Behaviour Management – Low Key Responses

AITSL STANDARD: 3.5 – Use effective classroom communication

Use effective verbal and non-verbal communication strategies to support student understanding, participation, engagement and achievement.

AITSL STANDARD: 4.2 – Manage classroom activities

Establish and maintain orderly and workable routines to create an environment where student time is spent on learning tasks.

AITSL STANDARD: 4.3 – Manage challenging behaviour

Manage challenging behaviour by establishing and negotiating clear expectations with students and address discipline issues promptly, fairly and respectfully.

Early in my teaching career, I realised that behaviour management is basically a script drawn from verbal and physical cues. When you see this behaviour, implement this strategy. If that does not work, you escalate and try this strategy. The art of teaching is about knowing when to use each type of strategy and mastering the precision. You might know all of these back to front, but the implementation might be a work in progress. Here is a list of 6 essential low-key responses to behaviour.

Signal to Begin

When you are addressing the class, you will need to grab the classes’ attention. To get their attention, you need a signal to a begin (STB). A STB, is a sequence used to enable a class to a be quiet and focused. This can start outside of the class, or once the students are seated inside.

A STB should be both visual and verbal. That is, student can hear and see the cue. For example, you might say “eyes towards me in 3…2…and 1”. After you have said “1”, that is the signal for students to

  • put their pens down,
  • signal other students to remain quiet
  • and look at the teacher.

Alternatively, some teachers choose to use a bell, or a clap that students need repeat back to you. Whichever you choose, it needs to be clear and concise.

If students are not looking at you after the cue, then you can move to other steps, such as the Look.

The Look

The Look is a quick way to subtly communicate to students that their behaviour is inappropriate. Silently and directly, look at the student when you see a behaviour that is not okay. Students (in theory) will see that their behaviour has been acknowledge and will stop. You might like to combine the look with a nonverbal action, such as a hand movement.

Remember, there is a difference between a glare and a look. A glare is threatening and accusations. A look, is no more than three seconds to grab students attention. Hopefully, the students stops the behaviour and the lesson continues.


If you yell at a class, you really have no where to go afterwards. If the behaviour has continued after you have yelled, what did you achieve? What other tools do you have? All you have proven is that you cannot control your emotions.

Pausing and using silence communicate quiet confidence and authority. A pause can be used in conjunction with a look of disapproval. Consider

An interrupted sentence indicates that you have noticed something. Begin talking to the class and suddenly clip, or pause your speech. For example, “When we write metaphors, it is essential that you…(Pause)…that you…(Pause)…I am just going to wait until the people at the back stop talking…(The Look)”. None of this is threatening and allows students to redeem themselves from their misgivings.

Winning Over

Winning Over is a preventive measure to increase the chances of students paying attention and being respect to you as the teacher.

As the teacher, you need to be likable. Not a friend to students, but someone that they can respect. We do this by winning them over through other behaviours. For example:

  • Smiling
  • Using the students name
  • asking questions about their interests
  • Being genuine in our conversations
  • meeting students at the door
  • Genuine politness
  • Enthusiasm

A key word of winning over is genuineness. Students can tell if you are being fake or insincere. When asking students about their plans for their weekend, being genuine by asking questions and making eye contact. On Monday, be sure to follow up and ask about something specific that you recall from Friday. This shows that you cared and were listening. Subtle cues like this will get students onboard.


Moving towards the students indicates to students that their misbehaviour has been noticed. If you see a behaviour that is undesirable, use The Look and stand near (But not too close) the student. This is much like a standoff to see if the behaviour will continue. It is a stance that says “this is not okay” but it completely nonthreatening. Do not move into the personal space of the student. you are merely approach the student and acknowledging the behaviour you do not want to continue. If the behaviour does continue, you might like to have a private dialogue.

Private Dialogue

If a behaviour has escalated in the classroom, you need to make a decision about whether the student can stay in the classroom or be removed for the remainder of the lesson. This is the process of the private dialogue:

  1. Ask the student to stand outside for a ‘private chat’.
  2. Walk outside and tell the student the behaviour you have noticed.
  3. Explain the impact that this behaviour is having on other students.
  4. Explain the behaviour that you would like to see. Explain that they will be moved to a new seat. Explain to student that if they choose to sit in the same seat and not move, then they are choosing to be moved entirely from the class.
  5. Invite student back on the classroom.
  6. If the behaviour continues, escalate and remove from class.

3 thoughts on “Behaviour Management – Low Key Responses

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