Promoting A Positive Classroom Environment: A Handbook

Lauren Norton 1161896



Introduction Preventative Discipline Supportive Discipline Corrective Discipline Conclusion Reference List

3 4 12 16 24 25



Creating a positive classroom environment contributes significantly to the effectiveness of learning within a school environment. This handbook will explore a range of strategies falling under the three categories of Preventative, Supportive and Corrective discipline. Theoretically speaking, the handbook will range from behavioural to much more student-centred approaches, as all have their uses and applications in modern classrooms. Reference will also be made to a number of teacher clips the author has found particularly useful or inspiring.


Preventative Management
“You can prevent most misbehaviour if you treat students sensitively, provide an interesting curriculum, and use a helpful teaching style” (Charles p. 236).

Use meaningful and enjoyable lesson activities
Motivation Motivating students to learn is not always straightforward, however there are a number of strategies that can be implemented before a teacher sets foot in the classroom, to help keep students on task and learning. Motivational Strategies  Surprise your students Creating initial interest in or curiosity about a topic can be effectively done through presenting students with an unexpected element to start the learning process. including –  Making a controversial statement  Staging an incident  Appearing as a fictitious character1  Make it relevant! Students are much more likely to be motivated to learn if they can see the relevance of what they’re learning. Relating lessons to real-world experiences, student interests, upcoming events or current issues

Brady & Scully list several examples,

L. Brady & A. Scully. “Generating & Sustaining Interest”, in Engagement: Inclusive Classroom Management (Frenchs Forest: Pearson Education Australia, 2005) pp. 54-55.


takes the content out of isolation and makes it more useful and interesting to the students. 2  Choice Giving students an element of choice in their learning activities or assessments is an effective way of encouraging them to take ownership of their learning. This allows them to focus on an aspect that is appealing to them, or perhaps one they feel they can successfully accomplish.3 This approach can be used by applying Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences. Every student has a different set of skills and aptitudes, and by allowing some scope for choice in school, students can play to their strengths, as well as challenge themselves in new areas. An adapted version of Gardner’s theory follows –


 Use varied activities

2 3

Brady & Scully, pp. 57-58. Brady & Scully, pp. 59-60. 4 Adapted from Gardner (1993, 1999) in Rick Churchill et al., “Student Learning”, in Teaching: Making a Difference, 2nd Ed. (Milton: John Wiley & Sons), p. 100


Students will quickly become disengaged and more likely to misbehave if the same learning activity is continued for extended periods of time, or if there is no variation between lessons. As Levin & Nolan point out, ‘lesson plans should provide for a variety of learning experiences that accommodate that attention spans and interests of the students both in time and in type.’ 5 The need for varied activities during lessons is well documented in John Bayley’s Teacher TV Clip “Too Much Talk”. After fifteen to twenty minutes of teacher talk, the students in John Fuentes’ year 9 Geography class are looking bored and disengaged from the lesson. When the teacher does release them into paired work, some of the students are still unsure of exactly what they need to know. Later in the week, the teacher uses less talk and more questioning to keep his students engaged in the lesson. 6  Promote Success Students who feel that failure is inevitable are unlikely to be motivated to learn, or to attempt new tasks.  Lessons should therefore be designed so that success is attainable for all members of the class, and all members feel that they can succeed.7 The motivation wheel on below demonstrates different factors that contribute to, or undermine, student motivation.


J. Levin & F. Nolan, “Managing Common Misbehaviour Problems”, in What Every Teacher Should Know About Classroom Management (Frenchs Forest: Pearson Education Australia, 2005), p.25. 6 “Too Much Talk”,, (accessed 24/04/2013). 7 Robert Matthews, “Motivation”, Lecture present ed in the course Student Teacher Interaction, at the University of Adelaide, 27 March 2013.



 According to Weiner’s Attribution Theory, there are four main components that influence motivation:

Locus of Control: Internal Stable Ability (uncontrollable) Unstable Effort (controllable)  Organisation

Locus of Control: External Task Difficulty (uncontrollable) Luck (uncontrollable)

Organisation is key for good classroom management. preparation leaves much more room for

Lack of


misbehaviours. As McInerney and McInerney write, ‘students are quick to sense and respond to teachers’ lassitude and poor organisation.’9 Strategies for maximising class time through organisation include:  Having thorough and well-thought out lesson plans


A.J. Martin, “The Student Motivation Wheel”, in How to Motivate Your Child for School and Beyond (Sydney: Bantam: 2003), used in Matthews, “Motivation.” 9 Dennis M. McInerney & Valentina McInerney, “Classroom Management and Cooperative Groups Work rd for Effective Learning”, in Educational Psychology: Constructing Learning , 3 Ed. (Prentice Hall: London, 2002): p.252.


