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7 Strategies for Managing Challenging Classroom Behaviors


No matter how talented, engaging, or beloved teachers may be, they will always encounter challenging classroom behaviors. This is a reality of working in education, and it is a consistent challenge for educators across all grade levels and across all contents.

Time spent managing behavioral issues distracts everyone: the teacher, the students in question, and those around them who are generally well-behaved. It can be frustrating and disheartening for teachers and parents, and it can negatively impact individual student learning, development, and growth.

However, with some thoughtful and consistent strategies, educators can handle behavioral issues quickly and effectively before they escalate. Teachers who do not have a consistent plan to manage challenging classroom behaviors can quickly lose control of the situation, but those with a defined strategy can redirect disruptive behavior and keep their classes on track.

Try these six strategies as part of your behavior management plan and spend less time on discipline and more time motivating students to achieve their full academic potential.

1. Establish Expectations and Appropriate Consequences

By making expectations known to your students early on, they will know exactly what behavior is acceptable in the classroom as well as possible consequences for when expectations are not met. Outline your specific classroom expectations and consequences at the beginning of the school year, and then be sure to consistently follow through.

When designing consequences, there are two factors to keep in mind to best serve your students. First, make consequences appropriate. For example, if a student says something disrespectful to another student, don’t make them come in at lunch to wipe down your tables.

Perhaps after class, they have to sit with you while you call home or they owe you their lunch time to sit down together to come up with a behavior plan. Design consequences that fit the behaviors.

Second, assign consequences based on the student as well as the behavior. Take the time to explain to your students that everyone may not have the same consequence for the same behavior. Fair does not necessarily mean equal. Just like with learning, what works for one student may not work for another, and it’s your job to help decide what is best for each individual student.

2. Be Consistent

Resist the urge to let something pass on a day when you may be feeling low on energy; students need to see that breaking a rule has consequences, no matter what. They also need to see that every student will have a consequence and there are no “favorites.” Over time, consistently holding your students accountable will help you earn their trust and respect.

3. Reinforce the Positive

One way to prevent bad behavior is by reinforcing positive behavior. Use positive statements to redirect students to focus on the behavior you want rather than calling out the negative behaviors you don’t want. For example, instead of saying, “All of you are too chatty today!” say, “It is time to be quiet so we can focus on our reading.”

Consistently recognizing positive classroom behavior also reinforces it; find even the smallest ways to compliment students daily. You might say to a specific student returning from recess, “You all did a great job getting right back to work quickly.” These quick, positive comments go a long way with all students, especially with those who consistently demonstrate more challenging behaviors.

4. Model the Behavior You Want to See

Students will respond not only to your verbal cues, but your body language as well. Teachers who smile and remain upbeat throughout the day model behavior that students will mimic. If you want to see appropriate behavior from your students, start by showing them exactly what that looks like.

smiling teacher in class

5. Keep Them Engaged

Students who are stimulated and engaged in learning are less likely to exhibit challenging classroom behaviors as they are too involved in the lesson for unnecessary distractions.

Boredom is truly a gateway to bad behavior at school. Keep your students on their toes with dynamic classes that alternate between a wide variety of instructional strategies such as using technology, creative group work, games, and more. Strategies for managing behavior should always be closely linked to stimulating and engaging teaching practices.

6. Look for the Root Cause

As you begin to develop relationships with your students, you will see their individual strengths and weaknesses, how their home life may be affecting their performance at school, and what sort of activities motivate them most. Consistent outbursts from a particular student might be a cry for attention or be due to a lack of sleep or proper nutrition.

Consider ways to mitigate the student behavior issues, such as helping them sign up for an early breakfast at school or coming up with some calming phrases that help redirect the behavior. Reach out to parents or caregivers to let them know about the behavioral issues and try to engage their help in pinpointing the cause, which may help you correct it.

7. Ask for Help

Your peers in education are one of your best resources for ideas for managing challenging student behavior. If you have a challenging student and are running out of ideas to manage the situation, reach out to one of their teachers from the previous year or other school staff members to see if they have any tips to address the disruptive behavior successfully.

Outside of addressing specific student issues, other teachers may also have some tried and true general methods to keep their classes on track. You can even ask your peers to come into your classroom and observe to see if they have any input for how you can improve.

lady during parents teachers meeting

Involve the administration when necessary. Sometimes, despite your best efforts, there may be a student behavior issue in your classroom that is beyond your ability to manage and beyond the limits of your attention. Suppose behavioral challenges have escalated to the point that it is completely disrupting your classroom daily. In that case, you should work with your school’s administrators to determine the next best steps.

Be sure to document all of the issues thoroughly for the benefit of the administration and the student’s parents or caregivers. You will want to demonstrate clearly that you implemented the class rules and consequences for all students and that the behavior still did not change.

Administrators and school leaders can assist with these scenarios to help you get back to the business of teaching, so do not allow yourself to think of it as a failure if you need to engage them. It is quite the opposite. By employing the administration and asking for their immediate attention to the issue, you are in a better position to serve the needs of all the other students in your class and stay focused on keeping them engaged.

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(NOTE: Credits for Teachers provides self-paced online Professional Development courses for K12 teachers.  Teachers who take our courses receive graduate credit from our university partner that can be used for salary advancement or license renewal – Learn More Now)

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