Chapter 3.10.1 - Key approaches to behaviour management

Learning objectives for this chapter

By the end of this chapter we would like you:

  • To be able to appreciate different reasons why learner behaviour is important for teachers to be able to moderate through effective teaching
  • To be aware of the range and potential severity of poor classroom behaviours which may be exhibited
  • To be able to implement appropriate strategies to guard against poor behaviour being initiated, and to deal with incidents effectively as they arise.
  • To appreciate the links between theory and practice in learner behavioural management, and the value of drawing inspiration from across pedagogic paradigms

Why is behaviour management important?

Behaviour management is important because it promotes learning. The prime function of the teacher is to educate, and that means the provision of an environment which is conducive to that learning taking place. Key to that, then, is the establishment and the maintenance of classrooms where class behaviour is positive, productive, and enabling, and where distractions to engagement in sessions are removed wherever possible.

This is perhaps easier said than done, and for many new and trainee teachers, the prospect of having to deal with behaviour management can be a daunting one (Department for Education, 2010). Many models of teaching can present an idealised view of the profession, where learners are always motivated and engaged, and where there are no external or contextual circumstances which will disrupt or prevent full and open engagement in the session. The reality may be a little different to that! Behaviour management is important across the school, and your setting will have behavioural expectations and statements reflective of the school's ethos and values which will inform this. To some extent, the individual classroom is a microcosm of the wider school, and the school-wide approach will inform your classroom authority and the ways in which your position as teacher is appreciated by learners. The relationship between school and class is important, as it helps to support clarity and consistency concerning acceptable and unacceptable behaviour.

UK governmental statements of teacher standards make the obligations on educators in relation to behavioural management clear (HM Government, 2016). There is the expectation that teachers will produce an environment which is safe, stimulating, and rooted in a culture of mutual respect, as well as embodying the positive values, attitudes and behaviours expected of learners. School inspections and teacher observations, both internal and external, take note of teachers' abilities in respect of behavioural matters and their competencies in classroom control, not least because they inform the whole school (UK Government, 2014). The applications of good standards of behavioural management, combined with consistency, fairness, and reasonability in the use of both praise and sanctions, is good practice, particularly when extended across the school so that there is uniformity of purpose and effectiveness (UK Government, 2016). Effective classroom management helps support a productive environment which is conducive to learning. Having procedures, structures and competencies in place which will support a well-managed classroom is fair to learners as it respects them and their intent to learn. Furthermore, well-managed sessions tend to have structure, direction and purpose which contextualises and makes learning meaningful; if the reasons for the learning are apparent to learners, then their investment in the subject will be developed. Structure and consistency also means that students know what is expected of them; having such knowledge avoids the confusion which may lead to uncertainty or criticising the relevance of the learning.

Behavioural management may be an expression not only of the competence of the teacher, but of their expertise. When a class is going well, then the focus is on learning, and teaching is positive and affirming for the educator and for their learners. If a behavioural issue arises, though, that is potentially when a teacher's true abilities surface. To address a behaviour-related incident with calm, efficiency and with fairness so that the lesson can be continued by all with minimal - or with no - disruption is perhaps the clearest mark of a skilled, motivated, engaging and respected teacher (Rogers, 2015).  

What kinds of behaviour must be managed?

As might be imagined, the diversity of learners and contexts in which learning may take place is broad; this section can only provide an overview of the range of behaviours which may be experienced in class. For Shorter (2013), the following kinds of disruptive behaviour might be found in a typical classroom:

  • Not finishing work, or avoiding doing the set work
  • Teasing other learners
  • Interrupting and calling out
  • Entering the class late and/or noisily
  • Constant talking
  • Not complying with reasonable instructions
  • Use of mobile phones and tablets
  • Personal grooming; applying make-up, combing hair
  • Passing notes
  • Being rude, cheeky, or inappropriate
  • Swearing or other inappropriate language
  • Not respecting others' property and personal space
  • Eating and drinking in lessons

These kinds of behaviour may be incidental or sporadic, or may develop in frequency, severity, or level of disruption caused. More profoundly disruptive behaviours (discussed in Chapter 10.2) may include refusal to engage in work whatsoever, direct confrontation, inferences of violent behaviour, destruction of property, violent outbursts, and petulance; these may be combined with patchy attendance, itself a negative learning behaviour.

Lewis (2008) suggests an alternative schema, which seeks to group behavioural issues not in respect of the behaviour itself, but in terms of the pupils involved. In Lewis's approach, four such groups are identified:

  • Group A: these learners generally are responsive to the teacher and to lessons, and complete the work set for them. These learners generally see the value in the work they are given to do, and can work capably in achieving session learning outcomes. These kinds of pupils will be responsive to the teacher when corrective approaches are made when behavioural standards slip, such as becoming quiet when the teacher pauses, or approaches their desk when working, or asking a direct question of the learner.
  • Group B: learners in this category tend to be less interested in the work given to them to do, and may have less confidence in their abilities to complete it meaningfully. This can lead to distraction, and becoming a distraction to others in turn. Lewis (2008) suggests, though, that such learners generally respond well to a teacher's use of reward and recognition, as well as to appropriate sanctions when fairly applied.   
  • Group C: these pupils, for Lewis, are sufficiently challenging to warrant dealing with in isolation or occasional removal from thee class environment, Lewis suggests that individual learning contracts may be of use here, particularly when reinforced over time. Eventually, the severity and frequency of poor behaviour declines, and the learner tends to move between A and B groups in terms of their behaviour.
  • Group D: Pupils who repeatedly misbehave despite the application of the full range of teacher sanctions. Pupils who are not responsive to reasonable intervention at the teacher level, or whose behaviour is similar across classes, is referable to school line management regarding behavioural and/or disciplinary measures. There may be a case for a counselling or other professional intervention.

