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Classroom Management

Whether you teach in a school, forest, prairie, or garden it is helpful to know about and be able to use effective classroom practices. The "Effective Practices" outlined below are borrowed from the Missouri School-Wide Positive Behavior Support program (SW-PBS).

The philosophy that guides this approach is that students, for the most part, want positive attention from adults. However, if teachers don't make sure students understand what is expected, it increases the opportunities for students to mess up, which increases the times students get negative attention instead of positive attention, which increases their likelihood of seeking the negative attention because it is the only kind they are getting, or of just shutting down. It just goes downhill from there.

With this approach, instead of having students have to figure out on their own what your expectations are, you figure out what your expectations are (in detail!), write them down, post them, refer to them regularly, teach them and praise the students when they meet them. Most students will respond well and learn more, and it allows you to provide more individualized help to the students who need more assistance in classroom settings.

For non-formal educators working with school groups, consider asking teachers if they participate in an SW-PBS or similar program and then ask them what their expectations and procedures are. Using them in your programs may minimize inappropriate behavior.

  1. Clear Expectations
  2. Procedures, Routines and Rules
  3. Encouraging Expected Behavior
  4. Discouraging Inappropriate Behavior
  5. Active Supervision
  6. Opportunities to Respond
  7. Activity Sequencing and Choice
  8. Task Difficulty

8 Effective Classroom Practices

download a pdf

view a powerpoint (along with reading the pdf)


1. Have clear expectations of the students. (pdf of SW-PBS chapter on this subject)

Think about how you want students to behave when you are teaching them. What are three to five global expectations you have? Here are some examples: respectful, ready, safe, responsible, thinking, attentive, helpful, problem solvers, learners, and so on. Write down and post your expectations in clear forceful language and post them were students can see them. Refer to them during teaching. For example: "River Rat students are Safe, Cooperative and Responsible!" or "Tree House students are learners, solvers and doers!".

If you teach with others in a school, park, nature center or similar enviroment, it is much more effective if you - as a group - discuss and agree on what your expectations are. Then you need to agree on the language and how it is presented. Again, they should be written down, posted and referred to regularly.

Consistency is very important in helping students learn what your expectations are and in reducing the number of times students behave inappropriately.


2. Create classroom procedures, routines and rules based on your expectations. (pdf of SW-PBS chapter on this subject)

Here you get down to specifics. You need to have Observable, Measurable, Positively stated, Understandable, Always applicable (aka OMPUA) procedures for students to follow in all settings.

Think in detail about what takes place in a normal school day or in the course of a program at your park or facility. Picture how students should move from room to room or get off the bus, how they should behave at their desks or in the amphitheater, how they should go to the cafeteria, or behave on a hike, what they should do when they have a question, when they have to go to the bathroom, when they are handling animals or artifacts.

Outline the procedure using OMPUA guidelines. Teach the procedure using Tell, Show, Practice.

For example:

Expectation: Responsible

Procedure: Cleaning up after lunch

Definition: Cleaning up after lunch is when students dispose of all the remains of their lunch in the correct bins once they are done


  1. when the teacher signals, stand up, look at where you were sitting and gather up the remains of lunch, wrappers, containers, peels and other stuff
  2. move quietly, keeping hands and feet (and your lunch remains) to yourself, to the recycling and trash bins
  3. put recyclables into the recylcing bin and other stuff into the trash bin (this assumes you already taught them the difference between the two)
  4. afterwards proceed quietly and quickly to the next station (back to where they were, an amphitheater or trailhead)

Encouragement strategies

Discouragement strategies

It may be helpful to think about the times when things did not go smoothly. What instructions were given before hand? Did they follow OMPUA guidelines? Did you tell, show, practice?

You may think this is overkill, because everyone should know this stuff already. However, students come into learning situations with all kinds of backgrounds and a significant number may not have been in a situation where someone showed them how to take care of their own trash, or even that trash needed to be taken care of. Telling, showing and practicing how things are done at your facility will relieve a lot of anxiety and minimize the times that students behave inappropriately.


