From Chaos to Calm: Implementing a Behavior Management System in Your Elementary Classroom

One of the biggest challenges you face as an elementary teacher is managing the behavior of your students. A classroom without structure and clear expectations can quickly turn into chaos, making it difficult for your students to learn and for you to teach. Thankfully, there is a better way to save your sanity and help your students learn more along the way. Implementing a behavior management system can help transform your classroom from a chaotic place to a calm center of learning and growth, allowing both you and your students to thrive. In this article, we'll look at how you can create and implement a behavior management system that works in your elementary classroom.

Understanding the Need for a Behavior Management System

Before we get into the specifics, let’s talk about why a behavior management system is essential in any elementary classroom. Without one, you'll find yourself constantly dealing with disruptions, arguments, and even safety hazards. This type of an environment makes it challenging for you to foster relationships and build a sense of community among your students which can be a barrier to learning.

Your ultimate goal is to create a positive learning environment that encourages academic success and personal growth. However, achieving this goal can be difficult when students are constantly acting out or disrupting the classroom. Now it’s unrealistic to think that your classroom will be disruption free the entire year, but having a plan to limit these occurrences and deal with them when they arise is going to be beneficial for both you and your students. That's where a behavior management system comes in.

The Impact of Classroom Chaos on Learning

You spend time, effort, and resources preparing great lesson plans to actively engage your students and get them invested in learning. Then the big day comes. You’ve got your classroom all set up, you're giving out instructions, and now you can’t wait to watch the activity unfold and the learning begin. If this sounds like it’s missing something - it is. Because when your class comes back from their computer lab they are feeling restless and overly excited, making it difficult for you to settle them down and get your lesson started. 

These moments don’t just occur during transitions, however. They can also happen whenever nonroutine events like special assemblies or events, or even just as the end of the day draws closer. In short, these moments can occur whenever, and wherever so it’s important to have a system in place and a plan to fall back on when you need it.

In addition to foiling your carefully laid plans, these classroom disruptions can have on learning. For instance, research shows that many aspects of your classroom environment can affect student motivation and that students who are more motivated, put more effort into learning activities. If students are unable to focus and concentrate due to disruptions and distractions, they're less likely to retain information and make real learning progress. This is not only detrimental to student learning, but it’s incredibly frustrating to you as well. A chaotic classroom can be emotionally taxing, which can lead to you feeling overwhelmed and stressed, which in turn causes burnout and a decline in job satisfaction. All bad outcomes for everyone involved. So let’s get to the heart of the issue to stop this behavior before it starts.

Identifying the Root Causes of Disruptive Behavior

Before you can create an effective behavior management system, you have to identify the root causes of disruptive behavior. Otherwise whatever system you implement will be a bandaid at best and unhelpful at worst in solving the core problem in your classroom behavior. 

Sometimes, students misbehave simply because they're bored, they don't know what's expected of them, or because of some other school related event. For instance if you know your class usually comes back from PE class bouncing off the walls, you may want to use the start of your post-PE lesson to be a breathing exercise or meditation minute to try to refocus your class for some learning.

Other times, however, there may be underlying issues that require additional support, such as learning disabilities or emotional challenges. By understanding the reasons behind student behavior, you can tailor your behavior management system to meet the specific needs of your classroom.

While it can be frustrating in the moment, it's important to remember that not all disruptive behavior is intentional or malicious. Sometimes, students may act out due to external factors such as family problems or peer pressure. By taking a compassionate and understanding approach, you can help students feel heard and supported, which can go a long way in reducing disruptive behavior going forward.

Setting the Stage for a Calm Learning Environment

Creating a calm learning environment is essential to any behavior management system. This means taking steps to ensure that students feel safe, respected, and valued. For example, you might establish a seating chart to minimize distractions or create a designated quiet corner where students can decompress if they're feeling overwhelmed. These small changes can make a big difference in the overall atmosphere of your classroom.

You could also ensure routines - even when there’s a change in routine. For example, if you know there’s a school wide assembly at the end of the week you can take time during the week to practice and remind students what is expected of them and what’s going to happen so your assembly day can stay as productive as possible.

Another important aspect of creating a calm learning environment is establishing clear expectations and consequences for behavior. Students need to know what's expected and what will happen if they don’t follow the rules. By setting these clear boundaries and consistently enforcing them, you can create a sense of structure and predictability that can help curb disruptive behavior before it starts.

