negative behaviour will physically or emotionally harm the student or another person. As well as ignoring the bad behaviour, the teacher should look for students whose behaviour is completely appropriate and praise them, explaining why praise is given. With students who often misbehave, the teacher must watch them carefully, reward them and offer liberal praise when their behaviour is positive. Student will eventually realise that they are being noticed and are receiving attention for the right reasons. This strategy works, however it requires relentless vigilance by the teacher. But it means that positive behaviour gets the teacher’s attention. Consequently, the class works harder and relationships improve.

Devise a simple reward and sanctions system. For example, divide the class into four groups. Each group has a transparent container. Every time a student behaves well, the group the student belongs to is rewarded with a marble in their container. If a student misbehaves the other three groups are rewarded with a marble. This encourages peer group pressure on everyone to behave well. At the end of the week, the winning group is rewarded.

Some students with serious difficulties may need some private discussion with the teacher. The teacher could provide a table where the student can sit and work alone. This table should be called the ‘private office’ and it should be available to anyone who feels they need ‘time out’ within the classroom. Managing behaviour, through positive methods, is hard work and emotionally draining, but seeing the improvements in academic progress and in attitudes to school work, make it all worthwhile.


1. Make sure the rules are few in number and are clearly understood.

2. Ignore negative behaviour unless it is physically or emotionally harmful.

3. Find every opportunity to praise and reward good behaviour, either vocally, or by a gentle tap on the shoulder or a smile.

4. Devise a visual reward system for the class or for an individual.

5. Relate praise and rewards back to the school rules to make sure students are aware of why these are being offered.


Atherton, JS (2013) Learning and Teaching

Mather, N and Goldstein, S (2001) Learning Disabilities and Challenging Behaviors

Baltimore Paul H A Guide to Intervention and Classroom Management Brookes Publishing Co (pp 96-117)

By Gianna Ulyatt

Gianna has extensive experience as a teacher, principal, and inspector. She is a consultant with expertise in KG and has spoken at conferences in Hong Kong, Spain and the U.K. She sometimes works in the UAE. To connect with her, email giannaulyatt@

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