Classroom Management Strategies

“I’ve worked in dozens of schools as a school change coach, and I have seen firsthand that the very best schools teach children how to regulate their own behavior rather than relying on adults to tell them if they are “good” or “bad”…It’s a lot more fun and satisfying working in a school with students who take that responsibility rather than the adults making judgments and always being “in charge.” Why should we be responsible for their behavior? Let’s teach them how to do it!”

Mike Galvin – Senior consultant at Focused Leadership Solutions

Ideally, you will create a classroom culture in which students behave because they want to make good choices, rather than to earn rewards or to avoid negative consequences. But, you can’t expect intrinsic motivation to happen overnight. You will need a thoughtful set of classroom management strategies.

Just as you spend time practicing procedures over and over again, you also have to spend time positively reinforcing good behavior and negatively reinforcing bad behavior until students internalize the message. As Galvin says, we have to take the time to “teach them how to do it.”

Note: This article is part of our comprehensive Classroom Management Plan

Teaching Students to Take Responsibility

In Part II, we mentioned transferring responsibility to your students (access to materials, classroom jobs, taking attendance, etc.). Similarly, we can put students in charge of their own behavior with the right system. Students should be able to recognize appropriate and inappropriate behavior in themselves and others, and adjust accordingly.

Bonus: We have a great lesson, Would You Rather Questions for Kids, to help you discuss the tradeoffs involved in making different choices.

In her blog post, Becky discusses the Raise Responsibility system she uses, based on Marvin Marshall’s book, Discipline without Stress, Punishments, or Rewards. This system gives students a framework to think critically about their behavior, deciding for themselves if it needs to change. There is also a nuanced distinction between doing something to look good or be rewarded, and doing something simply because it is right.

The Raise Responsibility model separates behaviors into the following zones or levels:
D – Democracy

  • Being kind and helping othersDCBA
  • Doing something because it’s the right thing to do, even if no one is watching

C – Conformity

  • Listening and following directions
  • Working well with others
  • Doing something to look good, be rewarded, or avoid trouble

B – Bullying/Bossing

  • Name calling
  • Bothering or bossing others
  • Breaking classroom rules
  • Must be bossed to behave

A – Anarchy

  • Loss of control
  • Actions that could hurt yourself or others
  • Running, hitting, or kicking

The A and B levels encompass bad choices that need correction. The C level includes good behavior, but the student is extrinsically motivated by classroom rewards. The goal is for students to achieve D level, meaning they’re intrinsically motivated to behave well. Display these levels on posters in your classroom.

If a student continues to misbehave after one warning about their level, Becky suggests they fill out a reflection sheet. She also gives each student a personal level ring so that they can all do a “level check” if needed. You can download these personal level cards for free from Becky’s Teachers Pay Teachers store.

Miss At, another blogger and teacher using the Raise Responsibility model, has students choose their consequence after finishing their reflection. This reinforces the idea of students regulating their own behavior. Miss At suggests providing students with some acceptable consequences as a starting point so that the consequence they choose is still one you find appropriate for their behavior.

Clip Charts


Another popular model for reinforcing and tracking positive and negative behavior is the clip chart. Each student in your class would have a clothespin with his or her name on it that would start in the middle of the chart each day. Students earn the opportunity to move up the chart with good behavior choices, or move down the chart with poor behavior choices. Students start each day with a clean slate with their clip reset to the middle.

Former teacher Rick Morris has a helpful e-book explaining how to create and introduce a clip chart system in your classroom. He says, “Any student who has been asked to move his clothespin down a level or two … has the opportunity to improve his behavior and see his clothespin rise to a better level … The thought that a child is offered a chance at redemption is not only a powerful motivator for the student, it also enables the teacher to act on problem behavior and not just talk about it.”

When introducing the chart system, make it clear to students what to expect from each level of the chart. Set the rewards for the top parts of the chart or consequences for the bottom levels from the beginning so you are not making these decisions based on your emotions.

As with the Raise Responsibility System, you could also use a reflection sheet or have students choose their own consequence when they reach a certain level on the chart.



ClassDojo is a free, electronic way to manage behavior in your classroom. Teachers input their students’ names via the app or a computer, and each student gets their own monster avatar. You can customize which skills are most important to your classroom, such as cooperation and impulse control. Throughout the day, you can award dojo points to individual students for displaying those skills, and you can also award whole-class points. Students will hear a “ding” noise when you award a point. You can also take away points when students are not making good choices. Some teachers display the points breakdown to the whole class, while others don’t – that’s up to you!