Finally, it's important to build positive relationships with your students. When students feel connected they're more likely to behave in a positive and productive manner. In fact, one recent study found that students who feel their teachers care about them are more likely to receive high-quality teaching. Take the time to get to know your students as individuals and show an interest in their lives outside of school. By creating a sense of community and belonging, you can help reduce disruptive behavior and create a more positive learning environment for everyone.

Establishing Clear Expectations and Rules

Once you've prepped your classroom and set the stage for a calm learning environment, it's time to establish clear expectations and rules that will help guide your students' behavior. Clear expectations provide a sense of structure and predictability, while rules help students understand what is and isn't acceptable in the classroom.

A great way to create a positive learning environment is by establishing clear expectations and rules that promote respect, responsibility, and safety. When students know what is expected of them, they are more likely to feel comfortable and engaged in the learning process.

For example, if your school uses iPads let’s think about how you set expectations and rules around these technology devices. You could have your device rules printed and clearly displayed in the classroom to ensure that all students understand how they are supposed to handle these devices.

Collaborating with Students to Create Classroom Rules

One effective way to create classroom rules is to collaborate with your students. This approach not only helps them feel invested in the process, but it also ensures that the rules are relevant and meaningful to them. Consider holding a class discussion about what conduct is essential for a productive and safe learning environment. Then, work together to create a list of rules that reflect these values. If your students aren’t old enough to come up with rules on their own you can help prompt them or give them this-or-that choices so they still feel like they are a part of the process.

This collaboration also helps build a sense of community in your classroom. When students feel like their voices are heard and valued, they are more likely to be engaged and motivated to learn.

Going back to our technology device example, consider having your students all sign your device rules “contract” to get them all to buy in on how to handle and treat these devices with care. 

Communicating Expectations to Parents and Guardians

Classroom expectations aren’t just for your students. Communicating these expectations to your student’s parents of guardians helps create consistency between home and school, ensuring that everyone is on the same page. Consider sending home a letter outlining your behavior management system and inviting parents and guardians to discuss any questions or concerns with you. This also can be a helpful discussion point in your parent-teacher conferences to check in with parents on as well.

Having behavior expectations enforced at home and at school not only creates more consistency for your students, but it can also give you a better chance that students will follow those expectations in the classroom.

For our iPad example, this can include sending home your classroom device rules for parents so that they understand and can enforce similar device rules if your school has one-to-one devices.

Consistently Reinforcing and Reviewing Rules

Consistency is key in the classroom. Once you've established classroom rules, it's essential to consistently reinforce and review them with your students. This means providing frequent reminders of the expectations and consequences of misbehavior. You might also consider incorporating regular lessons or activities that reinforce positive behaviors, such as teamwork or empathy. By doing so, you'll help your students internalize the values and behaviors that lead to a successful learning environment.

Consistently reinforcing and reviewing rules can help students develop self-discipline and self-control. When students understand the expectations and consequences of their behavior, they are more likely to make positive choices and contribute to a positive learning environment.

Finally, going back to our device example one last time, you can do a call-and-response with your device rules every time you take them out for the first time each day. This can be a great way to consistently reinforce your rules so students learn and understand their expectations for technology.

Establishing clear expectations and rules are essential for creating a positive learning environment. By collaborating with your students, communicating with parents and guardians, and consistently reinforcing and reviewing rules, you can help promote respect, responsibility, and safety in your classroom.

Implementing Positive Reinforcement Strategies

Now that we’ve talked about the importance of establishing rules, let’s talk about a great way to remind and teach students about the rules. Positive reinforcement strategies reward positive behaviors to encourage students to be motivated and engaged in their learning while also not acting out or causing disruptions. Positive reinforcement strategies can be used in a variety of settings, from the classroom to extracurricular activities, and can help students develop positive habits and attitudes.

The Power of Praise and Encouragement

One of the most simple and effective forms of positive reinforcement is praise and encouragement. By praising students for their achievements or demonstrating desirable behaviors, you can help build their confidence and self-esteem while encouraging future behavior. Using phrases like "Great job!" or "I'm so proud of your hard work" can go a long way in promoting positive student behavior. It is essential to provide specific feedback to students so that they understand which behaviors are desirable and why, such as highlighting creativity or hard work on a specific task or handout.

It’s a good reminder to also be mindful of the tone and frequency of their praise. While positive reinforcement is important, over-praising can lead to students becoming dependent on external validation. Therefore, try to aim to strike a balance between providing positive feedback and encouraging intrinsic motivation in your students.

