Top 10 Behavioral Interventions for Teachers

Teaching is a challenging profession that is even more stressful when faced with difficult student behaviors. Research supports the most important factor influencing behavior and classroom performance is a positive student/teacher relationship. This relationship, combined with a hefty dose of patience, is the foundation for implementing behavioral interventions that work.

1. Change the Setting

When a student engages in misbehavior, sometimes the negative behavior cycle can be stopped by changing the student’s location. This can also allow the student an opportunity to calm down. A student may be given the option to go to a “buddy” classroom or provided with a different location in the classroom to work. This should be prearranged with the student prior to the behavior. For some students, a nonverbal system (such as a picture of the other setting) may help to cue the student to change settings.

2. Change the Person

If a student demonstrates behaviors that appear to be for the purpose of eliciting an emotional reaction from you, the teacher, or other peers, it may help to make a change in the person/people working directly with the student. Change the student’s group assignment or allow the student to work independently. Have the student work with an aide or another teacher. This is a short-term intervention designed to stop the student’s negative behavior cycle. It also allows you to take a break so that you are able to remain calm when interacting with the student.

3. Change the Task

Students who misbehave in class sometimes lack the skills necessary to complete the work. It is easier for some students to misbehave rather than risk being perceived as a failure by their peers. Assess the task to make sure that it is at an appropriate level for the student. A task that is too hard, or too easy, for a student can result in undesirable behaviors. Alter the task to fit the skill level of the student.

4. Provide Real Choices

Students often misbehave as a means of gaining power or control. Giving students choices is one way to meet this need. Here are some possible choices:

  • Choose 10 problems on this page to complete
  • Choose between two books to read for a literacy project
  • Choose the order tasks are completed

Keep in mind that choices should be real, rather than a clear right and wrong choice. An example of this is as follows. Billy is goofing off in class. His teacher says, “Billy, you can get to work or go up to the principal’s office. It’s your choice.” In this example, there is a clear right and wrong choice. You should be fine with whatever choice the student makes in order for the choices to be real.

5. Avoid Power Struggles

Power struggles do very little to change difficult behavior. Even when the teacher “wins” (which rarely happens), the behavior is likely to occur again. Some students are extremely skilled at engaging teachers in power struggles. If you feel yourself becoming emotionally charged with a student, take a break (i.e. take deep breaths, count to 10, etc.) and deal with the situation when you are calm. Raising your voice or arguing with students are signs that you are becoming entangled in a power struggle. It is best to remain calm, state the command, and move away to disengage from the student. Some students participate in defiant or disruptive behaviors simply to get a reaction from their teachers. By remaining calm and refusing to engage in power struggles, these behaviors will often extinguish.

6. Reward Desired Behavior

All students have a need to feel appreciated. Catch students “being good” and let them know that you notice them. Many students crave attention. Attention-seeking behaviors are likely to diminish when students receive attention for positive behaviors. Tangible rewards and earned privileges can also be used to increase the student’s motivation. Rewards strengthen the likelihood that students will engage in positive behaviors to meet their needs. See Creating a Reward System for Children for additional information.

7. Ignore Unwanted Behavior

Ignoring behavior is a skill that is developed. It does not come naturally. Teachers unintentionally reinforce behaviors by attending to them. When student misbehavior is motivated by attention, even eye contact or nonverbal cues can reinforce the behavior. When possible, it is best to completely ignore the behavior. Work with the student to teach a replacement behavior that meets the same need in an acceptable manner.

8. Provide Structure and Routines

Rules, guidelines, and daily routines help children develop organization in their lives. Structure provides students with the security to explore and learn in a safe environment. Students are less likely to misbehave when they have a clear understanding of expectations. Ensure that classroom routines are established early and expectations are reviewed often.

9. Allow Students to “Save Face”

Students will sometimes engage in behaviors in order to save face with their peers. An example of this could be: Mrs. Smith tells Dan to get started on his math assignment. Dan rolls his eyes at her and says, “Whatever,” but gets out his book and starts working. Mrs. Smith walks away rather than addressing Dan’s disrespectful behavior. Dan complied with the request, but added behaviors to save face. The disrespectful behaviors can always be addressed privately later. The important thing is that Dan complied with the immediate request to start working.

10. Provide Time for Students to Calm Down

When students are agitated or upset, they are less likely to comply with demands. It is best to give students a few minutes to calm down before giving commands. Let the student know about this by stating something such as, “James, I can see that you are feeling frustrated right now. Take a few minutes to calm down and then we’ll talk about what to do next.”


Dealing with difficult behaviors can leave you feeling frustrated and exhausted. It is important to remember that all behaviors serve a function. Behaviors are learned and can be replaced. By implementing appropriate behavioral interventions, students learn that their needs can be met in acceptable ways. Talk with your school psychologist if you need help developing a plan or support in dealing with challenging behaviors.


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