Strategies for Modeling Positive Behavior in the Classroom

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

As teachers, we often expect students to demonstrate exemplary behavior. Modeling is one of the most important ways to teach the behaviors we want to see. This lesson offers some strategies for modeling good behavior in the classroom.

Why Model Good Behavior?

Mrs. Finn is a fourth-grade teacher who spends a lot of time thinking about ways to create a caring and productive classroom community. She has learned over the years that students learn better, feel safer, and have better attitudes toward school when an atmosphere of respectful behavior is in place in the classroom. Yet Mrs. Finn knows that good behavior isn't always instinctive for children and sometimes requires a lot of work to keep in place. She has found that modeling, or demonstrating and getting really explicit about the behaviors she hopes to see, is one of the most effective ways to teach students. Developing a practice of modeling good behaviors helps Mrs. Finn be metacognitive, or internally aware, of her decisions and actions as a teacher. Over time, she has discovered some of the keys to modeling good behavior for helping students.

Defining Target Behaviors

One thing that Mrs. Finn finds particularly important is defining, or clearly naming and giving examples of what she sees as target behaviors, or goals in classroom conduct and community. Mrs. Finn knows that students do best when they are given really clear and specific expectations. It is not necessarily helpful to tell students to be good, do the right thing, or be respectful because all of these phrases are vague and open to interpretation. Instead, Mrs. Finn gets as concrete and specific as she can with her expectations. Sometimes, defining target behaviors can be overwhelming as it might seem that there are hundreds of actions we want students to engage in over the course of the school day. Mrs. Finn suggests choosing three to five behaviors to define and work on with students at a time. These might be verbal actions, like saying thank you to someone who has offered help, or they might be physical actions, like cleaning of a mess you have made in the classroom. When Mrs. Finn is working on a particular behavior with her class, she posts it prominently on a chart in the room, demonstrates it for students multiple times a day, and calls students' attention to classmates who are exhibiting the target behavior.

Examples of Poor Modeling

Mrs. Finn knows that it is her responsibility to model target behaviors for students after she has defined them. Sometimes, though, like all teachers, she finds herself forgetting or messing up. Examples of poor modeling that Mrs. Finn has caught herself in include:

  • Doing the opposite of what she hopes students will do

Sometimes, Mrs. Finn catches herself talking to a colleague during a fire drill, when she expects students to be quiet. Students tend to experience this as confusing and unfair.

  • Humiliating students who are doing the wrong thing

Mrs. Finn has found that it works best to talk quietly to students about inappropriate behaviors, rather than embarrass them in front of classmates by calling them out publicly.

  • Ignoring problematic behaviors

Though it can be problematic to be constantly vigilant as a teacher, Mrs. Finn has observed the slippery slope that can occur when she lets problematic behaviors slide.

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