10 Proactive Behavior Management Tips for Teachers

proactive behavior management strategies

Social Emotional Learning Strategies for the Classroom Series

In this series of blog posts, let’s delve into some proactive behavior management tips for teachers in general education or special education classrooms for students with disabilities (as well as without!) to foster an environment of positive social emotional skills, a sense of safety, and academic progress while reducing challenging behavior. My goal is to combine my own experiences and lessons (many learned the hard way!) with other teachers and professionals. I hope you can find a new tool for your toolbelt.

How do you teach social-emotional learning in the classroom?

We are going to talk about a lot of ideas for developing social emotional skill sets in your students, but there are a few ideas that are just good practice no matter what specific technique we talk about. For example, being present with your students, providing a loving and nurturing environment, a safe place where students can communicate with you and with each other, opportunities to practice skills they are learning, and so on.

One of the first things that comes to mind when I think about social emotional learning and reducing challenging behavior is to be PROACTIVE instead of REACTIVE, so let’s focus on that today! It is SO much easier to PREVENT a behavior than to RESPOND to one in progress!

preventative behavior strategies

Find some preschool social emotional learning activities here!

This is a short digital and print lesson titled I Feel Like. Teaches about emotions with simple metaphors. “Sometimes I feel like rain, gray and cold and dreary. This is when I’m feeling SAD!”

This is “I Like | Don’t Like …” This AAC core words vocabulary or social language activity is in the form of an adaptive book. Great as a speech and language goal or functional communication or even as a guided reading activity.

This is I Can Calm Myself. A social story about feeling angry and frustrated with 5 ways to “calm myself” and then scenarios to practice with simple click and drag-and-drop activities. Digital and print activities.

Proactive Behavior Management Tips

What is proactive classroom management?

Whether you are talking about the capitalized Proactive Classroom Management (PCM) which is an evidence-based technique to reduce challenging behavior in the classroom or just proactive behavior management as a concept, the idea is the same. It’s all about the BEFORE. PCM is a technique of classroom organization and teacher planning that sets up the environment and, as such, students for success.

PCM is more of a whole classroom set up and mentality that includes setting up rules, routines, and consequences beforehand, communicating with your students, teaching expectations, and following through. And yes, we’ll be talking about whole-group and whole-class strategies in another post, but there is plenty you can do on a personal and day-to-day basis that will help along the way.

What are some behavior management strategies?

First, let’s talk about some ways we can be proactive instead of reactive with regards to challenging behavior, techniques good for the classroom, the home, the community, and for any person regardless of ability.

10 Proactive Behavior Management Tips

#1 Visual strategies

Visuals provide structure and comprehension for many students, with and without communication needs or disabilities. Or, anyone! Don’t we all live by visuals? Daily schedules, email reminders, reminiscing with old pictures, groceries list. Kids need them, too!

Four ways: written words for students who can read; pictures in the form of photos, picture symbols, icons; gestures; environmental (e.g., supplies needed, chairs set up a certain way).

Visuals can be planned ahead and pretty OR scribbled out in a moment of need. The student doesn’t care!

Remember, the higher the stress level, the more need for visuals. When a student is in crisis, one great strategy is reduce your verbals and give space to the student. Visuals can help in times of crisis to communicate with a student in a less confrontational way.

behavior management visuals
behavior management meet need

#2 Meet the need beforehand

Know your student, think ahead, plan ahead, stay ahead!

You know the student comes in hungry after recess. Even though it’s not typically snack time, pull that student aside after recess for a granola bar before the lesson starts.

You know the student has a really hard time during PE because it’s loud and over-stimulating. See if he is willing to wear noise-cancelling headphones.

You know the student struggles with math worksheets. Prepare her beforehand that there is a math worksheet today, but that you will come over after the explanation to help her.

#3 Reduce expectations

Decrease expectations or modify work in order to help student be successful and prevent challenging behavior.

A student throws his materials whenever presented with math facts worksheet. Present a worksheet with ONE problem for two days, then three problems, then a row, etc., slowing increasing the amount ask of the student.

A student is presented with a task. As soon as he starts fidgeting and complaining, teacher says, “Tell you what, you finish four of these with your best attitude and work, and we’ll save the rest for next time.” Plan ahead for next time so that you can modify the work beforehand!

Student has a hard time at recess because of other students not following the rules of wall ball. Provide him with the incentive: “Go play wall ball for 5 minutes and be flexible, and then I’ll come in and you can get ME out!”

behavior management reduce expectations

Student Data Tracking Sheets and Data Collection Forms

This 100+-page bundle of student data tracking sheets and forms are perfect for assessing and collecting data, progress monitoring, and parent communication. Forms include everything from IEP goals and objectives tracking to parent communication log to daily behavior charts and more! Great for special education, ABA, and speech and language.
behavior management hi-p low-p

#4 High-probability, low-probability sequence

Get some positive momentum going! Do an EASY task before a new or challenging task.