 Structuring the lessons so that students understand clearly what is expected  Preparing, as much as possible, before a lesson begins. This might include whiteboard work (see below), or something as simple as checking that all the hyperlinks in your presentation function properly. Queensland Teacher Amy uses extensive preparation techniques to keep her students on-task and engaged in learning. Before the students arrive, she writes the entire lesson’s work up on the whiteboard, including extension work and homework, so that students always have something to do, and an end point to aim for. She also uses colour coding on the board, to make distinctions between instructions, copy work and key words. This preparation also frees her to focus on behaviour management, instead of being hampered by writing on the board.10

Foster Good Relationships with Students
Fostering good relationships with students is both preferable and pragmatic in promoting a positive classroom environment. There are several ways in which teachers can encourage this healthy relationship, and encourage students to treat each other in the same way.  Be mindful of student needs All students have needs that, if not met, can negatively affect their ability and motivation to learn. Basic needs must be met, if students are to engage in meaningful and positive learning experiences.11 This


“Praise & Preparation”,, (accessed 25/04/2013). 11 Brady & Scully, p.49.


theory is articulated in the diagram outlining Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  Promoting a positive classroom environment that fosters healthy relationships and social interaction is an important step in fulfilling some of the needs in the hierarchy.  Making sure students are physically comfortable and feel safe in the classroom are two examples of satisfying their needs.


 Show you care Showing concern for students’ academic and personal wellbeing is an essential part of fostering a good relationship. Students from violent backgrounds and schools report that this is the essential element of a good teacher – There was consensus among the students that caring teachers saw their role as transcending the walls of the classroom…These teachers knew about the children’s


“Maslow – A Hierarchy of Needs”, Lecture presented in the course Student Teacher Interaction, at the University of Adelaide, 10 April 2013.


home circumstances, after school activities, and their long-term hopes.13  Give useful feedback Phil Beadle uses thorough feedback as part of a broader effort to build a good relationship with his students. He believes that detailed feedback, even if the final mark given is not outstanding, demonstrates genuine teacher concern for the student and their progress, and provides opportunities for a more personal dialogue between himself and individual pupils. Students who receive constructive, comprehensive feedback have a solid base upon which they can improve their future work.14

Discuss Classroom Practices with Students
 Explain the Rationale behind the Rules Students are likely to be much more cooperative if they can see the reasoning behind the rules or expectations set by the teacher. Students will better understand the value of rules when they are presented as ‘a means of ensuring a fair and productive classroom learning environment…rather than as idiosyncrasies of the teacher’. 15  Express rules as ‘Rights & Responsibilities’ Expressing rules as rights and responsibilities makes explicit connections between the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ of classroom rules in a positive manner.

13 14

Astor, Meyer & Behre (1999, p.34), quoted in McInerney & McInerney, p. 247. “A Lesson from the Best”,, (accessed 2 May 2013). 15 McInerney & McInerney, p. 253.



Right: to eat and spend breaks inside the classrooms to ensure all mess is

during inclement weather. Responsibility: cleaned up and the room is left neat and tidy.16  Establish Clear Routines

Training students in appropriate ways of gaining attention, moving around the classroom, entering and leaving the room, and using equipment helps in maintaining efficiency, safety and order. Establishing routines requires that the teacher think carefully about the appropriateness/complexity of the routine for the age and class in question.17

Science teacher Jenny uses a behavioural approach when teaching her Year 8 class on Friday afternoon. Using a consistent teaching position and a combination of verbal and nonverbal cues, Jenny begins establishing a clear routine with her class. This establishment requires consistent application of cues and rules, which results in fairly segmented content delivery until the students are familiar with her expectations and teaching style.18

16 17

Adapted from table in McInerney & McInerney, p. 255. DECS, “School Discipline”, in Policy Implementation Kit, 1996. 18 “Manage That Class”,,, (accessed 4 May 2013).


Supportive Management

“Despite your best efforts, students will at times become restive and can easily slip into misbehaviour. This is the time for you to make use of supportive techniques, which are pleasant yet effective in keeping students engaged in their work. You should practice a number of these techniques so you can use the naturally when needed” (Charles, p.236).