Reward Systems that Motivate and Engage Students

Another effective form of positive reinforcement is implementing reward systems. This can take many forms, such as sticker charts, classroom points, or tangible prizes. The key is to ensure that the reward system is motivating and engaging for your students. You can involve students in designing the reward system to make it more meaningful and relevant to them.

It’s important to align the rewards with the age and interests of your students so here are a few free classroom reward ideas to get you started:

  • Token Economy: Implement a token economy system where students earn tokens or points for demonstrating desired behaviors or achieving specific goals. Students can exchange their tokens for rewards or privileges, such as extra free time, choosing a special activity, or a small prize.
  • Sticker Charts: Create sticker charts for individual students or the whole class. Students earn stickers for meeting behavior or academic goals. When the chart is filled, students can receive a reward.
  • Privileges and Special Roles: Provide students with privileges or special roles in the classroom as a reward for positive behavior or academic achievement. These can include being a line leader, a classroom helper, or having the opportunity to choose a preferred activity or seating arrangement.
  • Recognitions and Certificates: Recognize students' achievements and positive behaviors through certificates, awards, or special mentions during class meetings or assemblies. Highlight their efforts, improvement, or specific character traits that they have demonstrated.

Recognizing and Celebrating Individual and Group Successes

Finally, it's essential to recognize and celebrate individual and group successes in the classroom. Celebratory activities demonstrate that positive behavior is noticed and valued, further encouraging students to develop positive habits and attitudes.

Teachers can celebrate student successes in a variety of ways, such as through class parties, certificates, or public recognition. Celebrating individual successes can be particularly important for students who may struggle with self-esteem or confidence. Recognizing and celebrating group successes can also help build a sense of community and teamwork among students.

In conclusion, positive reinforcement strategies can be incredibly effective in shaping student behavior. By using praise and encouragement, implementing reward systems, and recognizing individual and group successes, teachers can create a positive and supportive learning environment that increases student engagement and motivation.

Addressing Challenging Behaviors Effectively

Even with a well-designed behavior management system in place, it's inevitable that challenging behaviors will still occur. Knowing this while going through the process is a helpful reminder that you are still working with young children who are learning and growing everyday. Even though it can and will be frustrating at times, you are working with children who are still developing, it’s not personal, they are just in the process of growing. The key is to respond to these behaviors in a way that minimizes disruption while also addressing the root cause.

Proactive Strategies to Prevent Disruptive Behavior

One effective way to address challenging behaviors is through proactive strategies to prevent them. There are a bunch of great examples to try so here are a few to get you started:

  • Teach and model desired behaviors
  • Establish classroom routines
  • Use differentiated instruction
  • Have consistent consequences
  • Develop positive relationships with your students

Responding to Disruptive Behavior with Fair Consequences

When disruptive behavior does occur, it's important to respond with fair consequences. This might include loss of privileges or a temporary removal from the classroom. You might also consider having a private conversation with the student to understand the root cause of the behavior and collaboratively creating a plan to address it moving forward.

Supporting Students with Individualized Behavior Plans

Finally, some students may require additional support beyond a general behavior management system. In these cases, an individualized behavior plan can help provide targeted support for students with unique behavioral challenges. Working collaboratively with parents, guardians, and other education professionals can help develop and implement a plan that best supports the student.

Behavior Management and Technology

Behavior management systems are crucial to all aspects of your classroom but especially if you utilize technology. Because technology can provide its own list of challenges, here are some tips to help you create a supportive environment for using technology responsibly:

Set Clear Technology Expectations

Establish clear expectations for technology use in the classroom from the jump. Clearly define the boundaries, rules, and consequences associated with technology use to ensure a safe and productive learning environment to let technology work for both you and your students.

Use Positive Reinforcement

Recognize and reward students who demonstrate responsible and productive technology use, including following instructions and collaborating with peers. This can be done through verbal praise, certificates, digital badges, or other classroom incentives.

Monitor and Supervise

When first introducing new technology it’s important to monitor and supervise your students to help address any technical problems that arise. By actively supervising, you can prevent potential misuses and redirect students when they get off track.

Provide Structured Activities

One of the best ways to encourage behavior with technology is to have a concrete plan and structured activities for students to participate in. Kodable, for instance, is an online educational game for students to learn the basics of computer science and programming in a fun and engaging way. Kodable levels paired with unplugged coding activities make for great lesson plans but unlimited creative opportunities also allow structured play for students, making it a great technology addition to any classroom.

Learn more about Kodable’s free educator plan today.

