Theories of Behaviours Management

Avoiding disruptive behaviour before it occurs while teaching is far more effective than managing poor behaviour once it has occurred. Making effective use of positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement will reduce the need for punishments and sanctions, (Skinner, 1974) developed the theory that behaviour is the result of consequences, both positive and negative.

Positive Reinforcement

A very simple method of positive reinforcement is to provide praise when a student does well at a particular task. Praise, depending upon how it is delivered, can motivate students but it can also de-motivate or cause them to avoid future praise. For example, if the praise is public, it is possible the student will be embarrassed and may wish to avoid any future praise due to this embarrassment; this may be in the form of not producing work that could receive praise. Providing praise in private can solve this issue; however, this can still de-motivate students as they may feel they no longer need to work as hard as they have achieved the goal of receiving praise. Praise should be handled carefully as, although the goal is to further motivate students, it may have a negative effect. This highlights that it may be the lecturer who wishes to give praise rather than the student receive it. When it comes to positive reinforcement, a personal favourite of mine is to allow students to leave early if all the work is finished. While this is likely to highly motivate students to complete the work as quickly as possible, many learners will cut corners and focus on completing the task quickly rather than absorbing the information, this is less of an issue with adult learners.

Another form of positive reinforcement is a reward system, reward systems come in many forms, including students receiving stars or points for producing good work or behaving well. An example of a simple reward system that I have experience of is a class on a Friday afternoon in which many of the students either behaved badly or didn’t arrive at all. The implementation of a reward system whereby each student received a doughnut for arriving on time and having good behaviour provided excellent results with both attendance and behaviour. The reward system has many of the same negatives of praise with similar benefits, however, a reward system can also be utilised for negative reinforcement. With a consistent reward system, the student is aware a reward system is in place and is also aware they will not receive a reward for poor behaviour. This is negative reinforcement of operant conditioning by Burrhus Frederic Skinner (Skinner, 1974). An example of negative reinforcement is a “learner who pays attention in class to prevent them being moved to another seat”, (Machin, Hindmarch, Murray, & Richardson, 2016, p. 123) this can be a very effective method of controlling behaviour; however, I prefer to use positive reinforcement as I feel a positive learning environment will be beneficial for student learning.

Negative Reinforcement

An example of negative reinforcement that I use in every class is the use of ground rules, the ground rules list the behaviours that are considered unacceptable, this is also the ideal opportunity to explain the consequences of not following these rules. There is a very clear example of negative reinforcement used in all of my assessments, that if the assessment is not submitted on time it is limited to 40%. Students are made aware of this on the first day of the course, periodically throughout the course and it is stated on every assignment brief, the result is that very few students submit work late. The undesirable aspect of this negative reinforcement is that students can produce excellent work but then forget to submit it and they receive only 40%, which can be extremely de-motivational. Another undesirable aspect is that some students will submit unfinished work as they have been unable to complete the work on time; this work is often high quality which frustrates the student that they have been unable to finish.

Encouraging Behaviours

Another method of encouraging behaviours that contributes to a purposeful learning environment is to have a structured routine. This routine provides consistency for students, allowing them to feel more comfortable in their environment as they know the schedule. This can be as simple as having an agenda that includes regular breaks at predefined times, showing the lecturer is in control of the class and schedule. This can have an unexpected benefit in the form of classic conditioning based on the work by Ivan Pavlov, having a break at a specific time can result in the involuntary action of students becoming hungry shortly before the break, reducing in the number of students that become distracted due to hunger throughout the class.

Behaviourist Behaviour Management

All of these examples are based on the behaviourist approach; however, I make use of other behaviour management theories during my teaching. I make use of ground rules within my teaching that are a behaviourist approach, however, when introducing the ground rules to students I let the students decide what the ground rules will be, this is an extremely humanist approach as they have complete control over the ground rules. This increases the amount that students engage with the ground rules and is more likely to result in good behaviour. The process of students selecting ground rules requires that students analyse why each of the ground rules should be implemented and what the effects of not having the ground rule would be. This increases the level of student engagement with the rule but also requires students to engage their brain to analyse why they should follow the ground rules, along with imagining what the class would be like if the ground rules were not implemented. The downside of allowing students to select their own ground rules is that depending upon the group the students may not select suitable ground rules, reducing the level of humanism. Another example of when I have used a very humanistic approach to behaviour management is when managing a situation where a student was happy to fail the course due to a dislike of particular units and current pressures. I handled this situation by outlining an individual learner plan (ILP) that provided the student with the exact steps required to complete the course while dropping particular units. This allowed the student to continue on with the course, significantly reduced the student’s stress levels and greatly increased the probability of them finishing the course. The negative side of providing this ILP is that lots of work the student had already completed was not submitted as they planned to drop the unit. Other students also questioned why this particular student wasn’t required to submit work for this unit. I have also used a humanist approach when teaching at other levels, a student that was regularly late was put onto an informal disciplinary by a colleague, I was asked to explain how serious the disciplinary procedure is by this colleague. I explained the very behaviourist approach of the disciplinary procedure and what the student had to do to ensure they did not increase the disciplinary level. I then followed this with a very humanist approach, I asked the student if the course was the right course for them, would they prefer to transfer to another course, talking in great detail about what they wanted to achieve from the course and how they could reach those goals. According to the student this had a far greater impact on them listening than if I had shouted and threatened them with removal from the course. I feel this showed the seeking personal growth element of Maslow’s Self-actualization level of the Hierarchy of Needs, showing a desire “to become everything one is capable of”. (Maslow, 1987, p. 64)