 There are a number of ways in which teachers can effectively support on-task behaviour, without disrupting the learning process or other students. For example,  Use body language and/or make eye contact Teachers must ensure that this type of ‘Signal Interference’ is in no way ambiguous. needs to stop.19  Wait time Waiting for complete silence is a powerful way of sending a clear message that a teacher will not tolerate anything less than 100% student attention. Talking over students after the request has been made simply leads to the teacher having to repeat him or herself to the inattentive students. 20  Use humour to depotentiate.21 An assertive, ‘businesslike’ demeanour sends a clear signal that the teacher knows what is going on and the student

19 20

Levin & Nolan, p.29. Cowley, p. 37. 21 Cowley, p. 48.


 Using physical proximity. This can range from casually walking toward a student, to standing next to or behind a student for a longer period of time, while continuing the lesson. 22  Provide a challenge to refocus. Year 10 English teacher Michelle Rock has success using this method during a creative writing class. When asked how to begin writing a story, Michelle challenges one of the male students to begin in a different manner to the standard ‘once upon a time’ device. The boy responds with a creative and descriptive suggestion and is inspired to keep working.23  Show interest The potential for off-task behaviour is particularly prevalent during small group or individual tasks, and showing interest in a student’s work, by asking how they’re going, checking answers or asking the student to write completed problems up on the board, is an effective way of bringing them back on task and assessing any problems they may be having. 24  Practice ‘with-it-ness’ According to Kounin, a ‘with it’ teacher is a multi-tasker. He/she is able to monitor the level of engagement of the students while performing tasks (such as writing on the board) and react accordingly. With-it teachers do five things well: 1. They are aware of what is going on in their classroom 2. They use techniques that bring students back on task without unnecessarily disrupting the flow of the lesson
22 23

J. Levin & F. Nolan, p.30. “The Need for Structure”,,, (accessed 5 May 2013). 24 J. Levin & F. Nolan, p.25.


3. They do not hesitate to deal with a situation (which can be interpreted as a lack of awareness/weakness) 4. They pick the right student. Teachers who make false or blanket accusations are unlikely to be viewed positively by their students. 5. Finally, with-it teachers can deal with two problems at once – the more serious problem commanding priority attention.25  Change the ZPD, or scaffold up or down accordingly. Students who feel they cannot achieve the task set for them are apt to become disengaged out of frustration or lack of belief in their own abilities. Conversely, a student may also turn to misbehaviour if they are not being challenged enough. Vygotsky calls the optimal zone for student challenge and achievability the Zone of Proximal Development.


 Acknowledge others’ good behaviour. If teacher attention is the goal of minor misbehaviour, focusing on the positive behaviour of other students is an effective technique for bringing students back into the learning process. This technique is
25 26

McInerney & McInerney, pp. 257-260. Robert Matthews, “Piaget & Vygotsky”, Lecture presented in the course Student Teacher Interaction, at the University of Adelaide, 20 March 2013.


used to good effect in the case of Nicola Lamb’s Year 10 class teaching Personal Finance.

A pair of particularly chatty girls are constantly talking and drawing the teacher’s attention away from other students. The girls have a strong social need, and John Bayley gives Nicola a few tips on harnessing that social energy to do class work. By only giving them attention when they behave positively, and denying them attention when they’re off-task, Nicola gains the cooperation of the female students. She makes a deal, that when the girls finish a certain set of problems, she’ll tell them a little about her recent wedding and her rings. 27


“Girl Talk”,, (accessed 24/04/2013).


Corrective Management
“We have to accept that while good discipline systems can prevent most misbehaviour, your students will nevertheless break rules at times and you must deal with the transgressions. If you approach misbehaving students in a sensitive manner, you can help them return to proper behaviour with no ill feelings” (Charles p. 237).

 Apply sanctions  The ABC Model – Antecedents, Behaviour, Consequences The ABC model is based on the precept that behaviours are not innate, but are shaped by external forces and are learnt through the individual’s interactions with and feedback from their environment...Students choose to behave in ways to gain a consequence they find pleasing.28 The central application of the ABC model (and other behavioural approaches) is the use of reinforcers – both positive and negative – to shape student behaviour.  Enforcing Consequences: Reinforcers The use of consequences within the ABC model not only enforces negative consequences for negative behaviours, but reinforces positive behaviours with positive consequences. Such consequences can take four forms:


DECS, “School Discipline”, in Policy Implementation Kit, 1996.