Communicate with Parents

Maintain open lines of communication with parents regarding how you are using technology in your classroom. Share information about the specific tools, apps, or platforms used, as well as the expectations for responsible technology use. This can help you get parental support and partnership in reinforcing similar expectations at home.

By implementing these behavior management strategies for technology use, you can create a supportive environment that promotes responsible, safe, and meaningful learning experiences for students.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the ABC model of behavior management?

The ABC model is a framework used in behavior management to understand the factors contributing to a student's behavior. It stands for Antecedent, Behavior, and Consequence. Here's a breakdown of each component:

Antecedent: This refers to the events, circumstances, or triggers that occur before the behavior. It includes factors such as the environment, instructions given, or interactions with peers or adults.

Behavior: The behavior represents the action or response displayed by the student. It can be either positive or negative, depending on the situation and the desired outcomes.

Consequence: The consequence is the result or response that follows the behavior. It can be either reinforcing or punishing, influencing the likelihood of the behavior recurring in the future.

By analyzing the antecedents and consequences associated with a particular behavior, you can identify patterns, understand the motivations behind the behavior, and develop appropriate strategies for behavior management.

What is the most effective behavior management style?

The most effective behavior management style will vary depending on the context and the individual needs of your students. However, a combination of proactive and positive behavior management strategies tends to be highly effective. Here are some key principles that contribute to an effective behavior management style:

Clear Expectations: Establish and communicate clear expectations for behavior, both in terms of classroom rules and academic standards. Ensure that students understand what is expected of them.

Positive Reinforcement: Emphasize positive reinforcement to acknowledge and reward desired behaviors. Praise, incentives, and recognition can motivate students and reinforce positive conduct.

Consistency: Maintain consistency in enforcing rules and consequences. Students thrive when expectations are consistent, as it promotes a sense of fairness and stability.

Relationship Building: Build positive relationships with students, fostering a supportive and respectful classroom environment. Strong teacher-student relationships contribute to improved behavior and engagement.

Individualized Approach: Recognize that each student is unique and may require different strategies for behavior management. Adapt your approach to meet the individual needs of students by using tiered instructions or other differentiated instructional strategies.

Social-Emotional Learning: Incorporate social-emotional learning (SEL) into the curriculum to help students develop self-awareness, self-regulation, empathy, and relationship skills. These skills contribute to positive behavior and overall well-being.

How do you prevent disruptive behavior in your class?

Reigning in disruptive behavior can be challenging, but here are some strategies that can help:

Establish Clear Expectations: Clearly communicate expectations for behavior and academic performance. Reinforce these expectations consistently and provide reminders when needed.

Positive Reinforcement: Focus on catching and praising students for displaying positive behaviors. Celebrate small victories and use incentives to motivate students towards better behavior.

Engage Students Actively: Use interactive and engaging instructional strategies to keep students actively involved in learning. Incorporate hands-on activities, group work, and opportunities for student choice and voice.

Consistent Consequences: Implement a consistent and fair system of consequences for misbehavior. Ensure that students understand the consequences of their actions and that these consequences are administered consistently.

Restorative Practices: Teach and encourage students to take responsibility for their actions and make amends when they have disrupted the class or harmed others. Incorporate restorative practices to promote dialogue, understanding, and repair relationships.

Classroom Management Techniques: Implement effective classroom management techniques, such as proximity control (being physically close to students), nonverbal cues, and strategic seating arrangements, to redirect and manage behavior.

Collaboration with Colleagues and Support Staff: Seek support and guidance from colleagues, administrators, or support staff such as counselors or behavior specialists. Collaborative efforts can provide additional strategies and resources to address challenging behavior.

Remember, building a positive classroom culture takes time and consistency. It's important to approach behavior management with empathy, patience, and a growth mindset. Continuously reflect on your practices, seek professional development opportunities, and collaborate with colleagues to refine and improve your behavior management strategies. Remember that each student is unique, and it's crucial to address the underlying reasons for misbehavior rather than just focusing on controlling it.


Implementing an effective behavior management system can transform your elementary classroom from a chaotic scene to a calming learning oasis. By understanding the need for a behavior management system and creating a system that includes clear expectations and rules, positive reinforcement strategies, and effective responses to challenging behaviors, you can create a safe and productive learning environment that benefits both you and your students.

For more ways to keep your students and your classroom organized, check out our guide on classroom management strategies or our quick tips on do's and don'ts in classroom management.

Since you made it to the end of this post you’re clearly interested in learning more ways to engage your students. Check out this list of must-have STEM teaching tools to see if any would make a great addition to your classroom next year.