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Behaviour is a curriculum, treat it as such

For classroom management success, apply concepts from effective instruction of content, to instruction of behaviour

New academic content can be overwhelming for students. Many new ideas, combining all at once. When we throw too many new ideas at a student at one time, it would be unfair to expect them to cope and perform at a high level straight away.

New behavioural expectations can be overwhelming for students. Many new requirements, combining all at once. When we throw too many behavioural expectations at a student at one time, it would be unfair to expect them to cope and perform at a high level straight away.

This basic analogy drives one of the most important ideas in effective classroom management; Behaviour is a curriculum, treat it as such! (an idea that was first shared with me by Tom Bennett).

This key idea means that, whatever we do to structure and reinforce academic content, we can do to structure and reinforce productive behaviour.

So, let’s reflect. What does it take to effectively teach something? A simplified version of my model of instruction suggests that effective teaching requires the following:

  • Plan exactly what you want students to be able to do, say, make, or write

  • Introduce the relevance of the content to be taught

  • Model it, providing examples and non-examples

  • Provide opportunities for student practice

  • Check for understanding through both questioning and observation

  • Provide feedback and adapt instruction to address knowledge gaps

  • Return to the content over time to overcome forgetting

These are some of the key steps that effective teachers take when teaching their subject or year level. As it turns out, they’re exactly what we need to do when we teach behaviour too! In short, behaviour itself is a curriculum. We must remember teaching behaviour is the same as teaching any other curriculum.

Here are some ideas for how you can follow each of these seven instructional steps in relation to classroom management. 

Component of Effective Instruction

When applying this idea to the teaching of behaviour…


Plan exactly how you want students to behave and respond at different parts of the lesson. Don’t leave it to chance. Be explicit and specific, not vague and general.


Plan a set of short phrases that simultaneously reinforce expectations, and the reason why they’re important

Model it

Two schools that I have visited, Ted Wragg St Luke’s (Exeter, UK) and Challis Community Primary School (Armadale, Australia) model behavioural expectations to students through a collection of videos that capture what it looks like for students to perform the school’s routines, and follow its expectations, to a high standard.

Provide opportunities for practise

Don’t expect students to be successful first time, every time. Have them rehears their entry routines, their paired talk, how they respond to an attention cue, etc. Time invested now will pay off in the long run.

Check for (behavioural) Understanding

For students to act in line with expectations, they must be aware of what the expectations are. This means that they must listen when those instructions are given. To check whether they have, it can be helpful to simply cold call a student, or multiple students, after you’ve provided instructions, to check that they’ve understood. We can call this checking for behavioural understanding.

Provide feedback and adapt instruction

One of the best and most simple ways to provide feedback for students on behaviour is to scaffold them to self-regulate it. For example, if you want students to enter the classroom within a specific amount of time, display a stopwatch on the screen so that they can monitor how long it takes. Writing up, printing out, and displaying the steps to your regular routines around your classroom is another way to support students to monitor their own behaviour against a clearly communicated standard.

Return to the content over time 

Just as spaced practice (spreading out practice or retrieval opportunities over time) is helpful in learning academic content, it is useful in learning behaviour. It is natural for students’ memories to decay over time, both for ideas, and for routines. So pre-planned reinforcement is an excellent idea. 

Teaching is complex, we know how to do it, and how to do it well. When it comes to classroom management, we are empowered by transferring our knowledge from the teaching of content, to the teaching of behaviour. Behaviour is a curriculum, treat it as such.

The above is a modified excerpt from The Classroom Management Handbook, which I’ve co-written with Dr. Mark Dowley and which will be out in March 2024! You can get the key content from the book early, via this course

Announcements and Opportunities

As you may have seen above, Dr. Mark Dowley and I have just released our Practical Classroom Management Online Course (read on for a discount opportunity). We hope that the timing is just right for anyone starting off a new year, or a new term, and hoping to get off on the right foot with their new classes!

Also, if you’ve been thinking about signing up as an ERRR Patron for a while, signing up now will give you 50% off this course. A good option for those already interested in both : )

On the coaching front. I’ll be running a one day intensive on Tues 12th of March on Instructional Coaching if you’re looking for some training for yourself or your team on IC.

And don’t forget the Steplab Coaching Development Lead role that is open till Sunday night. An opportunity to come and work with me at Steplab!