Cognitive Behaviour Management

I also make use of cognitive behaviour management theory, for example, I had a student who had a large outburst within one of my lessons, as a result the stepping technique wasn’t suitable due to the severity of the outburst. This outburst was very out of character for the student so rather than escalate the situation further I used the phrase “I’d like a chat with you outside”, once outside and the audience was removed and working on a task, I asked him to describe what had happened and what caused the outburst. Getting the student to engage cognitively immediately reduced his levels of aggression allowing for a sensible conversation that both parties were engaged in. “Piaget showed that young children think in strikingly different ways compared to adults.” (McLeod, 2018)

Stepped Behaviour Management

In the event that behaviour does disrupt the learning environment, it is essential that this is handled as this will encourage future good behaviour, particularly if it is possible to nip the poor behaviour in the bud before it becomes an issue. When addressing poor behaviour, I use a stepped approach; this allows my response to progress and change for the event the behaviour doesn’t improve. The first step after I have noticed the poor behaviour is a non-verbal cue, it is common for me to acknowledge a minor behaviour infringement with a disapproving look in the students’ direction. “Non-verbal cues form an extremely important aspect of the communication process” (Gould & Roffey-Barentsen, 2014, p. 139) 55 percent of meaning conveyed is achieved through the use of body language, according to (Mehrabian, 1972). While this can be a very effective technique for generally well behaved students, other students may completely ignore this step and some students, particularly those with Asperger’s Syndrome or Autism, may not understand what this non-verbal cue means.

If the non-verbal cue doesn’t provide the response I require, I will escalate to another communication method, such as verbal. In the vast majority of cases this will be sufficient for the poor behaviour to stop, however if the poor behaviour continues, I will issue a verbal warning, this will normally be in the form of explaining that they will need to move seats if the behaviour doesn’t improve. This will normally result in secondary poor behaviour such as sighing, tapping or other low level disruption, it is important that I keep an eye on this behaviour but not react unless it is becoming a serious issue and forming a primary poor behaviour of its own, this is known as take up time. In the event a student’s primary behaviour still doesn’t improve, I must follow through with my warning by selecting a suitable seat in which the student will not distract others and insist the student moves seat. If the student’s behaviour still does not improve, I will give another verbal warning, this time the warning will be that they will be removed from the class if their behaviour doesn’t improve. Obviously if the student’s behaviour doesn’t improve, they will need to be removed from the class. Removing the student from the class will ensure the student no longer disturbs the lesson; however, the process of removing a student from the class is highly likely to distract the rest of the class from their work. If the behaviour has warranted that they must be removed from the class a ‘cause for concern’ or following of the disciplinary procedure will be required.

There are some examples of poor behaviour in which I will skip many of the first steps of my response to ensure it is appropriate for the poor behaviour being displayed. For example, giving a non-verbal cue to a student that has just become violent would be totally unsuitable and skipping to removing the student from the room immediately is far more suitable.

This stepped approach involves handling poor behaviour by making use of a punishment method, “the aim of a punishment is to reduce the likelihood of a recurrence of the behaviour”.(Machin, Hindmarch, Murray, & Richardson, 2016, p. 123) Positive and negative reinforcement when encouraging good behaviour is good practice; however, a punishment is “the opposite of reinforcement, as it is an unpleasant consequence”. (Gould & Roffey-Barentsen, 2014, p. 184) Punishments come in two forms, positive and negative, a positive punishment involves adding additional unwanted tasks for the student to complete, this could be in the form of additional homework. A negative punishment is when an activity the student wishes to participate in is removed for the specific student, for example, removing them from a school trip. It is important to know the student well for this form of punishment to work correctly, as it could be that the student is attempting to be removed from the trip as they don’t wish to go, and will utilise poor behaviour.


