Classroom management is the process by which teachers and schools create and maintain appropriate behavior of students in classroom settings. The purpose of implementing classroom management strategies is to enhance prosocial behavior and increase student academic engagement (Emmer & Sabornie, 2015; Everston & Weinstein, 2006). Effective classroom management principles work across almost all subject areas and grade levels (Brophy, 2006; Lewis, et al., 2006). When using a tiered model in which school-wide support is provided at the universal level, classroom behavior management programs have shown to be effective for 80-85 percent of all students. More intensive programs may be needed for some students.

Why is classroom management important?

Effective classroom management:

  • Establishes and sustains an orderly environment in the classroom.
  • Increases meaningful academic learning and facilitates social and emotional growth.
  • Decreases negative behaviors and increases time spent academically engaged.

Although effective classroom management produces a variety of positive outcomes for students, according to a 2006 survey of pre-K through grade 12 teachers conducted by APA, teachers report a lack of support in implementing classroom management strategies. Chaotic classroom environments are a large issue for teachers and can contribute to high teacher stress and burnout rates. Therefore, it is important to use effective classroom management strategies at the universal level in a tiered model, as they serve as both prevention and intervention methods that promote positive outcomes for students.

Why classroom management works
Effective classroom management

Classroom management systems are effective because they increase student success by creating an orderly learning environment that enhances students' academic skills and competencies, as well as their social and emotional development. Classroom management systems are most effective when they adhere to three basic principles (Brophy, 2006, pp. 39-40):

  1. Emphasize student expectations for behavior and learning.
  2. Promote active learning and student involvement.
  3. Identify important student behaviors for success. More specifically:
    • What behaviors are required to reach the goals of learning activities?
    • What implications does a particular learning activity have for student roles?
    • How will the teacher prepare students to take on these roles?
School Wide Implementation

Teachers concerned with classroom management typically need help with two issues:

  1. Preventing discipline problems.
  2. Dealing with current discipline problems.

To address these concerns, researchers have established several systems such as positive behavior support (PBS) (Crone & Horner, 2003; Crone, Horner, & Hawken, 2010) and social and emotional learning (SEL), (Weissberg, Kumpfer, & Seligman, 2003).

Positive behavior support

Positive behavior support (PBS) is typically set up as a multilevel model of intervention and involves a school-wide structure of support for teachers that adopt evidence-based programs (Freiberg & Lapointe, 2006), and small group and individualized programs for students who do not respond to the school-wide structure and need more support (Robinson & Griesemer, 2006). At the school wide level, teachers and staff create a positive school culture by clearly defining positive expectations that are taught to all students and adults (Bradshaw, 2014).

An example of a system of PBS as a tiered model might look like the following:

Tier 1:  universal level
  • The school establishes expectations for behavior.
  • Ensure that students, staff and families understand these expectations; schools operationalize positive behaviors and teach them to students.
  • Teachers have pro-social contacts with students and model expected behaviors.
  • Teachers receive formal training in behavior management.
  • The school establishes a school-wide leadership team to support the PBS activities.
  • The school implements a methodical system of recording student behavior to facilitate decision-making regarding potential intervention or other responses.
Tier 2: secondary level of intervention
  • An evidence-based program such as First Steps to Success (Walker, Stiller, Bolly, Kavanagh, Steverson, & Feil, 1997) can be implemented with groups of students in need of this level of support.
Tier 3: tertiary level
  • Individualized evidence-based programs are implemented for students not responding to the second tier based on results of behavior data and analysis of their behavior. Most classroom teachers have not been trained in functional assessment or analysis of behavior, so it is important that they consult with their colleagues (e.g., school psychologists, special education teachers) who have expertise in this area.
Tier 1: universal instruction/intervention

Approximately 80-85 percent of students will be able to meet classroom behavior expectations when given high-quality, universal instruction/intervention on behavior.

Explicitly teach students classroom expectations and routines

Teachers should not assume that students know the appropriate and expected classroom behaviors. Instead, teachers should make it a priority to help their students understand what appropriate classroom behaviors are and make this information explicit.