3. Encouraging Expected Behavior (pdf of SW-PBS chapter on this subject)

"You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar" attributed to Benjamin Franklin

Non-contingent attention - This does not depend on specific things the student does, but it does reinforce student feelings of trust and confidence in the teacher

Contingent attention - This happens after students have met expectations, including basic ones, like moving quietly and quickly to the next task. It is extremely important that contingent attention include social behavior as well as academic behavior. Research has shown that the ratio of positive to negative behavior feedback has been as low as 1 to 12. To be effective, the ratio of positive to negative behavior feedback needs to be 4 to 1

Preferred adult behaviors. These convey caring, warmth, concern and respect for students

  • proximity
  • listening
  • eye contact
  • pleasant voice
  • smiles
  • touch
  • use of student's name

Positive feedback. This should

Tangible reinforcers. These can be used to enhance the effect of positive attention.They include things like tickets, stickers, stars, certificates or similar items. They can be given at the same time positive feedback is given, or positive behaviors can be tracked to earn a specific level of achievement at the end of the program, day, week, month or year. The value of the reward may be less important than its signifying recognition of the good behavior.


4. Discouraging Inappropriate Behavior (pdf of SW-PBS chapter on this subject)

One of the most ineffective ways to get students to behave is to verbally scold or punish them in front of their peers. Instead, inappropriate behavior should be thought of as a teaching opportunity.

Once expectations, procedures and encouragement have been thought through, it is time to think about what steps to take when a student misbehaves. There needs to be a continuum of responses for the full range of behaviors that might potentially occur.

Start by listing the most serious behaviors, especially ones that would affect student safety, and work backwards to things that might disrupt the classroom but are not unsafe and then on to those that will interfere with the individual student's learning, but will not affect anyone else.

Decide where you, or where your facility will draw the line between you handling the behavior alone on to interventions that require additional staff, parents, administrators and so on. It is important for everyone to be on the same page about which student behaviors require a particular intervention.

For example, behaviors that probably should be managed by the "office" include weapons possession (however those are defined), fighting or assault, possession of a controlled substance, theft, vandalism, abusive language, disruption of the learning environment, non-compliance, truancy, leaving, and chronic behaviors that do not respond to intervention. These behaviors need to be clearly defined, taught and understood by all staff and all students. The pdf referenced above goes into much more detail about this level of intervention and I encourage you to read it if this is an issue that your facility needs to address.

For less disruptive behaviors the strategies below can be used. But keep in mind the goal is prevention of the misbehavior, and for most students that can be accomplished with consistent teaching of expectations, active supervision, specific but brief descriptions of expected behavior, quiet and respectful contact with individual students to re-teach the behavior and refocusing the class.

Managing minor misbehavior

More direct intervention (done in the order presented, always use student's name, be kind, sincere, private)

Additional consequences should be


5. Active Supervision (pdf of SW-PBS chapter on this subject)

Active supervision involves continuously monitoring student behavior and engagement to reinforce your expectations, provide support and encouragement to students and to create a positive environment for learning. There are three characteristics of active supervision.

Moving - This involves repositioning yourself around the classroom or educational setting on a continual basis. You should avoid staying in one place for any length of time, even when lecturing and even when the students are doing individual work. You should be moving around, establishing a positive and supportive presence and nipping inapporpriate behavior in the bud.

Scanning - This involves frequently and intentionally scanning the room to assess what students are doing and how engaged they are in their academic activities. This should be done whether you are lecturing, working with small groups or moving around the room as recommended in the previous section.

Interacting - This involved interacting in positive ways with the students to establish their trust. You should practice the preferred adult behaviors listed in 3 above:


6. Opportunities to Respond (pdf of SW-PBS chapter on this subject)

The more time students spend in active learning situations like writing, answering questions or reading out loud, instead of passive situations like listening, the more they learn. Howmuch time should be given opportunities to respond (OTR)/ Commonly it is recommened that teachers only spend about 50% of their time on presentation and use the rest for OTR.

OTR strategies -


7. Activity Sequencing and Choice (pdf of SW-PBS chapter on this subject)

Sometimes students just don't want to do the activities as presented, even if they are capable of handling the work. Sequencing and offering choices are ways to engage students in the academic work and to help keep them away from mischief.

Activity Sequencing



8. Task Difficulty (pdf of SW-PBS chapter on this subject)

From the student's perspective, school is a lot of demanding work, some of which they may not be prepared for. Feeling stupid can be a major contributor to misbehavior. So it is important to find where the student is and set a task they can be successful at so they can proceed through tasks to complete what they need to. Below are strategies for making tasks initiallly easier and then for helping students with fluency and mastery of tasks.

Assignment Length or Time

Response Mode


Increased Instruction or Practice