After the student has been punished it is important that reparations are made to ensure the positive relationship between the student and lecturer is maintained, this links closely with encouraging behaviours that contribute to a purposeful learning environment, as if the relationship has been destroyed it is likely the student’s behaviour will worsen. This reparation may be in the form of demonstrating that you have been fair throughout the process.

Starting Behaviour Management

Integrating behaviour management into a teaching and learning environment that is safe and inclusive starts long before the course has begun, with the production and learning of the establishment code of conduct. The code of conduct will make it clear what behaviour is expected of students in a very behaviourist approach e.g., students will wear an “ID badge at all times, either on a lanyard or a clip and show it if asked by any member of staff” the consequences of not complying with the code of conduct are also clearly outlined and the disciplinary procedure is documented and explained. At this time the entry qualifications for the course will be set and published, further setting the expectations in a behaviourist approach, that if students meet these requirements they will be able to start, otherwise they will not be able to enrol. While some see strict entry requirements as unnecessary it is an excellent method of reducing the level of unsatisfactory behaviour due to the course material being too advanced to the student, however, it can alienate potentially high performing well behaved students due to their past performance in education. An interesting cognitive strategy I have experienced is students being given a task before the start of the course to assess their suitability; this task would relate to behaviour and would start the thought process of what is acceptable behaviour before the course has begun.

Once the course has begun, the first day of the course is often the enrolment and is an excellent opportunity to continue integrating behaviour management, for example, having students design ground rules for their class implements a humanistic and cognitive approach that will increase the level of student engagement within the behavioural management. Ensuring students read, understand and agree to the ground rules and code of conduct will further increase engagement by utilising the cognitive approach and ownership theories. The enrolment is also an opportunity to conduct specific diagnostic assessment that could have a potential impact of future behaviour, e.g., reasonable adjustments can be implemented for a student with dyslexia that could have suffered a great deal of frustration resulting in poor behaviour. This information can be added to a group profile that will aid future classes with ensuring lecturers are aware and have the procedures in place to handle potential situations. It is incredibly important that lecturers learn student names as early as possible. Knowing a student’s name can prevent unsatisfactory behaviour from escalating further and provides the lecturer the ability to name a poorly behaving student within a group. While I understand it is very important to learn student names as soon as possible, it is something I find particularly challenging, resulting in numerous techniques to memorise names.

Once the teaching has begun it is essential to enforce the ground rules designed by the students, this consistency will condition students using the behaviourist approach to comply with the rules. A group discussion relating to behaviour is an excellent method of implementing cognitive behaviour management theory. I have utilised this technique when covering topics such as why students must wear ID badges, this also provides the opportunity to relate the requirement to work experience as this will likely be a rule once they are in employment.

It is essential to stay up to date with the latest policies and procedures as it is impossible to enforce them confidently without having an in-depth knowledge.

Behaviour management is an essential element of ensuring a safe and inclusive teaching and learning environment, a class with a disruptive student will have a negative impact on the rest of the students, preventing them having an opportunity to progress. Managing this poor behaviour effectively may only require a small non-verbal cue, however, depending upon the behaviour, may also require the removal of the student from class. Information within the group profile and individual learning plan will influence the steps that are taken as part of the behaviour management.

Overall, I have found my behaviour management to be very effective, making good use of the stepping technique and rarely requiring the upper steps. There are some areas that I feel could be improved, such as student lateness, I have attempted numerous techniques to reduce the lateness, such as high quality starter activities, getting students to explain how they will ensure they will not be late in the future in a cognitive approach, asking what we can do to improve the situation in a humanist approach and reporting for informal disciplinary in a behaviourist approach. None of these techniques have been effective in reducing the level of lateness within classes; I suspect the challenge is derived from my students being adult learners.


Gould, J., & Roffey-Barentsen, J. (2014). Achieving your diploma in education and training (1st ed.). London: Sage Publications Ltd.

Machin, L., Hindmarch, D., Murray, S., & Richardson, T. (2016). A Complete Guide to the Level 5 Diploma in Education & Training (Second Edition ed.). St Albans: Critical Publishing.

Maslow, A. H. (1987). Motivation and personality (3rd ed.). Delhi, India: Pearson Education.

McLeod, S. (2018). Jean Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development. Retrieved from Simply Psychology:

Mehrabian, A. (1972). Silent Messages: Implicit Communication of Emotions and Attitudes. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Company.

Rayudu, C. S. (2010). Communication. Humbai: Himalaya Publishing.

Skinner, B. (1974). About Behaviorism. San Fansico: Knopf.

Thorndike, E. L. (1898). Animal intelligence: An experimental study of the associative processes in animals. New York: Columbia University.

Leave a Comment