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Top 10 Behavior Management Tips for Teachers

It’s an unfortunate truth, but most teachers receive very little behavior management training during their credentialing programs. On average, teacher training programs mandate zero to one classes on behavior and mental health alike; therefore, a teacher may spend the entire school year unsuccessfully navigating behavior management in the classroom.

Pulling from her personal experiences, Dr. Amanda Kelly, PhD, BCBA-D, shares with us 10 simple and sustainable ways she has found to be successful in integrating ABA practices in school settings.


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Top 10 Behavior Management Tips Teachers Should Try


1 – Get organized.

Develop an organizational system. Where do things belong? This may need to be explicitly explained to your students. Some modifications may also be needed (e.g., placing materials closer to the student). Get ready for your school year with this book.

2 – Provide clear expectations/Develop classroom rules.

Keep your rules alive in a living document. Connect desired and undesired behaviors to the rules. Point out the positives, “I noticed everyone is working collaboratively. Wow! Everyone is being respectful.” Establish expectations early on, but also spend time developing the exact classroom rules – perhaps a week or a couple of weeks until you really get to know your students. Use rules that state the desired behavior or actions (and avoid telling students what NOT to do). Define classroom rules with as much detail as your students require. Help them understand the meaning of words through discussion.

3 – Model expectations for your students.

Interactively model how to complete an activity or task. We often offer multiple, repeated opportunities when teaching “academic” skills (e.g., letter sounds, math computations), but typically neglect to offer multiple, repeated opportunities for practicing behavioral routines (e.g., lining up at the door, pushing in their chairs).

4 – Say what you mean and mean what you say.

If you make a request of a student, follow through with that request. If you cannot follow through, avoid placing the demand or providing the instruction. Know yourself and adjust expectations (for yourself and your students) accordingly.

5 – Use visuals or gestures.

Know your students and choose age-appropriate visuals and gestures. Including students in the development classroom signals can increase buy-in, particularly for older learners.

6 – Provide directions versus asking questions.

This recommendation can lead to the quickest change. It may not be all that you need to do, but it’s definitely one of the first 10 things you should try when it comes to behavior management. Remember, if we ask a question, we have to be willing to accept yes or no as an answer.

7 – Be brief.

Speak less. Say more. It’s hard to hear when you are feeling overwhelmed. When responding to behavioral challenges, be brief. When children are agitated or escalated, they are not able to process. Your goal should be to de-escalate and motivate. The more we engage in a back-and-forth with our students, the more agitated and irritated we can become. Keep interactions simple, leave no room for debate or negotiation.

8 – Catch students being good.

Use reinforcing language. Try to pay attention to students and acknowledge them (individually or as a group) for following instructions. When you do praise student actions, provide specific feedback about what is being performed – instead of saying, “great job girls”, comment, “You two are working together so nicely.” Click here to access a list of positive statements/reinforcing language that can aid in your behavior management efforts.

9 – Reflect.

John Dewey once said, “We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience.” Be honest with yourself. Be mindful and make changes in the future. You can model the reflective process for your students as well. Teach them to evaluate.

10 – Breathe.

Give yourself time. Cut yourself a break. Ask for help. Not everything will go as planned. Tap into your colleagues. Use the resources available to you. Be realistic. Be forgiving.

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