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Cracking Behaviour is Cracking a Code

How taking the mindset of a codebreaker can help you to be more adaptive to behavioural management challenges in the classroom

Each student has a personal code that governs their behaviour. Their code is a combination of environmental, social, and internal factors that must align for the student to feel safe, settled, and motivated.

When a student’s individual code is cracked, they’ll behave. When it isn’t, they won’t.

As teachers tasked with creating a focussed and productive classroom environment, it’s our responsibility to crack the code for every student, every lesson. As Marder and colleagues put it, ‘Teachers need to adapt their classroom management strategies to the given situation and the specific students in the classroom.’

The ultimate goal of the code breaking metaphor is to help teachers to adopt the mindset of an adaptive expert with respect to classroom management. By seeing yourself as a code breaker, you become more focussed on the mechanisms that underlie the phenomena in your classroom, and you can more flexibly deal with a wider array of students, and scenarios, in your classroom.

When you see classroom management as code breaking, you’re on the path to adaptive expertise. 

The code breaking metaphor has another major benefit, it’s inclusive. Not every student is cast from the same mould. They each have their quirks, needs, and tendencies. Some approaches will make Student A tick, whilst ticking Student B off.

When we see classroom management as code breaking, we don’t conclude that student A is a good kid and that student B is bad. Instead, we see both students as motivated by a complex combination of needs, habits, and behaviours. Realising this can help us to design solutions that can make school a supportive and productive place for all students.

This doesn’t mean that each student has a wholly unique code. We’re not talking about bringing cupcakes for Student A whilst allowing Student B to sit on a beanbag every lesson. We’re not suggesting you reinvent the classroom management wheel for every individual student.

Rather, the best place to start when it comes to code breaking is with the collection of tools that have worked to unlock many students’ potential before.

These are the tools that are provided to you in a variety of podcasts (see my episodes Bill Rogers, Tom Bennet), Books, and even online courses. But remember, you are a code breaker too. If one of the ideas that you come across doesn’t work the first time, that doesn’t mean it’s a broken code, or that your students are just too naughty. It means that there are a few digits missing that you still need to work out.

Start from tried and tested tools, then bring the code-breaker’s mindset to truly crack the challenging class.

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

In March I’ll be running a one-day Instructional Coaching Intensive in Melbourne. Here are some comments from attendees who came along last year!

This is the most effective professional learning I have ever engaged in. The Steplab model of coaching is based on rigorous educational research and presented in an accessible manner that lends itself to implementation in the classroom. The intensive is based on sound educational principles, allowing plenty of time for discussion, consolidation and explicit rehearsal. - Daniel T

Wonderful to walk away with a clear, repeatable and scaleable model that is 100% aligned to my work in mobilizing best practices. - David M

This was best course I have been on in years - Chris C

Other threads to pull on


Marder, J., Thiel, F., & Göllner, R. (2023). Classroom management and students’ mathematics achievement: The role of students’ disruptive behavior and teacher classroom management. Learning and Instruction, 86, 101746. Pg. 2