Understanding Behavior Management Systems

positive classroom

Understanding Behavior Management Systems

Behavior Management

A behavior management system is any system put in place to help manage behavior. Traditionally, classroom management has followed the 3 part behavior system: rules, incentives, and consequences. 


Depending on when you began teaching, the emphasis on each of these systems varies. In earlier years, rules & consequences took the forefront for classroom management. However, in more recent years there’s been a push for incentives based management. 


There is a reason that rules, consequences and incentives have been the traditional go-to for classroom management. They provide a clear desire and outcome. They also provide two types of outcomes – consequences and rewards. These outcomes are meant to motivate students to follow the rules. The question is – are these the most effective forms of classroom management? 




As an educator, you already know that things are constantly changing. There is always a new theory or way of teaching that’s being promoted. In addition, society is changing. Whether you have been a teacher for 20 years, or are brand new, you have seen changes in society that impact education.  


Think about something as simple as technology and how it has changed education. From computers to cell-phones, technology has changed the way we teach. It has also changed the way we manage our classrooms. In addition, the amount of stress and anxiety we now see in students has changed the way we teach and manage our classrooms as well. 

Classroom management plan

Change will always be a part of education. Tradition will also always be a part of education. This is why it’s important to look at both the old and the new – especially with regards to classroom management. 


The original standard of rules, consequences, and incentives do have a place in classroom management. How we create rules & consequences, or what we prioritize, may change though. 



When do you introduce your rules to your students? Is it during your first day of school? For many teachers, rules are one of the first things that teachers introduce to their students. They are usually part of the introduction to the classroom & the expectations of the classroom. 

Usually, the things we prioritize – in any situation – are the most important. They are the things that we want to be remembered. Are your classroom rules the most important part of your classroom? Are they what you want students to remember when they go home and tell their families about their first day of school? 


You are probably saying “No” to those questions above, but also wondering “what do I do differently?” 


One change that we made in our classrooms over the years was to move to making relationships the focus, instead of rules. This does not mean we got rid of rules – again, they do have a place in the classroom. Rather than begin the year with focusing on rules though, we began by focusing on building relationships. 

build positive relationships

During the first two or three days of school we prioritized activities that helped students get to know & trust us as their teachers. This included creating familiarity amongst their peers, as well as comfort in the physical classroom. Creating safety & belonging first, before rules. 


Once there is a feeling of safety, belonging, and trust – students are more likely to listen to the rules, and to follow them. This is why including “building relationships” as part of a behavior management system is so important. 


Consequences & Incentives

Until recently, rules & consequences were the foundation of classroom management. The focus was the traditional “if you break a rule this is the consequence you receive.” Dunce cap anyone? 


While sitting a kid in the corner with a hat of shame hasn’t been an appropriate consequence for several decades, negative consequences are a common default. That’s what we learned, so that’s what we know. Education is always changing though. One big change has been the move away from consequences towards positive behavior interventions. 


Remember what we said about safety and belonging? These are not just important to building relationships, but also for motivation. Research shows students are more motivated to succeed when they feel a sense of safety & belonging. This motivation is seen not just in academics, but in how students are motivated to participate in class, and yes, follow the rules. 


Positive behavior interventions help to increase motivation. The fear of a negative consequence lessens motivation. 

focus on the positive

If you are not familiar with this type of behavior management system, it essentially motivates students through incentivizing positive behavior. This could be school wide incentives or classroom to classroom. Incentives can range from intangible rewards like promoting a  “a positive learning environment” to an actual reward like “extra time at recess.” 


One significant difference between positive management systems comes back to the tradition of rules though. Modifying the tradition to meet the new focus though. Rather than focusing on rules of things not to do, they focus on rules that encourage the desired behavior. 


Traditional Rule:  Positive Intervention: 

Don’t talk while others are speaking Be respectful by listening when others speak


This shift from focusing on the negative returns to the same idea we addressed above: what do you want to prioritize in your classroom? Do you want to focus on rules & what happens when you break them? Do you want the focus to be on building positive relationships that encourage behaviors you want to see? 


There is not necessarily one perfect behavior management system. Often you will need a combination of different systems that are the most effective for YOUR classroom! The most important thing to consider when deciding what systems to use is to decide what you want to prioritize in your classroom. Start there, and then choose the behavior management systems that reflect that priority. 


Here are 3 Takeaways to help you think about the standard systems in a new way: 


    • Frame your Classroom rules in the positive
  • What behaviors do you want to encourage? 
    • Reward positive behavior, to encourage students to continue that behavior
  • Individual or whole class incentives; have a list of 3-5  to choose from
  • Implement consequences as needed (some students will need them)
    • Frame consequences in a “positive:” 
      •  conference with teacher rather than no recess

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