  • Spend extra time teaching expectations at the beginning of the school year; this plan will help students get into the practice of following rules right from the start.
  • Reteach your goals throughout the year, and make sure your students are familiar with these goals. It could be helpful to display them in your classroom.
  • Make your classroom goals easy to understand and measurable (e.g., if your goal is to "be respectful" make sure your students know what that means. Provide them examples of respectful behaviors that you expect from them).
  • Generally, do not exceed five expectations at a time; too many expectations will cause students to forget directions.
  • Adapt behavior expectations based on context such as group size or setting.
Reward positive behaviors
  • Student praise is one of the most effective ways of increasing positive behavior. Giving behavior-specific praise that identifies what the student has done correctly is a powerful strategy for increasing good behavior.
  • Assess what rewards are reinforcing for your students: do they appreciate teacher attention or prefer small prizes? Rewards only work if the student finds them reinforcing, so rewards may need to be tailored for individual students.
Develop a curriculum that facilitates student engagement
  • Ensure that the difficulty level of the instructional materials is appropriate for the students. Instructional materials that are too easy or too difficult can result in off-task behavior.
  • Create opportunities for student choice in materials studied. Student choice allows for greater ownership of academic experience. (see module on autonomous learners)
  • Incorporate student interest into the curriculum, causing the students to become more invested in what they are learning (Kern & Clemens, 2007).
What if a student isn't responding to instruction or intervention? 

If a student isn't responding to universal instruction/intervention with classroom appropriate behavior, they may need a stronger or customized intervention. Implementing intensive socio-emotional interventions for students with behavior difficulties is an effective means of enhancing classroom management because socio-emotional interventions can equip students with the competencies, skills and motivation they need to behave appropriately in school. 

Tier 2: smaller group instruction

Typically an additional 10-15 percent of students need more behavior support than is provided at the Universal level. Tier 2 support typically involves small group instruction.

Institute socio-emotional groups

Small group instruction can be established for students who need to focus on specific skills to improve and manage their classroom behavior. Topics for these groups may include:

a. Self-management

b. Anger management

c. Conflict resolution

d. Specialized social skill instruction

e. Mentoring programs

Institute daily check-in and check-out procedures:

Check-in and check-out procedures allow for monitoring of students' behavior as well as provide feedback for improvement. Criteria for monitoring are based on school behavior expectations.

Develop brief functional behavior assessments to determine the motivation behind student behaviors.

Consult with colleagues trained in functional behavior assessment to collect data on students' behavior and offer analyses of potential interventions that are most appropriate and effective for specific needs.

Involve families in supporting children in group interventions

Inform families of problem-solving plans at school and engage in consistent communication to ensure effectiveness of plans.

Tier 3: individual intervention

An additional 5-7 percent of students may need continued support beyond Tier 2 interventions. These students typically benefit from individualized, intensive interventions.

A problem-solving team in the school can offer support to the teacher

Problem-solving teams composed of teachers, school psychologists, principals and special educators should meet regularly to collaborate on appropriate interventions for students needing increased support.

Develop and implement function-based interventions for individual students

Functional behavior assessments are effective means of determining the purpose of student misbehavior and creating appropriate interventions (Scott et al., 2005).

Social and emotional learning

Social and emotional learning (SEL) is affiliated with the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) (Weissberg, Kumper, & Seligman, 2003). SEL programs provide instruction at the universal level and are designed to teach social and emotional competencies to students to enhance their success in school and in life (Durlak, Weissberg, Dymnikci, Taylor, & Schellinger, 2011). According to CASEL, effective SEL instruction includes opportunities to practice skills, coordination with school and community environments, systematic and sequential programming throughout grade levels, and continuous monitoring of programming.

Recommendations for teachers
  1. Do not use vague rules.
  2. Do not have rules that you are unwilling to enforce.
  3. Do not ignore student behaviors that violate school or classroom rules (they will not go away).
  4. Do not engage in ambiguous or inconsistent treatment of misbehavior.
  5. Do not use overly harsh or embarrassing punishments or punishments delivered without accompanying support.
  6. Do not use corporal punishment.
  7. Avoid out-of-school suspension whenever possible (APA Task Force on Zero Tolerance report).
  8. Do not try to solve problems alone if you have serious concerns about a student. Refer to your school psychologist or special education professional.
Developmental differences
Classroom management in high schools

Although positive behavior support systems are producing strong results for increased pro-social behaviors and decreased negative results in elementary schools, these systems are less often implemented in high schools.

