Preventative Approaches

What are preventative approaches in the area of classroom/group behavioral management?

Preventative approaches include anything a teacher implements to prevent undesirable behaviors. Instead of waiting for problem behaviors to occur, proactive techniques implemented successfully decrease the likelihood of problem behaviors and promote positive behavioral choices in the classroom. Many teachers are not proactive or prevention oriented, which logically results in an increase in behavior problems in their classrooms.

Why is it important to use preventative behavior management in the classroom?

Traditional approaches to managing problem behaviors have not been responsive to the behavioral and learning characteristics of students (Colvin, Kameenui, & Sugai, 1993). School settings have typically relied upon reactive behavior management techniques to attempt to decrease inappropriate and increase appropriate school behavior. Typical reactive techniques used in schools include teacher reprimands, office referrals, loss of privileges, detentions, suspensions, and expulsions. Use of these reactive techniques are imbedded in schools even though research does not support the use of such interventions and has even suggested that the use of these reactive techniques has a detrimental effect on student behavior.

On the other hand, preventative supports in the classroom has a growing body of research that support their use. They include a variety of proactive techniques and approaches that involve structuring the classroom environment to promote desirable behaviors, engagement in learning, and a positive classroom climate in which students understand expectations and can be successful both behaviorally and academically. By implementing these supports, teachers are more likely to be successful in increasing appropriate and decreasing inappropriate classroom behavior than exclusively relying on traditional reactive approaches.

What characteristics does an effective preventative approach include?

The literature discusses many different preventative and proactive techniques. Much of the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports literature (PBIS) outlines countless ways to structure the learning environment to prevent problem behaviors. Effective proactive behavior management programs are responsive to individual and group behaviors for school interactions and participation (Carpenter, McKee-Higgins, 1996).


Table 1: Characteristics of Effective, Proactive Behavior Management Systems 
Source: (Carpenter, McKee-Higgins, 1996)



Use instructional techniques to develop desired behaviors

Approaches acquisition of behavioral skills similar to the way academic skills are taught. Provides students structured opportunities for students to learn and practice desirable behaviors.

Promote a positive climate to motivate students

Targets both teacher and student behaviors for intervention. Teacher structures classroom environment to facilitate productive work habits and positive interpersonal interactions.

Are dynamic and responsive to students’ changing behavioral skills

Teachers adjust interventions in response to students’ changing behaviors. Teachers respond to misbehaviors using a continuum of behavior management techniques that correspond to severity and importance of the problem.

Use collegial interactions to support teachers’ use of effective procedures

Teachers utilize colleagues or consultants to assist them in developing an effective proactive plan. Outside observers tend to see the classroom through an objective eye which can be crucial in developing a system for improving behavior.

What are some different types of preventative supports?


  • A consistent classroom schedule is an important component of classroom structure. Predictability in the day allows students to establish a routine in which expectations for the day are clearly defined. Within the established schedule, it is important for teachers to be prepared and for all staff involved in instruction to have their roles and duties clearly defined. The schedule should involve high rates of academic engagement. Consistency and routine allow little opportunity for down-time for students to engage in problem behaviors. 

Classroom Rules and Expectations

It is very important to have an established set of rules and expectations for the students in your classroom. Students can be an integral part of determining class rules that are essential to providing a calm and respectful learning environment. The teacher must be consistent in following rules and routines established in the classroom. Focusing on desired behaviors and their consequences are more likely to bring about positive results.

Example of positive rules:
(Carpenter, McKee-Higgins, 1996)

    • Feet Flat
    • Hands on Lap
    • Eyes on Teacher
    • Mouth Closed
    • Ears Listening

Direct Instruction of Expectations and Routines

Teachers often make the mistake of assuming students know how to line up, listen in groups, walk in the hall, hand in papers, etc. Unfortunately, this mindset that students should “just know” what is expected of them has not served teachers or students well. Teachers must look at student acquisition of desired behaviors just as they approach the learning of academic behaviors. Only through direct instruction can educators be certain that students will learn and master desired behaviors and expectations in the classroom. Teachers need to provide direct instruction of desired behaviors and classroom routines, provide opportunities to practice desired behaviors, and deliver reinforcement for correct behavioral responses in the classroom (Carpenter, McKee-Higgins, 1996).

Teacher may choose to “precorrect” for desired behaviors. Precorrections function as reminders by providing students with opportunities to practice or be prompted concerning expected behavior before they enter situations in which displays of problem behaviors are likely (Colvin, Sugai, Patching, 1993). For example, if a class typically has difficulty in line, students could be asked to recall the four expectations for acceptable behavior in line before lining up. (e.g. walking feet, resting mouth, hands and feet to self, behind the person in front of you).


Most school districts have a set curriculum that is to be delivered to students to ensure mastery of essential learner outcomes. It is the teacher’s responsibility, however, to ensure that they are using effective instructional strategies and modifications to meet all students’ needs. Through differentiating instruction to meet student needs, students are most likely to remain engaged in learning. Teachers not only need to maintain appropriate instructional techniques, but need to make sure they have an appropriate schedule of reinforcement for task engagement.


    Class Meetings

    Holding regular class meetings has been an effective way to involve students in setting expectations in the classroom and following through with them in a democratic setting. Students and teachers are given a forum to discuss issues, set goals, and participate in peaceful conflict resolution. Students of all ages can participate in class meetings. Primary students would benefit from a structured meeting where specific expectations are discussed through the use of puppets and/or role playing.

    Recommended Structure for Class Meetings 
    (McEwan-Landau & Gathercoal, 2000)

      • Determine who can call a class meeting and when it should be held. (Some teachers say anyone, anytime, anyplace. Others determine specific times, and places for meetings).
      • Meet in a circle where everyone can see faces of all participants.
      • Establish expectation that names will never be used in a class meeting so as not to put people on the defensive or cause ill feelings.
      • Establish expectation that all meetings stay on topic.
      • Never coerce a student into participating. Students should be able to pass if they feel the need to do so.
      • Maintain class meeting journals (both teachers and students).

    References/Recommended Resources

    Carpenter, S.L. & McKee-Higgins, E. (1996). Behavior management in inclusive
    classrooms. Remedial and Special Education, 17, 195-203.
    Colvin, G., Kameenui, E.J., & Sugai, G. (1993). Reconceptualizing behavior
    management and school-wide discipline in general education. Education and
    Treatment of Children, 16, 361-381.
    Colvin, G., Sugai, G., & Patching, B., (1993). Precorrection: An instructional approach
    for managing predictable problem behaviors. Intervention in School and Clinic, 28(3), 143-150.
    McEwan-Landau, B., Gathercoal, P. (2000). Creating peaceful classrooms: Judicious
    discipline and class meetings. Phi Delta Kappan, 81 (6), 450-452, 454.