Managing pupil behaviour | Education Support
Coronavirus update: We continue to be here to provide mental health and wellbeing support to all education staff.

Managing pupil behaviour

Disruptive pupil behaviour is a frustration for many teachers. In our 2018 Teacher Wellbeing Index, 43% cite is as a cause of their physical and mental health issues. 

Poor behaviour is a barrier to learning and can easily threaten the health and wellbeing of teachers. On top of other pressures that can occur, the result is lost teaching days, unhappy teachers and failing students.

Our top tips outline four basic approaches found to improve classroom behaviour:

1. Rules and procedures

Classrooms become more orderly places when rules are clearly stated and perform even better when rules have been negotiated, discussed and justified.

Here are 10 steps to improving rules and procedures:

  • Create rules and express them positively. It shouldn’t just be a list of don’ts
  • Justify rules and rehearse them! “because I say so” is not a persuasive justification
  • Discuss rules with the class. Explain their purpose, i.e. to improve learning
  • Negotiate with the pupils to get commitment. Ask for suggestions and remember to justify and compromise. Make posters and get them to sign up!
  • Regularly review the rules together
  • Encourage pupils to devise rules and take ownership of them
  • Remind pupils of any relevant rules before a potentially disruptive activity or if you are aware of “something brewing”. This kind of response can drastically reduce inappropriate behaviour
  • Encourage and develop team working (team rules for success)
  • Regularly get pupils to self-assess their own behaviour set against the rules.
  • Link the rules to the five broad areas of low level disruption

2. Teacher-pupil/student relationships

Think about the style of relationship you have with your pupils or students. Your relationship will, of course, depend on the class or group, but a balance between a dominant and cooperative style is regarded as the most effective way to improve classroom management.

How do you increase your dominance and assertiveness?

Dominance and assertiveness is about effective leadership, having a clear path to learning goals and good behaviour, pursued with vigour and enthusiasm. It should also be pupil - or student - centred. Here are a number of tips to increase dominance and assertiveness in the classroom:

For the class or group:

  • Negotiate ground rules
  • Set goals and assessment criteria
  • Set learning objectives
  • Set specific behaviour objectives

For you:

  • Be authoritative – in your speech and in your body language
  • Fake it until you make it – be absolutely confident and in control even if you don’t feel it
  • Get out of the habit of sitting behind the desk
  • Try the PEP approach:

Proximity: Walk around the classroom, stand by a pupil that may be about to misbehave. Stand a “little too close for comfort” but don’t invade personal space. A difficult judgement sometimes. You don’t want to come over as aggressive or intimidating.

Eye contact: holding eye contact expresses dominance. What you say will be taken more seriously if you can maintain eye contact before, during and after speaking.

Posing questions: rather than telling a pupil off, pose a question, such as “Why have you not started your work?

These actions are often more effective and far less exhausting than getting angry or shouting and will make you appear in control (even if you do not feel it).

How do you increase cooperation and collaboration?

We all know how challenging it can be to cooperative with badly behaved pupils. How many times have we or our colleagues talked about that class or that year group.

Sometimes a cycle can develop between the teacher and the students that makes things even worse: the pupils misbehave more, you dislike them more, you are less positive and friendly, they dislike you and your classes more, they disrupt more and so it goes on. The cycle needs to be broken.

The next time you have a class with a particularly difficult student or a challenging group, why not try the following:

First try focusing on putting negotiated and clear rules in place. This will often require a great deal of emotional generosity and patience or restraint! The main aims are to be more positive, friendly and fair.


1. Meet and greet pupils by the door. Get off to a good start.

2. Catch them doing the right thing and comment positively in private. A lot of inappropriate behaviour is attention seeking.

3. Give the pupil in “intensive care”. Smile, use their name positively, ask for their opinion, make a point at looking at their work, comment favourably about genuine effort or achievement. Talk to them, be patient and helpful, have high expectations and keep calm. Show that you value them. But don’t overdo it! Be fair, use this approach with your well-behaved pupils as well.

4. Learn their names. This is especially valuable when you are new to a school.

5. Engage pupils in an informal way. Let them know you don’t just see them as pupils but as individuals with interests, hobbies, and lives outside of school.

6. Use eye contact and proximity.

7. Collaborate and problem solve together. What’s the problem here? What can we do about this?

8. Build team and group work.

9. Have high expectations and let them know what those are.

10. Develop flexible responses and teaching styles.

11. Give responsibilities to particular pupils.

12. Avoid sarcasm. What you might think is light may be damaging your teacher-pupil relationship.

13. Check for understanding, reinforce learning goals and expectations.

14. Be a good role model for your pupils by acting in the way that you want them to behave.

3. Disciplinary interventions

  • Think back again to how you respond to inappropriate behaviour in the classroom.
  • Are you reactive?
  • Do you wait for problems to happen and then respond?
  • Are you consistent?
  • Are you fair?

A proactive approach to improving behaviour is usually much more effective. Remember managing behaviour is not just about responding to inappropriate behaviour. It is about creating conditions that encourage positive actions.

Try the following approaches:

  • remind pupils of the rules before activities take place
  • reinforce appropriate behaviour. Use tokens and symbols which can be used for privileges
  • encourage pupils and students to self-assess their behaviour and award themselves appropriate tokens/points
  • use individual, group and whole class rewards. To receive these, there needs to be very clear success criteria
  • mild punishments: what’s important is the consistency and fairness of the punishment. Its success is also dependent on the assertiveness in which it is given. It means being firm, unemotional, unapologetic and confident. It does not mean being hostile or aggressive

In our 2010 behaviour survey over 60% of respondents said that additional training for teachers on challenging behaviour and using restraint and search powers were essential to improving pupil behaviour.

4. Mental set

Although, you are not solely responsible for improving pupil behaviour improving your attitude to classroom management can have dramatic effects. There are two parts to this:


This ‘with-it-ness, a term first used by educational theorist Kounin in the 1970s, means an awareness of what is going on in all areas of your classroom and having a quick response to actual and possible disruptions. It’s a “nip in the bud” approach that stops inappropriate behaviour spreading.

Think about how you will respond to disruption and not letting your emotions lead the way.

With-it-ness strategies

  • Invest time getting to know your classroom and pupils
  • Understand the physical, social and psychological settings that you and your pupils and students find yourselves
  • Find out where the “hot spots” are. Run a behaviour audit or make this part of classroom observation
  • Position yourself so you can scan regularly and make eye contact with as many of the class as you can
  • Intervene promptly. Make your pupils know straight away, or even before it happens that their disruptive behaviour will not be tolerated
  • Combine eye contact and proximity approaches as mentioned earlier. Early identification and intervention is an essential factor in successful behaviour management
  • Use of names combined with eye contact and a sharp tone
  • Use a silent and still approach. Stop what you are doing and remain silent. Maintain eye contact until you get the response you want, then continue
  • Non- verbal reminders and commands. These are quite traditional but are still effective e.g. finger to lips to ask for silence, standing straight with hands on hips to signal displeasure, clicking fingers to signal “stop it”.
  • Be organised. Prepare your classroom and have materials ready!
  • Use reminders and warnings about rules before an activity
  • Walk about with plenty of eye contact

For more information, please download our full guide to below. 

Seek support

You do not need to suffer inappropriate behaviour alone. You can get support from within your school or college and outside of the workplace, but it is important to recognise your own feelings. Talk things over with a friend, family or colleague, your union or contact our 24/7 confidential helpline.