Managing behaviors can be a difficult aspect of teaching and is something newer teachers frequently report as one of the most challenging parts of the job.
Teachers can often feel “stuck” in responding to challenging behaviors or think that they need to make massive changes to their classroom environment or teaching style in order to effectively implement a behavior plan.
However, there are SO MANY research-based strategies teachers can easily implement into their existing classrooms and daily routines to help encourage positive behavior.
That’s why I’m sharing these three research-based strategies and ideas you can try in your classroom TOMORROW. These terms sound a little technical, but I promise that all these ideas are things you can easily implement with limited prep work!
1. Increase your rate of behavior-specific praise.
Behavior-specific praise refers to giving students explicit praise for specific and exact actions they are engaging in. So, instead of just saying a generic “Good job,” you say, “Good job sitting criss-cross on the carpet during read-aloud.” Your praise statements should be short, concise, varied, AND frequent. Try challenging yourself to give behavior-specific praise as often as you can throughout the day and see how it changes student behaviors and responses!
2. Offer increased choices.
Giving students choice throughout the day can drastically reduce challenging or defiant behaviors. You likely aren’t able to give students a choice about exactly what work they need to complete (and you probably shouldn’t), but you probably CAN give them a choice in where they complete the work, the utensils they use when completing it, and possibly even the order the work is done in.
Providing numerous choices helps students feel more in control of their day and can drastically reduce negative behaviors. The exact choices offered will depend on the individual student, but the principle remains the same. You might be surprised at how even the smallest choice, like letting a student choose their writing utensil, may help!
3. Try “Premack’s Principle.”
Premack’s principle is the official term for using high-probability behavior (AKA, something the student is always going to do, like play their favorite iPad game) to reinforce or encourage lower probability behavior (like completing a math worksheet). This is a common practice in special education, but sometimes I think it can be easy for teachers to really over-think it. It can be as simple as stating, “First, you need to do your worksheet. Then, you can take a break.”
Of course, some students will absolutely need more structure than this and you will have students who require behavior plans that involve exact minutes of work time vs. break time, visual timers, or other supports. But don’t feel the pressure that a plan has to be perfect before it can be utilized. Just a simple verbal or visual reminder of “first work, then (insert preferred reinforcer)” can greatly help some students.
So, there you have it! What is one of your favorite behavior management principles you use on a daily basis?
Kelsey Smith is a special education teacher for elementary students on a modified curriculum in Nashville, Tennessee. Prior to her current teaching job, she spent one year teaching in an inclusive Kindergarten classroom. Kelsey completed her bachelor’s degree in special education from Peabody College at Vanderbilt University and is a proud Commodore. Although she is still a newer teacher, she is looking forward to sharing her insights and classroom experiences with the CEC community. She also shares more ideas on her classroom Instagram account, @exceptionalelementary. Outside of work, she enjoys spending time outside and eating Mexican food.