What’s the plan for behaviour management?

26th April 2009  |  by Greg


I have watched the more or less constant stream of news articles over the past couple of weeks about behaviour in UK schools. Every article I read merited a blog post but the stream of headlines came too fast and I was simply outfaced. In a blog about behaviour, the pressure is on to come up with the answers. The truth is, and it took me a few days to remember this, there are no answers.

So, apologies for not writing a blog post about bouncers in schools, pupils losing five school weeks a year to bad behaviour, TV in the bedroom or Who Wants To Be A Millionaire.

But if there are no answers, there are strategies. Strategies so easy, in fact, that we can tend to forget about them.

One that is often forgotten, is simply having a plan. The worst position a teacher or a parent can be in, is to observe a behaviour and just not know what to do. If a child makes the wrong choice with their behaviour, what should our response be? I think it’s better to have thought of some options beforehand instead of making it up on the spot. What generally happens when we make it up- i.e. when we’re reactive- is we are not sure whether it really is the right thing to do. When we are not sure if it’s the right thing to do, we often don’t do it at all. If we do do it, we often regret it. So, in the cold light of day, well away from the situation itself, and in advance, it’s a good idea to think of a number of appropriate responses. Actually, the content of the plan is less important than the fact that you have one at all. I’d rather have an architect’s rough sketch of my new house to show to the builders than just let them use their imagination. Having a plan is absolutely key. The plan may be one you apply to your own children, your class/es or your school.

If you observe a behavioural choice, either good or bad, what should your reaction be? My plan differs for different circumstances but there are commonalities:


From my experience, consequences work better if:

  • They are easy to deliver. This means it doesn’t involve major effort on your part. If it does, you’ll be less likely to deliver.
  • They are small. Small consequences are easy to deliver. Remember that it is consistency of delivery that makes consequences effective- not severity. Small consequences are easier to give, so you’re more likely to give them and to give them consistently. Also, small consequences help build relationships (or at least help to not break them down)- which is what it’s all about really.
  • There is a clear hierarchy. It’s easy for the child/student to understand where they stand. This avoids ‘straw that broke the camel’s back’ syndrome.
  • The first consequence is  an ‘official’ verbal warning. Every ‘telling off’ is different and it doesn’t let children know where they are in your plan. With this approach, I calmly give a warning, repeat the instruction and children know what the next consequence will be.


People generally need less help when it comes to rewards although I think they are sometimes used as a pretty blunt behavioural modification tool. Quandaries arise with rewards. Do you reward one child for improving their choices when other children seem to do it without you asking? Have you ever noticed how sometimes the “naughty” kids get the most rewards? We need to recognise great choices but we damage relationships when we don’t reward fairly and we also discourage children from supporting their peers.

One answer is peer-wide rewards. If one child in the class is having trouble following a particular instruction, then you can reward the whole class when he/she makes the right choice. You get the support of the class and the individual is pleased too. Always let the individual child know in advance what is going to happen and tell them in private, but announce the success in public.

We’ll never read about an actual government plan for behaviour- not a specific one- and this is a good thing. Adults with responsibility for children and young people will need to make individual plans for their individual situations and they’ll need to continually adapt them. Lot’s of plans- that’s my plan. What’s yours?

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