Behaviour Management Theories

There are many ways for a teacher to implement classroom management. Some are highly effective, some may need to be re-addressed. What is crucial though, is that all teachers have some form of behaviour management system in place which will enable them to not only control their class, but will also allow for a healthy and productive learning environment.

As with most aspects of teaching, a teacher’s personality and their actual method of implementation in regards to management techniques, will have a direct bearing on the outcome. Consequently, what may work for one person, may not work for another, or, it is possible that a school’s ethos or policy statements, may not allow for a teacher’s particular behaviour management style.

Three approaches are listed below, but there are many more and it must be noted that it is often the case that they are not exclusive to one another. Different behaviour management systems may be overlapped as a teacher establishes the best system for themselves, and significantly, for the particular class under their care.

A Student Centred Approach

A child sees behaviour directed by outside influences of parents and teachers which can be negative. A student centred approach encourages independence and for children to choose their own behaviour.

It is a democratic approach where the teacher:

* shares control and decision making with the class
* encourages group initiatives
* delegates responsibility of behaviour to the class
* works toward establishment of mutual goals and encourages active participation

A student centred approach is hinged on understanding the problem in behaviour:

* clarify the source of the problem
* is the teacher affected by the student behaviour?
* the teacher should be listening to what may be the “real problem/message
* encourage children to speak openly
* allow student to change behaviour as opposed to reinforcing accusations
* language development, thoughts, feelings, age, and reasoning ability, may restrict the teacher’s use of logical argument.

Active Listening

Silence is golden and potent.
Listening is one of the teacher’s most effective tools. It shows willingness to help and accept.


* prompt speaking and then actively listen
* respond
* look for ‘door openers’
* help enlighten ’cause and effect’ by encoding of feelings


* a deep sense of trust in students’ ability to ultimately solve their own problems
* genuinely accept students’ feelings as uniquely their own – acceptance of who they are
* be with the student – show warmth, compassion, feeling.
* encourage openness of feelings, emotion – do not be afraid of emotions
* privacy and confidentiality – building of trust and respect – eliminate gossip

Keep the responsibility with the students:

* mirror student by feedback through: clarifying, promoting inquiry, discussion, questioning, exploring a student’s feelings, freedom to think for themselves, and minimal evaluative feedback.
* do not enforce specifics, judge, tell, probe or use lecturing style techniques.

The results of the student centred approach:

* promotes student willingness to listen to teachers.
* engenders a greater sense of self-worth.
* creates more meaningful relationships between teacher and students.
* displays a caring attitude, willingness on part of teacher to care foe the student
* as relationships develop, discipline problems decrease significantly.

The goals of discipline:

* the nature of the student centred approach leans itself towards a tendency to have less behavioural management problems, as the students have more opportunity to decide how to learn individually. Boredom and failure, two of the main causes of behavioural problems, are virtually eliminated.
* the standards of the whole class can be agreed upon at the beginning of the year so that the children are aware of their own responsibilities for their behaviour.
* the teacher is cast as a facilitator of learning, not a dictator of information. One who is seen as a reference, a guide, a source, and a guide to the growth and development of the intellectual child.

Using this method, traditional punishment and extrinsic reward discipline is largely diminished.

Three proponents of the student centred approach are: Thomas Gordon, Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers.

A Moderate Approach

This approach, put forward by Glasser, is a mixture of interactionist, humanist and behaviourist approaches.

Glasser believes in power sharing classroom meetings to deal with any issues including rules, behaviour, discipline etc. Students are allowed to discuss any topic without fear of condemnation with the outcome of the meeting being an agreement of a solution to the problems by both parties, together with an agreement to follow the solution through.

Glasser’s Control Theory

* Students need to have a sense of belonging
* Students need to feel important
* Students need to have fun and freedom

Glasser believes that we are all social and that we therefore like the support and interest of others, and that by working together in small teams:

* Students gain a sense of belonging (teams should include low, middle and high achievers)
* Belonging provides the initial motivation and as they experience success, students see that knowledge is power and want to work harder because of this aspect
* Stronger students find it fulfilling to help weaker ones
* Weaker students like participating because their contribution is accepted and seen as beneficial
* Students do not need to be dependent on their teachers
* Teams are free to choose their most effective way of learning.
* Teams need to be challenged regularly to ascertain their stage of development
* Glasser stresses the importance of complete individual and team involvement. All must contribute.

Glasser’s Reality Theory

Based on the need of students to maintain their self-worth in order to continue with their improvement in behaviour, and therefore, academic achievement. The foundation of the Reality Therapy is the idea that regardless of what has happened in our lives, we are able to choose more appropriate behaviours that will help us meet our needs more effectively in the future.

Using this approach, the teacher focuses on helping the student evaluate his or her behaviour – and adjusting it. The role of the teacher is not to make judgements and give punishment, but rather, by using a nine-step process of questioning and providing an opening for self-evaluation, the student will understand their own accountability and will therefore, aim to improve.