Sometimes, high schools have tried to resolve behavioral issues by:

  • Repeating and restating consequences.
  • Increasing the averseness of consequences.
  • Establishing a bottom line or zero tolerance level policies.
  • Excluding students from the "privilege" of attending school through out-of-school suspensions and expulsions.
  • Offering alternative ways of completing the high school experience someplace else (e.g., alternative school, community college) (Sugai & Horner, 2002).

These frequently enforced consequences:

  • May lead to overly controlling environments.
  • Could trigger and reinforce antisocial behavior.
  • Can shift accountability and educational responsibility away from the school.
  • Can devalue student-teacher relationships.
  • Might weaken the link between academic and social behavior (Sugai & Horner, 2002; American Psychological Association [APA] Zero Tolerance Task Force, 2008).

When implemented in high schools, prevention-based classroom management systems:

  • Create and promote a positive school climate.
  • Enhance student commitment to school.
  • Teach and reward individual student social skills.
  • Disrupt and monitor antisocial behaviors and interactions.
Effective high school classroom management adjustments

Due to developmental differences between elementary and high school students, adaptations to classroom management strategies must be made. The following are some examples:

  • Allow students to be involved in the development and implementation of goals. Students will be increasingly engaged in classroom management strategies if you give them collaborative responsibility in the creation and implementation of expectations.
  • Teach behavior expectations as you do in elementary school; do not assume that high school students understand social expectations.
  • Remember: not all high school students are motivated by academic success or social success. Have students individually assist in identifying what they would find reinforcing.
Do certain classroom management systems cause problems or have unanticipated effects?

Classroom management systems may cause problematic consequences when administered incorrectly. Mistakes made in classroom management (e.g., reinforcing disruptive behavior by attending only to the inappropriate behavior and not appropriate behavior) can lead to loss of respect and cooperation on the part of students, increased misbehavior, and students' perception that the teacher is not in control of the classroom.

Do classroom management systems work for all students?

When applied correctly, effective classroom management principles can work across all subject areas and all developmental levels (Brophy, 2006). They can be expected to promote students' self-regulation, reduce the incidence of misbehavior, and increase student productivity.

What criteria should be applied to evaluate classroom management systems?

Classroom management systems should be evaluated by their ability to promote self-regulation of behavior, reduce the incidence of misbehavior and maximize student productivity. In tiered models like positive behavior support, established progress-monitoring systems help make decisions about the level of support that a student needs.

How should a student management system be set up?

The best model for establishing an individual, classroom, or school-wide system of managing student behavior is a tiered approach. Such an approach involves primary, secondary and tertiary levels of managing student behavior problems.

When should classroom management systems be started?

Research suggests that beginning-of-the-year activities are extremely important for effective classroom management systems. Within the first few days and weeks of the start of a school year an effective classroom management system should be fully in place. However, an individual program for disruptive behavior can be established at any time.

How long should classroom management systems remain in place?

Classroom management systems should be established at the beginning of the year so that expectations for students are in place early in the semester. Once they are established, classroom management systems should be applied throughout the year and across the grades so that students receive constant and consistent messages about classroom expectations, rules and procedures. This strategy will ensure positive student behavior is supported and reinforced throughout the year.

Why are classroom management systems effective in managing student behavior and learning?

Research indicates that classroom management systems are effective in managing student behavior and learning because they sustain an orderly learning environment for students, enhance students' academic skills and competencies, and further social and emotional development.

Where can I get more information?
  • “The Handbook of Classroom Management” (2nd ed.) edited by Emmer and Sabornie and published by Routledge in 2015 is a major resource in the field. This volume provides a comprehensive overview of issues surrounding classroom management research and practice.
  • Reducing Behavior Problems in the Elementary School Classroom (2008) is another useful resource, produced by the U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences.
Who can I contact in my school for assistance?

If you work in a public school, your school psychologist is the best person to contact. He/she has training in classroom management procedures and evidence-based programs and can help you implement a tiered model of services. You can also contact your school counselor and building principal for assistance.


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