What is a Behavior Management Plan in the Classroom?

Dr. Lori McDonald
Dr. Lori McDonald
Elementary School Teacher; Ed.D. in School Leadership/Administration
Smiling teacher at the front of a classroom full of students with their hands raised.

I must admit, when I was a first-year teacher, the most intimidating prospect for me was classroom behavior management. I learned, through some serious on-the-job training, how to effectively manage my classroom. It didn’t happen overnight, and I certainly don’t have all the answers. However, there are some tips that are helpful in developing a classroom behavior management plan, regardless of grade level or teaching style.

What is a Behavior Management Plan?

A behavior management plan is a plan made up of procedures that are in place to hold students accountable for their behavior, encourage positive behavior, and to eliminate scolding or lecturing, which is rarely, if ever, effective in changing behavior. A behavior management plan is not synonymous with discipline. Discipline is one aspect of a behavior management plan. A behavior management plan is developed long before the first student walks through your door in August.

A good behavior management plan will consist of procedures, rules, and consequences. Students must be made aware of these from the beginning of the school year. In some cases, the students can help you develop these. When they contribute to the development of the plan, they feel more ownership and are far more likely to comply.

There is one prerequisite to developing that marvelously well-thought-out behavior plan. It’s my Rule #1 as a teacher – DEVELOP RELATIONSHIPS! Get to know your students. No, I don’t mean just know their names, ability level, and favorite color. I mean try to gain some understanding of what home is like for them. Find their currency. Determine why they do what they do. Individual relationships with students must be developed first or there is little hope for a behavior plan to be implemented effectively. The old saying, “Students don’t care what you know, until they know you care” may sound cliché, but it really is true. Students that know you love and care for them are far more likely to respond to correction. Although it may take quite a bit of work, establish that relationship. It will greatly increase the likelihood of a successful behavior management plan.

When Should You Use a Behavior Management Plan?

Behavior management is not the same as discipline. Discipline is hopefully not something you will use every day, unlike a behavior management plan. This is established on the very first day of school. Teachers should spend time actually teaching and practicing the classroom procedures throughout the first few days of school. Investing some time at the beginning of the school year on procedures can also help prevent some negative behaviors later on.

There may be situations in which it is necessary to write an individualized behavior management plan for a student. This plan is more like a contract between the teacher and student. It may also include the parents/guardians, administrator, and any other personnel at the school that works with the child. This plan should very specifically address the problem behavior and offer options for the child that is struggling to manage those behaviors. For example, the child might be offered a location to “cool down” if he or she struggles with outbursts. The plan also clearly identifies consequences to the negative behavior, as well as rewards for improvement.

How to Write a Behavior Management Plan for Your Classroom

While you are busy developing those relationships, it is also time to simultaneously implement that brilliant behavior management plan you’ve written. To write your behavior management plan, there are a few simple steps to be followed:

  1. Develop procedures – What is the procedure for turning in papers? Sharpening pencils? Going to the bathroom? Lining up? Silent reading time? Think these through ahead of time, communicate the procedure to your students, and, most importantly, practice the procedure with them several times.
  2. Write rules – It helps if you write the rules with your students. Students consistently come up with more rules than you could ever imagine on your own. However, it is best to have only a handful (4-5) of rules. The rules students come up with can often be sorted into the four or five major rules that you want to have for your class. It also helps to state rules in a positive manner. For example, “always walk in the hallways” instead of “no running” or “raise your hand and wait to be called on” instead of “no talking out”.
  3. Establish consequences – Students should be informed on day one of what the consequences are for rules broken or procedures mishandled. This should also be clearly communicated to parents. Consequences will depend on the grade level and school, but should include things like time out, notes home, calls home, detention, etc.
  4. Make time for praise and rewards – Students need to be recognized when they are doing something right, especially those students that struggle with behavior. Catch them being good, reward them and praise them for it, and it could make a huge difference in their behavior and how they respond to you.

There is a sign that hangs above my desk in my classroom. It remains year after year. It’s our grade-level team motto. It says, “It’s not our job to toughen our children up to face a cruel and heartless world. It’s our job to raise children who will make the world a little less cruel and heartless”. If that’s your goal, then your behavior management plan is set up for success.

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