Why Effective Behaviour Management Is More Than Rewards And Sanctions

Why Effective Behaviour Management Is More Than Rewards And Sanctions

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”

– Antoine De Saint-Exupery


Behaviour management that relies on rewards and sanctions is like using a typewriter instead of a computer. Your scope for success is limited. When schools and teachers are committed to educating the whole child, behaviour management processes are based on a pedagogical approach rather than simply carrots and sticks.

To develop essential social, emotional and academic skills in students, we need long term vision combined with strategic and purposeful, action. John Maag, in his seminal article, Rewarded by Punishment, states that teachers should spend as much time developing positive behaviour plans as they do building lesson plans. When behaviour is considered part of the curriculum, the focus is on how to help students get back on track, rather than how to punish them.


When schools use control and manipulation in the form of zero tolerance policies, detention and suspension, they are destined to fail in the education of students, especially those students on the fringes. The students who are already marginalised because of poverty, inter-generational school failure, and cultural differences are isolated even further.

When schools adopt a pedagogical approach to behaviour management they emphasise:


1. Building trusting, respectful relationships with students so that students feel safe at school.


2. Teaching students to identify and articulate what they feel so that they learn more appropriate ways to express themselves.


3. Providing opportunities for students to discuss their behaviour in a non-threatening, non-blaming environment.


4. Supporting students engage productively at school by having regular check-ins with them, scaffolding work appropriately, having agreed cues between student and teacher to ask for assistance.


5. Teaching students explicitly how to read social cues, how to manage social situations, how to make friends and maintain relationships and how to treat others with respect.


6. Modelling and teaching students how to take responsibility for their behaviour and be accountable for their actions.


7. Developing empathy and compassion in students by learning how their actions affect others.


8. Listening to the students’ side of the issues. Validating a student’s feelings about a situation and accepting that their perspective has merit, can go a long way to helping a student feel respected and valued. When young people feel that they are treated with respect they are more likely to engage with those in authority.


9. Providing specific, timely feedback for students so that they are reinforced for appropriate behaviour. Praise and rewards have a place in teaching students because when combined with meaningful feedback they encourage students to repeat the behaviour.


Schools who determine a graduate profile and work to give all students access to the social, emotional and academic curriculum, lead the way in developing citizens of the future.