What is self-management?

Self-management encompasses a range of internal and/or external activities wherein a student may engage that increase or decrease the probability of appropriate behaviors occurring based on cognitive-behavioral theory. Cognitive behavioral theory focuses on the interdependent relationship between the environment, behavior, and cognition and is based on three assumptions: 1) cognitive activity affects behavior; 2) cognitive activity may be monitored and altered; and 3) desired behavior change may be affected through cognitive change (Dobson & Block, 1988; Maag, 1999). Behavior modification programs based on self-management principles are designed to teach individuals to manage their own behavior rather than relying on external controls such as teacher administered rewards and/or punishments. Those who successfully learn to self-manage carry with them the intrinsic cues and reinforcement needed to engage in appropriate behavior.

What are the different types of self-management?

The literature discusses several types of self-management which are defined in the table below. These types of self-management have been studied alone and/or in various combinations and have generally shown to be effective in improving behavior of various student populations.

Table 1: Types of Self-Management




Requires the student to make self-produced verbalizations to cue themselves concerning their behavior.


Requires students to become aware of their behavior and make a tangible mark to keep track of it.


Requires students to compare their performance against some criteria.


Requires students to administer a positive or negative consequence to themselves.


Commonly used with both self-monitoring and self-evaluation. Requires students to make a visual representation of their performance usually in the form of a bar or line graph.

Can self-management be used as a group or classroom intervention?

Self-management techniques are most often used with individual students to improve behavioral skills such as staying on task and paying attention. However, group behavioral management programs can also incorporate self-management principles. The point and level system described in the previous section can easily be used as a self-management system by having the students self-monitor their performance on their target skills using the pointcard and using turn around and/or bonus points to reinforcement accuracy and honesty. An unpublished dissertation (Otten, 2003) used a modified version of this pointcard to teach elementary students with behavioral disorders to self-management by adding a “teacher agreement” column. Every 30 minutes, students gave themselves a point for each target skill they exhibited successfully and had the teacher indicate if she agreed by putting her initials in the “teacher agreement” column. If there was agreement, a bonus point was awarded, regardless of whether or not the student successfully exhibited the skill. This prioritized reinforcement for accurate self-evaluation resulting in not only an increase in this skill, but also in appropriate classroom behavior.

CWPASM (A Classwide Peer-Assisted Self-Management Program) is another example of group self-management system developed by Mitchem, Young, West, & Benyo (2001) that combines self-management principles with a peer assisted intervention.


Table 2: Characteristics of Classwide Peer-Assisted Self-Management Intervention 
Source: Mitchem & Young, 2001, p. 80




Students learned the definition and rationale for self-management. Students helped to generate examples of how learning to self-manage could benefit them.

ABC’s of self-management

Students learned the relationship between antecedents (triggers), their behavior, and the consequence of the behavior. Students generated examples of appropriate and inappropriate responses to triggers and identified consequences for the responses.

Rules and expectations

The teacher reviewed the classroom rules and two social skills (how to follow instructions, hot to get the teacher’s attention) that had been taught at the beginning of the school year. Students learned to identify an instruction as an antecedent, to demonstrate the appropriate and inappropriate behaviors for this antecedent, and to provide examples of consequences for these behaviors.


Students learned what constituted Honors, Satisfactory, Needs Improvement, and Unsatisfactory ratings in terms of classroom expectations.

Partners and teams assigned

Teacher paired students after first asking them for the names of three students they could work with. One partner then drew a pack of point cards from a box. The color of card, either blue or white, determined the team to which the partnership belonged for the week.

Self-monitoring and evaluation

Students learned to monitor their behavior and their peer partner’s, and at a cue, reflected on their behavior and compared it to the ratings.


Students rated their behavior and that of their partner and marked the card.

Determining points

Peer partners checked point cards to determine whether they had matched. Perfect matches earned bonus points. Partners totaled points earned and reported the partnership’s total at the end of class.

Reporting points

One student from each partnership reported the color of his or her team and number of points earned. The team that earned the highest percentage of points was recognized as the winning team. Both teams were praised for effort.

This program will be discussed in great detail in the peer-assisted interventions “teacher tools” section.

What are the advantages and/or disadvantages of self-management programs?

Self-management procedures are considered superior to the exclusive use of externally managed interventions for several reasons. First, self-management encourages students to take greater responsibility for their own behavior. Second, teaching students to self-manage increases the likelihood that appropriate behavior will last over time and generalize to various settings. Third, because the students is the control agent, these procedures provide a means for teachers to spend more time teaching and less time trying to control behavior. Fourth, self-management provides students with a sense of ownership for and control over their own behavior, which is inherently reinforcing and may also make it less likely that students will try to control the teacher’s behavior. Fifth, the defining, measuring, graphing, and evaluating involved in various types of self-management give meaningful practice for other parts of the curriculum. Finally, self-management provides students and teachers with a proactive and positive way to avoid reactive punishment contingencies. This approach is consistent with the philosophy of positive behavioral supports and interventions (PBIS)which calls for behavioral management techniques to be positive, preventative, educational, and empowering.

References/Recommended Resources

Dobson, K.S. & Block, L. (1988). Historical and philosophical based on the
cognitive-behavioral therapies. In K.S. Dobson (Ed.), Handbook of cognitive-
behavioral therapies(3-38). New York: Guilford.
Maag, J.W. (1999). Behavior Management. Singular Publishing
Group, Inc.: San Diego.
Mitchem, K.J., & Young, K.R. (2001). Adapting self-management programs for
classwide use: Acceptability, feasibility, and effectiveness. Remedial and Special 
Education. 22(2), 755-88.
Mitchem, K.J., Young, K.R., West, R.P., & Benyo, J. (2001). CWPASM: A
classwide peer-assisted self-management program for general education
classrooms. Education and Treatment of Children, 24(2), 111.40.
Otten, K.L. (2003). An analysis of a classwide self-monitoring approach to
improve the behavior of elementary students with severe emotional and 
behavioral disorders. Unpublished dissertation, University of Kansas, 

Additional Recommended Resources

Hoff, K.E. & DuPaul, G.J. (1998). Reducing disruptive behavior in general
education classrooms: The use of self-management strategies. The School 
Psychology Review, 27(2), 290-303.
Johnson, L.R. & Johnson, C.E. (1999). Teaching students to regulate their own
behavior. Teaching Exceptional Children, 31(4), 6-10.
Swaggart, B.L. (1998). Implementing a cognitive behavior management program.
Intervention in School and Clinic, 33(4), 235-8. 
Young, K.R., West, R.P., Smith, D.J., & Morgan, D.P. (1991). Teaching Self-
Management Strategies to Adolescents. Sopris West: Longmont, CO.