Reinforcement Social reinforcement Activity reinforcement

Positive Strategy Student choice about individual/group work Star or point system A sticker or an award

Negative Strategy Silent, individual work for the remainder of the lesson Demerit ** (see footnote) 30

Teacher/Peer praise Student isolation

Token reinforcement Tangible reinforcement29

Ben Nelson uses the school disciplinary code in his Key Stage 3 Design & Technology class, making money boxes. At first, his disciplinary approach lacks praise, making it somewhat ineffective, because the students are not receiving much positive feedback. In one particular instance where he does give a student praise (18:30), the effect is visible for both Ben and the student. This clip highlights the importance of using positive reinforcement as well as negative consequences, when using a discipline code within a classroom.31 *Note: As with many classroom strategies, teachers need to make appropriate judgements about reinforcers when using this approach. Stickers, for example, are not age appropriate for a senior high school English class.  The Hierarchy of Management Intervention The following ten strategies come from the table below, outlined in Levin & Nolan’s What Every Teacher Should Know About Classroom
29 30

DECS, 1996. Own examples. **The logical counterpoint to a sticker or award would be a black dot or some other kind of record of bad behaviour. The author would not use something like this and the space has therefore been left blank. 31 “Love ‘Em or Loathe ‘Em”,, (accessed 5 May 2013).



As the table shows, strategies involving increased

confrontation and disruption often also depend less on student selfcontrol. Teachers should always keep in mind the possible sideeffects of increased confrontation with their students.


 Name-Dropping This technique can be used to quickly correct off-task student behaviour, without directly confronting the student, or disrupting the flow of the lesson.33  Question Awareness of Effect Students are sometimes oblivious to the effect their actions have on others. Students forced to think about the effects of their behaviour on others are much more likely to practice self-control.  I messages I Messages take the same principle as the previous strategy in making the student aware of their effect on others. I Messages contain three parts:
32 33

J. Levin & F. Nolan, p.43. J. Levin & F. Nolan, p.36.


1. Describing the misbehaviour 2. Describing its effect on others 3. Describing the teacher’s feelings about the misbehaviour Note: Teachers who don’t have a positive relationship with their students may find this strategy ineffective.  Direct Appeal Asking the student (politely but firmly) to cease the misbehavior. This technique should not be used if the class has any doubts about the authority of the teacher.  Positive Phrasing This strategy seeks to emphasise the positive outcomes of good behaviour, rather than consistently focusing on the negative outcomes of poor behaviour. 34 Example: Negative Rebuke: ‘Don’t do that or you’ll be staying in at recess.’ Positive Phrasing: ‘If we finish this now we can spend more time on our music rehearsal.’  Reminder of Rules Reminding students of rules, especially when they are personally aware of the following consequences, can be an effective and simple way of redirecting them back onto task work. At the end of a long teaching day, music teacher Teddy Prout begins to assign lunchtime and after school detentions to his Year 8 students, as a consequence of not settling down and paying attention for the last lesson. As Bayley points out, this is a confrontational avenue to go down with

J. Levin & F. Nolan, pp.36-43.


students, especially at the end of the day, and one no more appealing to the teacher than it is to a student.35 As a music teacher, the author would make clear at the beginning of the year that certain protocols need to be followed during all practical music lessons. This would probably include, for example, the rule that student time-wasting/inattentiveness at the beginning of the lesson will eat into practical time, not into theory/non-practical lesson time. This way, the teacher could call the students back on task by reminding them of the rule i.e. The more time they spend settling down, the less they’ll spend playing instruments/ using the computers.  Glasser’s triplets Like the previous strategy, using Glasser’s triplets requires that the teacher has firmly established rules that the students are familiar with. 1. ‘What are you doing? 2. Is it against the rules? 3. What should you be doing?’ Note: students must answer the questions honestly for this approach to work. If they do not, a series of three teacher statements (not questions) to the same effect should be used.36  Explicit redirection A simple instruction directing the student to cease the behaviour and resume on-task work.  Broken record
35 36

“Key Instructions”,,, (accessed 5 May 2013). J. Levin & F. Nolan, pp.36-43.


Continuing the instruction until the student ‘gives in’. Example: Teacher: ‘Stop talking please Maria’ Student: ‘But Miss…’ Teacher: ‘That’s not the point. Stop talking.’…  You have a choice The key word in this strategy is ‘choice’. The student decides whether to a) cease the misbehaviour or b) take the required action outlined by the teacher (and face other consequences). rather than punitive role.’37 Science teacher Jenny uses a choice corrective in her class. Student Vulcan is playing with some of the plasticine balls on the desk, after Jenny has explicitly instructed the class not to. After repeating her instructions, Jenny gives him the option of putting it away or having to watch the rest of the class use the plasticine without participating.38  Find out why the student is misbehaving. When a one-on-one, outside-of-class conversation becomes necessary, an effective teacher will try and stop the misbehaviour by seeking to understand the reason, and acting accordingly.39 Rudolf Dreikurs advocates this kind of approach, and argues that student ‘misbehaviour is an outgrowth of their unmet needs.’ Dreikurs begins with the idea that all students need and want ‘social recognition’. If they do not receive it, four different levels of misbehaviour are the result:
37 38

The placement of

responsibility on the student also ‘places the teacher in a neutral

J. Levin & F. Nolan, pp.36-43. “Manage That Class”,,, (accessed 4 May 2013).
Robert Matthews, 10 April 2013.



1. 2. 3. 4.