You know a student struggles to sit during circle time, but you also know that book boxes and snack are favorite times. Plan the schedule so that book boxes are first, then circle time, then snack after.

You know that a student is successful at single-digit addition but hates subtraction. Provide a modified worksheet that has more addition problems than subtraction.

A student doesn’t want to practice tracing her name. Give her stickers (which she loves) and tell her for every letter she traces, she can put a sticker on the next letter instead of tracing it.

#5 Offer Choices

Offering choice provides control to the student, supports their sense of identity, prevents negotiation, and helps them stay engaged with the tasks. The key is to provide a limited number of choices and ALL choices must be acceptable. Don’t offer something you’re not willing to honor! Don’t threaten! Bad ideas.

This-or-that
Which first?
Here-or-there
Which color?
Me-or-you?
How many?

behavior management offer choices
behavior management saying no

#6 Alternatives to "no"

Here’s the magic!!! Whenever possible, learn to replace “no” with “yes, as soon as…” or “no, but…”

“Yes, as soon as…”
“Yes, let’s first…”
“I’d love to, but…”

and if you have to…

“No, but you CAN…”
“I want more cookies!”   “Oh, yes! Just as soon as we finish math, we can pull out a few more cookies.”
“I want to play on computer now.”   “Just as soon as you get back from art and I hear you have been a good friend and an active listener, we can do 10 more minutes.”

The exception is when it’s an unsafe or unavailable choice.

“I want to eat ALL the chocolate.”   “No, but you can have this piece and then some fruit snacks.”

“I want to throw this rock out the window.”    “No, but you can certainly go punch that beanbag for 5 minutes! Beat the heck out of it!”

#7 Build Positive Relationships and Rapport

I’m thinking I should have made this #1!

Spend time building rapport and creating a positive relationship with your student. If there is not a good relationship, it is unlikely they will “respect” or acknowledge your authority when lines are drawn. Carve out time out daily for relationship-building activities; fun activities, not instruction. In the beginning of a relationship, do LOTS of this rapport-building, and only start intermingling demands as time goes on.

Have fun!!!

Engage in preferred activities
Show interest
Play games together
Give compliments
Offer rewards & acknowledgements
Make work FUN
Provide flexible options

behavior management build relationships

Check out these Life Skills Special Education Visuals

behavior management voice tone

#8 Voice Tone & Body Language

Individualize for your student, but it’s a good rule to use a high-affect and animated tone and body language for most interactions and then a neutral, matter-of-fact tone and body language when delivering a demand or correction. At the same time, avoid using yes/no or wishy-washy language.

For example, don’t ask, “Should we go to math?” or “Let’s go to math, OK?”  because the answer inferred could be no. Instead try, “Hey, do you want to get a drink of water on the way to math?” or “Grab your bag for math, I’ve got a great joke to tell you on the way.“

Be aware of your body language. Even if you’re not saying anything confrontational, your body may. If a student is starting to exhibit anxiety or becoming less-cooperative, an adult, looming over the student, standing square, and putting hands on hips is probably not going to help the situation.

#9 Provide structure and organization

Helps all students know what to expect and when. Daily routines provide meaning to students with support needs but also to ALL kids!

In addition to a daily structure as in a schedule, having a clean and clear environment with little clutter is going to help provide mental and physical stability to the students. Cutesy artwork and decorations are great, but make sure it’s not TOO much. Stand back and look at your room out of the eyes of student who needs the most support. Is this room going to make them feel MORE or LESS safe?

Be clear with your expectations, post them around the room. Non-negotiable expectations need to be clearly defined and followed through consistently. Outside of those defined areas, though, allow as much flexibility and choice as possible. Then use reasonable, enforceable limits (don’t draw a line if you aren’t prepared to stand by it!).

behavior management structure
behavior management pick battles

#10 Pick Your Battles

Going toe-to-toe simple means everyone trips. I mean, do we really need to battle over bringing a toy to class? Can it be put in the backpack until the day is over? Can we incorporate a sharing time in class?

Provide a “frame.” The outside, the frame, are all the non-negotiables, things that are necessary for the class to run smoothly. Within that, though, allow as much flexibility and choice as possible! Make sure the students KNOW what is firm and what is flexible!

Don’t engage in verbal power struggles. Believe me, you won’t win an argument with a heightened 8-year-old!

Check back soon for more tips on classroom behavior management and social-emotional learning strategies!

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Hi! I'm Audra!

I am a special education teacher, behavior analyst, and parent to an autistic adult. I love sharing the insights and resources I have gleaned over the past 25 years. Thanks for being here!

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