Lewis is careful not to type pupils by their behaviour alone, but seeks instead to give an indication of the levels of behaviour which might be associated with learners. The clear majority of learners will exhibit group A behaviour, descending in number down to group D behaviour, which will be between rare and exceptional in its occurrence.

Whether behaviour is categorised at the level of the type of incident, or the type of pupil, there is, of course, the need to respond effectively and quickly to maintain the teaching session focus, and to prevent further similar disruption.

What techniques or strategies are generally considered effective?

For Petty (2009), discipline and good behaviour can to some extent be achieved by design. The lessons need to be well-prepared, be meaningful, have activities and an end point which makes sense to learners. Effective and well-run lessons foster meaningful and positive classroom relations, and these form the basis of appropriate classroom behaviour. Students respond well to meaningful education led by an approachable and effective teacher; respect for the process and the execution leads to respect and consideration for the teacher, and so their authority is recognised and respected. If that respect is not in place, it is difficult to realistically expect full engagement for learners. Petty (2009) also advises the use of clarity and consistency in approach; if rules are not enforced and fairly applied, then learners cannot realistically be expected to comply, as the boundaries of what might be acceptable are open to interpretation.

Ellis and Tod (2015) are among a series of educational academics who advocate a Behaviour for Learning (BfL) approach. BfL sees learning behaviour as being constructed from the relationships generated between a learner and their contexts, and which associate positive learning behaviour with developing self-esteem and efficacy, and negative behaviours with aspects which destabilise this sense of self.

A final point for this section is the notion of repairing and rebuilding. The session ends, and with it should end the behavioural expectations for that class. Try not to carry over issues from one session to the next; focus on the session, not on the individual. If a learner has been admonished repeatedly in a session, consider the value in summary positive feedback at the end of the session to show that you have acknowledged their efforts. 

Which theorists have impacted on current views on behaviour management?

Behaviourism focuses on observable behaviour, and on acts and training which can moderate that behaviour; by a better appreciation of what causes certain behaviours to occur, then those causes can be addressed so that a change in observed behaviour for the better may take place. There are, as you will remember from your earlier studies, two main aspects to behavioural change in this paradigm: classical and operant conditioning.

Constructivist perspectives see the learner as central to the production of their own meaning in learning, with the teacher in a supportive facilitative mode, enabling that construction of meaning. Social constructivism privileges the ways in which the learner learns (from their environment, their peers, their society and its rules and codes of conduct) and learns to apply those to their own situations; norms of behaviour are internalised by the learner rather than being asserted by others, as might be the case in a strict application of behaviourist thought. This means that the modelling of appropriate behaviour by teachers and others is important, so that the learner can appreciate for themselves the benefits of appropriate behaviour and the relative disadvantages and inappropriateness of poor or unwanted behaviours. Motivation to change or develop behaviour in the learner is thus internalised and made meaningful.

Cognitive approaches see a link between outcomes and the learner's perception of their own individual abilities; negative self-perception may lead to an inability to engage with the work, or else seek other ways than good behaviour to gain attention from the teacher. Part of the function of the educator in this framework is to have clearly established parameters for learning, and for those parameters to be made meaningful to all learners so they are enabled to assess success in their own terms, and not necessarily in direct competition with others.

No one theoretical approach has all the answers regarding learner and classroom behaviours, so approaches informed by multiple paradigms are only appropriate. Behaviour is not formed in a vacuum, but will be an effect of internal and external factors interacting in the class and with each learner. Nevertheless, learning-appropriate behaviour is associated with positive relationships, with unconditional regard, and with meaningful interactions; the relationship between the teacher and the learner is thus crucial in the development and sustaining of positive classroom behaviour.     


This chapter has considered the relevance to teaching as a practice and a profession of educators being proactive and engaged in promoting good pupil behaviour, and in working efficiently and effectively in dealing with instances of unwanted or poor behaviour. Some practical approaches have been considered, and in the scenario below, more are explored. Links back to theory, and to other chapter input, have been made in addition.

The chapter has advanced the idea that managing the classroom environment is central to learners' positive experiences, to modelling good behaviour, to exemplifying high teaching standards, and to reinforcing the setting's ethos, and the standards of engagement and behaviour appropriate to learning. Learners can present at-times difficult and awkward, even annoying, behaviour, but learning not only to cope with such distractions but to deal with such instances effectively and positively is part of the process of development towards being a respected and valued colleague and educator at all levels of the profession. 


Department for Education (2010) The importance of teaching. Available at: (Accessed: 23 November 2016).

Dix, P. (2010) How to manage behaviour in the classroom. Available at: (Accessed: 23 November 2016).

Ellis, S. and Tod, J. (2015) Promoting behaviour for learning in the classroom: Effective strategies, personal style and professionalism. London: Routledge.

HM Government (2012) Pupil behaviour in schools in England. Available at: (Accessed: 23 November 2016).

HM Government (2013) Teachers' standards. Available at: (Accessed: 23 November 2016).

HM Government (2014) Below the rader: low-level disruption in 21st century classrooms. Available at: (Accessed: 23 November 2016).

Lewis, R. (2008) Understanding pupil behaviour: classroom management techniques for teachers. London: David Fulton Publishers.

Petty, G. (2009) Teaching today: A practical guide. 4th edn. Cheltenham: Nelson Thornes.

Reed Global (2015) Theories of behaviour management. Available at: (Accessed: 23 November 2016).

Rogers, B. (2015) Classroom behaviour: a practical guide to effective teaching, behaviour management and colleague support. London: SAGE Publications.

Shorter, J. (2013) Classroom management. Available at: (Accessed: 23 November 2016).

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