Proactive and Effective Behavior Management: A Guide for K-12

Proactive and Effective Behavior Management: A Guide for K-12

Classroom management is one of the biggest struggles faced by new and seasoned teachers alike. Unless you have good behavior management strategies in place, your classroom can easily fall into disorder and chaos.

Although there are many proactive approaches, it’s important to recognize that tactics should vary between age groups. The following techniques will help you effectively manage your class, allowing you to create an environment conducive to learning.

Kindergarten and Elementary School

There are three crucial principles when working with younger students: structure, repetition, and engagement.


Take time before the school year to plan a daily schedule and practice question techniques. For some students, your classroom will be the first place where they are expected to follow the rules and pay attention.

Just like you can tell when your students aren’t prepared, they can tell when you aren’t prepared. Coming in on the first day with clear expectations and rules will leave no room for misunderstandings. Make sure your class guidelines are clearly posted for your students to refer to as needed.


Repetition is an important behavior management technique for developing a routine. But it is also excellent for addressing poor behavior.

Correction of errors should be done quickly by having the student model the appropriate behavior. Practice the procedures with your students, not the punishments.

Focus on highlighting good behavior. A great behavior management strategy to draw attention to good behavior is tootling vs. tattling. Tootling is a form of peer reinforcement where students report to the teacher when another student is doing well.


Keep students actively engaged throughout the day. Use redirection techniques like “one, two, three, eyes on me” to bring attention back to the task at hand.

Educators must develop cultural awareness and practice empathy in the classroom. Students come from diverse backgrounds that may differ from yours. It is your responsibility to create an inclusive and safe environment.

Set aside class time for student sharing and work with your school to incorporate cultural lessons into the curriculum. This will foster feelings of pride in your students and keep them engaged in other class activities.

Middle School

Administrator Ben Johnson couldn’t have put it better when he compared middle school students to squirrels. They are often distracted and in constant need of redirection. Unless you invest in keeping your students engaged, their attention is going to wander.

There are benefits derived from the structure found in defined rules and expectations. But variety and spontaneity are even more essential for students at this age. Develop activities that are fun, quirky, and unique to increase engagement and foster class camaraderie.

One creative teacher’s behavior management strategy was to sort her class into houses, like in Harry Potter. Students earned house points for participation. Houses in the lead were rewarded at random, so students never knew exactly what to expect.

It is imperative to model good behavior to your middle school students, but it’s not always possible. When you do make a mistake, own up to it and apologize. Ignoring your own bad behavior enforces the idea that it’s ok and can lead to future disruptions.

High School

Some people believe that discipline should be stricter in high school. By this age, students should know better. Unfortunately, these “tough love” advocates are aggravating issues with poor behavior management techniques.

A better tactic would be to show empathy. Be friendly but remember you aren’t there to be their friend. You can decrease disruptions before they happen simply by greeting your students at the door.

When an undesired behavior arises, redirect it with a firm but quiet voice. You mustn’t engage in arguments with your students as it will only escalate the situation. Even if the student does back down, your outburst will likely lead to a “ripple effect,” causing other students to act out later.

Similar to middle school, high school students require diversity in their day. Keep more advanced students engaged with challenges that cater to their skill level, such as extra credit activities. Studies show students who are bored during class are more likely to cause class disruptions.

Addressing Special Needs

Working with special needs students is an advantageous career choice. However, it also tends to be one of the most challenging when it comes to behavior management.

Intentional seating

Utilize rows instead of semicircles or block seating. This eases anxiety by allowing each student to have their own space. It also keeps students facing forward, which minimizes distractions.

Have a schedule

Constant or sudden variation can be very disorienting and upsetting to special needs students. Implement a predictable and reliable schedule to aid in behavior management.

Display rules

Have a set of class rules and make sure they are visible. Revisit the rules as a part of your regular class routine.

Use verbal prompts

Keep things simple and take time before class to review your plan for the day. Identify any instructions that might prove difficult and formulate alternative ways of presenting them.

Utilize visual aids

Having something to look at will help keep your student’s attention focused. Remember to be cognizant when selecting colors, as some students may find them overwhelming.

Coming up with a behavior management plan for special needs students can be very intimidating, but you don’t have to do it alone. If you are a special education director, we can help you create a legally-defensible behavior intervention plan in under an hour.

Improve Your Behavior Management Skills

These tips are an excellent starting point in developing K-12 behavior management skills. But there is so much more you can do to mitigate class disruptions. At Insights to Behavior, we offer over 60 hours of training courses and material to take your behavior management to the next level.

Remember, being an effective educator isn’t simply about teaching. It’s about fostering a safe and conducive learning environment. Learn more about actionable behavior management techniques with our free monthly webinar series.

Modernize your District's Behavior Management with research-based best-practices.

Easily create comprehensive Individual Behavior Intervention Plans for K-12 students in one hour or less with Insights to Behavior.

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