ClassDojo also has features to connect with parents. According to their site, “Parents can see their child’s feedback from their own device at home. Plus, [teachers] can also easily share with parents:

  • Photos and videos of students working hard in class
  • Ideas for how they can help at home
  • Important announcements and reminders”

Sarah, a special education teacher, uses ClassDojo in conjunction with a clip chart. “I…can’t assume that all parents will log into ClassDojo, and I am a big believer in strong home-school communication, especially when it comes to behavior. So I came up with a system to incorporate ClassDojo with my color chart so we could have all hands on deck,” Sarah explains on her blog.

Classroom Rewards


While we want to teach students to do the right thing without expecting a reward, a little recognition when students are making good choices goes a long way. Even as adults, an unexpected “job well done” or shout-out at a staff meeting gives us a little boost. Positive behavior reinforcement can be an important part of your school’s culture, especially if your school uses PBIS (Positive Behavior Intervention Supports). Now that doesn’t mean you have to hand out candy or some other trinket to students every time they follow a rule. Below are some examples of rewards and acknowledgments that you can use to reinforce positive behaviors with individual students or the whole class:

Classroom Rewards for All Students


When a majority of the class has been exceptional (D level for an extended period, top levels on the clip chart, certain number of dojo points, etc.):

  • Cheers and energizers are free celebrations that also get students up and moving and get their wiggles out. You can write the titles on a popsicle stick and choose one from a can each time.
  • Put a pom-pom in a jar. If the jar gets filled to a certain point by Friday, give the class a special reward, such as a five-minute dance party.
  • Give whole-class points on ClassDojo.


  • Call home on a regular basis to praise students so when you need to call home with a negative, you already have a relationship with the parents. Parents may not be used to getting positive calls and will be delighted.
  • If you know you won’t have a chance to call home that night, send a note. Consider getting a notepad with carbon copies so you can keep one for your records.
  • Send home behavior updates via the ClassDojo app.
  • For younger students, consider having a behavior calendar that gets sent home every day. On each day, you can mark which level of your particular behavior system a student ended the day on, or was on the most.
  • Have students be on the lookout for good behavior to give shout-outs to their classmates. Put shout out slips (available for free below) in an accessible part of your classroom, along with a spot for students to submit them. You can choose to read a couple or all of them each day to encourage students.
  • Examples of individual rewards:
    • Homework pass
    • Sit next to a friend for the day
    • Have your shoes off while working
    • Lunch with the teacher
    • Pick a classroom job
    • Anything else you’ve noticed your students like


While you’ll put in every effort to create a positive classroom culture, consequences will still be necessary. In the same way that we want students to learn to do the right thing simply because it’s right, we want students to avoid poor choices, not because they are afraid of getting caught, but because they know they are wrong. Be clear and consistent about what behavior will lead to what consequence.

  • Call parents when necessary. If you’ve already built a strong relationship with positive calls, parents will be more supportive and willing to help correct a negative behavior.
  • Send copies of reflection sheets home to parents.
  • Send home behavior updates via the ClassDojo app.
  • For younger students, consider having a behavior calendar that gets sent home every day. On each day, you can mark which level of your particular behavior system a student ended the day on, or was on the most.
  • For severe behavior, send to office/write referral.
  • Examples of individual consequences:
    • Lose five minutes of recess
    • Loss of classroom job
    • Loss of choice in a certain activity
    • Sit by yourself for the day
    • Silent lunch
    • Loss of participation in a whole class reward
    • Take away a privilege your individual students find valuable

“Stay consistent, stay consistent, stay consistent, when giving rewards and especially consequences!” says Alexa Baird, a 4th-grade teacher in North Carolina. “Even the best behaved kid can act out if given the opportunity. Be strong with rewards and consequences for the first two to three months, and the rest of the year will be smooth sailing.”

When Things Aren’t Working:

There may come a time when you lose control of your classroom. These plans and systems are unfortunately not foolproof, and there could be a day when the full moon, Halloween, and three kids’ birthdays perfectly align. “When you are in an emergency situation and you don’t know what else to do to get you through the rest of your class period, pull out a notebook and start writing,” says Jennifer Gonzalez of Cult of Pedagogy. In one of her videos, Gonzalez explains that whenever she did this in her classroom, her students calmed down within a minute. “It doesn’t matter what you’re writing,” she says, “but the students are caught off guard and start to focus on you.” It also works as an exercise to calm the teacher down in this stressful situation. “It’s a self-soothing strategy, a form of meditation, and what it can do is help the teacher get into a calmer state of mind so he or she can make a smart decision, rather than a knee-jerk one,” says Gonzalez.

To use the notebook in your classroom management plan apart from an emergency strategy, see Part 2 of Gonzalez’s video.

And, lastly, make sure you practice self-care! It’s essential for long-term success in the classroom.

Learn More About Classroom Management

This article is part of our Classroom Managment Plan covering classroom organization, rules and procedures, rewards and consequences, and how to apply SEL to improve classroom behavior.

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