Glasser sees teacher-imposed punishment as counter-productive in this process. The students need to realise for themselves that inappropriate behaviour effects not only themselves but those around them as well.

A vital aspect of Glasser’s Theory is for the teacher to make use of positive encouragement and attention to students who do abide by the rules and display acceptable behaviour.
Glasser’s nine steps of his Reality Theory are: (as cited in McInerney and McInerney:1998,p.220-221)

* 1. The student is confronted and told to stop the misbehaviour.
* 2. The student is then asked to explain the behaviour that was occurring.. The teacher uses “What” questions, not “Why”. Th
is prevents the student from finding excuses, such as “I had to get up because he stole my pencil”, and draws attention to the cause of the problem (self-evaluation)
* 3.If the rule-breaking behaviour continues, step 2 is repeated, adding “Is it against the rules?” here the emphasis is on the consequences of the behaviour (student responsibility): “If you continue to do this what will happen?”
* 4. The teacher asks the student to make a plan or commitment to finding alternatives. “What are you going to do about your behaviour?” or “What is your plan so that you don’t break the rule again?”
* 5. Sometimes the students may be asked to go to the “castle” (Glasser’s term for isolation desk or corner in the classroom) until the problem is worked out. This isolation is a logical consequence of breaking the class rules. This step is vital as it places responsibility with the student for his or her own behaviour and for finding alternatives (accountability)
* 6. If the rule-breaking behaviour still persists, steps 2-5 are repeated but the teacher indicates that support will be provided. The teacher arranges specific time and location in the near future to help in the development of the plan and to provide encouragement for it to work. The student is allowed to return to the class after a solution has been arrived at.
* 7. If the student fails to fulfil his or her commitment and plan, the next step is isolation to a designated room (Principals office or Special Isolation Room). Steps 2, 3, 4 and 5 are repeated by the Principal, grade supervisor or school counsellor, who has been notified earlier. Parents may be involved in solving the problem.
* 8. Finally, if the student is out of control, the parents are notified and asked to collect the student immediately. The student may return to the school when he or she obeys the rules.
* 9. If all else fails, the parents and students are referred to an outside agency to “work it out”.

The focus is on the students’ behaviour, not the student – ‘love the sinner not the sin’.

The Assertive Discipline Approach

Keys ideas:

* a teacher must insist and expect responsible behaviour from the students
* maintain adequate classroom discipline
* both students and teachers have rights

The Assertive Discipline Model:

* a clear indication of the rules
* reminders of the rules
* indication of consequences
* establishment of a positive discipline system
* use of positive consequences as opposed to negative
* negative consequences are to be graded in severity

Implementation of the Model

* Step One – recognise and remove roadblocks
* Step Two – practice use of assertive response styles
* Step Three – learn to set limits
* Step Four – learn to follow-through on limits
* Step Five – implement a system of positive consequences

This approach, developed by the Canter’s, is a program aimed at “corrective” control. It is hinged on positive behavioural management. The canter’s define assertiveness as “business like communication of reasonable teacher expectations and disapproval followed by a clear indication of what the student is to do.

The assertive teacher reminds students of the rules, and indicates what should be done. This may include the assertive use of questions to convey limits.

Th main focus of Canter’s model is on assertively insisting on proper behaviour from students, with well organised procedures for following through when they do not. the model provides a very strong system of corrective discipline.

This method aims to establish a positive discipline system that reinforces the teacher’s authority to teach and control in order to ensure an environment that is optimal for learning. This entails using rewards and punishments in the behavioural sense. Positive consequences are be
lieved to be more powerful in shaping student behaviour than negative ones. If students violate rules deliberately, it is recommended that the negative consequences that result, should be graded in severity according to the number of times the offence is repeated during the lesson.

Benefits of the Assertive Discipline Approach:

* it enables teachers to use class time more productively for teaching
* it serves to prevent discipline problems from occurring as students have a clear understanding of the consequences of keeping and breaking the rules
* it can provide supportive control when a warning is all that is required

Teachers have basic educational rights in their classrooms including:

* the right to establish optimal learning environments
* the right to request and express appropriate behaviour
* the right to receive help from administrators and parents as needed

Students also have basic rights in the classroom, including:

* the right to have teachers who help limit self-destructing behaviour
* the right to choose how to behave, with full understanding of the consequences that automatically follow their choices

The needs, rights, and conditions are best met through the assertive discipline approach in which the teacher clearly communicates the expectations to the students and consistently follows-up with appropriate actions, but never violates, the best interests of the students.


Much of the information on this page has been adapted from either

McInerney, D.M. and McInerney, V. Educational Psychology: Constructed Learning (Second Edition)

(Australia: Prentice Hall, 1998)


Woolfolk, A. Educational Psychology (Fourth Edition)

(Englewood Cliffs, USA: Prentice Hall, 1990)

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