Attention Seeking Power Struggles Revenge Disengagement

(distracting, disruptive, showing off) (arguing, defiance) (‘it’s not fair’, destructive behaviours) (giving up, not participating)

The following excerpt shows an example of dealing with a power struggle in class, in which the teacher attempts to fulfil the student’s need, and avoid displaying the sought after reaction (see next strategy) –


 Don’t React/React Differently


Kimber W. Malmgren, Beverly J. Trezek, & Peter V. Paul, “Models of Classroom Management as Applied to the Secondary Classroom” The Clearing House Vol.79 No.1, (September/October 2005): 37.


Students want to gain specific teacher reactions from their misbehaviour. By monitoring their own reactions, and ceasing to respond in the desired fashion, teachers can effectively discourage the misbehaviour. Balson outlines the four reactions in Understanding Classroom Behaviour: 1. Attention Seeking: teacher feels minor annoyance and frustration 2. Power Struggles: teacher feels personally challenged 3. Revenge: teacher feels deeply hurt 4. Disengagement: teacher feels like giving up41  Apply Logical Consequences Continuing in Dreikurs’ line of thinking, instead of being punished arbitrarily, students should be assisted to meet their needs in more responsible and socially acceptable ways. Logical consequences are defined as ‘consequences that have a clear and logical connection to the misbehaviour and have been discussed and agreed upon with the student before being applied.’42


M. Balson, quoted in Robert Matthews, Lecture presented in the course Student Teacher Interaction, at the University of Adelaide, 10 April 2013. 42 Kimber W. Malmgren, Beverly J. Trezek, & Peter V. Paul, p.37.



Promoting a positive classroom environment is achievable through the use of a number of different strategies, applied with judgement and care by the teacher. These strategies vary greatly in their form and application, however the goal of all is the same – to create an environment in which students feel safe, happy and motivated to learn. Remember, as teachers we cannot control our students. We cannot make them learn, or force them into good behaviours. possible options.43 How we do that is up to us. As Sue Cowley points out, ‘we can only make it seem like the best of all


Cowley, p.41.


Reference List
“A Lesson from the Best”,, (accessed 2 May 2013). “Girl Talk”,, (accessed 24 April 2013). “Key Instructions”,,, (accessed 5 May 2013). “Love ‘Em or Loathe ‘Em”,, (accessed 5 May 2013). “Manage That Class”,,, (accessed 4 May 2013). “Praise & Preparation”,, (accessed 25/04/2013). “The Need for Structure”,,, (accessed 5 May 2013). “Too Much Talk”,, (accessed 24/04/2013). Brady, L. & A. Scully. “Generating & Sustaining Interest”. In Engagement: Inclusive Classroom Management. Frenchs Forest: Pearson Education Australia, 2005. Churchill, Rick et al., “Student Learning”. In Teaching: Making a Difference, 2nd Ed. Milton: John Wiley & Sons, 2013. Cowley, Sue. “Key Strategies and Techniques.” In Getting the Buggers to Behave. Continuum: London & New York, 2006. pp.35-49.


DECS, “School Discipline”, in Policy Implementation Kit, 1996. Levin, J. & F. Nolan, “Managing Common Misbehaviour Problems”, in What Every Teacher Should Know About Classroom Management. Frenchs Forest: Pearson Education Australia, 2005. Malmgren, Kimber W., Beverly J. Trezek, & Peter V. Paul. “Models of Classroom Management as Applied to the Secondary Classroom.” The Clearing House, Vol.79 No.1, (September/October 2005): 36-39. McInerney, Dennis M. & Valentina McInerney, “Classroom Management and Cooperative Groups Work for Effective Learning”, in Educational Psychology: Constructing Learning, 3rd Ed. (Prentice Hall: London, 2002) Matthews, Robert. “Motivation.” Lecture presented in the course Student Teacher Interaction, at the University of Adelaide, 27 March 2013. Matthews, Robert. “Piaget & Vygotsky”, Lecture presented in the course Student Teacher Interaction, at the University of Adelaide, 20 March 2013. Matthews, Robert. “Supportive & Corrective Classroom Actions." Lecture presented in the course Student Teacher Interaction, at the University of Adelaide, 10 April 2013.