Behavior Influence Techniques

by Carolyn Ito

The following techniques are pro-active, classroom-centered, and teacher-initiated. They are designed to avoid confrontation. They will assist professionals in preventing the build-up of inappropriate behavior to the point of a crisis. Many of them will be familiar to professionals and a review of them is helpful.

Activity Reinforcement

This technique is like Grandma's Law: You have to eat your vegetables before you can have your dessert. The student is encouraged to perform a less preferred behavior before the preferred one. Preferred activities can include a subject the student likes, a class party or extra recess a library pass, tutoring a peer, listening to music, art activities, etc. This technique works with all students.

Antiseptic Bouncing

This technique is used to prevent behavior from escalating. You remove the student from the classroom setting when you notice that the student is becoming frustrated or agitated, before inappropriate behavior occurs. The technique allows the student to calm down, move, avoid embarrassment, and, upon return to the work area, begin to work again. Many teachers accomplish the "bounce" by having the student go on an errand, perhaps taking a note to a colleague or returning material to the library. Color coding the note can signal a colleague that the student needed a "change of pace" and that the note does not need a response.


A contract is a written agreement between a student and teacher. Sometimes parents sign them too. The content is mutually created and specifies the behavioral expectations of the student and teacher as well as time lines, rewards, and consequences for failure to meet the commitments. Contracts take time to create but are very helpful because all parties are clear about expectations and conditions. Begin with short time periods and realistic goals. Reward progress with praise. See samples included.

Direct Appeal

The teacher simply states, "Stop this behavior because...", or "Thank you for not doing... because". This technique appeals to the student's sense of fairness. It will work when the teacher has authority over the student and the group; a personal positive relationship with the student and the group; and the consequences are clear.

Hurdle Helping

When using this technique, the teacher offers encouragement, support, and assistance to prevent the student from becoming frustrated with an assignment. The help can take many forms-enlisting a peer for support, supplying additional materials or information, or providing enabling equipment. The minimal help should get the student back on track.

I Messages

This is a teacher delivered message that communicates how the teacher feels as a result of a student behavior. They are effective when problem solving with a calm student. Using them helps you analyze student behavior and identify your feelings. It is also helpful to teach your students how to form I Messages. The messages have three parts-- the behavior that triggers the feeling, the feeling and the reason. The format is:

When you _______________________________(behavior)
I feel ___________________________________(feeling)
because I ________________________________(reason).


1. When you put your head down I feel frustrated because I cannot tell if you are learning.

2. When you don't do your homework I feel disappointed because I think you can do it.

3. When you make an A, I am ecstatic because I know you worked hard.

Now, you try a few:

When you _____________ I feel ___________ because I ______________.

When you _____________ I feel ___________ because I ______________.

Interest Boosting

This technique is used when a teacher notices that a student stops work on a task due to boredom or loss of interest. The teacher may offer help, praise work accomplished so far, and/or encourage the student to complete the task.

Make-A-Date (Short Student Conference)

The student exhibiting the distracting or disruptive behavior is asked to see the teacher after class, at lunch, or after school. The request is made privately. Some teachers have pieces of paper that say, "See me after class" printed on them and just hand them to students. The time the teacher sets with the student affords them the opportunity to problem solve together.


Print, video and peers can be used to demonstrate the appropriate behavior. For modeling to be effective, the student with the challenging behavior must have regard for the model (a school leader or athlete), share a common characteristic (age or sex), and be capable of performing the target behavior. It is important for the student to observe the model receive positive reinforcement as well as aversive consequences.

Monitor Sheet

The student carries a monitor sheet to each class. The sheet is designed with the student's schedule and target behaviors. There are places for parent signatures and comments as well as teacher comments and initials. Often the homework assignments are included on the form. Usually the form lasts for one day and is signed by the parent and teacher. One advantage of the monitor sheet is that the student receives immediate feedback on behavior. It serves as a good communication tool between the school and home. Many schools are using a student planner system which can serve as a monitoring system.

Parent Conference

Parents have an indispensable role in the student's education. They must be included as partners in planning for the student's success. Parents should have input in structuring a management program. The program should stipulate expected behaviors and consequences. Frequent communication, of both positive and negative behavior change, will keep everyone informed. Begin and end with the positive. Address only one negative at a time. Daily monitoring sheets, weekly telephone calls, work sent home on a regular basis, interim reports, report cards, and IEP Conferences are opportunities for communication. Remember that parents are not able to control their children at school. That is the student's job, with your help.

Peer Mediation

A student' s peer group can have a positive effect on the behavior of its members. The various peer mediation strategies capitalize on this principle. One technique is to have a peer(s) monitor and reward progress toward a target behavior. Successful behavior change can "buy" a group contingency (e. g, extra recess, fewer homework problems). Some schools have a formal peer mediation program through which students are trained in mediation. The mediators meet with students who have difficulty getting along. After hearing both sides, the mediators assist with working out a solution to which both parties agree. Teachers, administrators, parents, and even the student can initiate the mediation process. Time is given for the mediation meeting during the school day.

Physical Interactions

Do not use any physical interaction you would not use with an unfamiliar adult. A handshake is appropriate. Pushing, pulling, shoving, slapping, bopping, spanking, pinching, etc. are not appropriate. Avoid physical confrontation. When you are familiar with your students, depending on their age and tolerance for touch, you may find personal touches like a pat on the back, a high five, or even a quick hug to be effective.

Proximity Control

The physical proximity of an authority figure has a positive effect on student behavior. It is like being followed by a policeman. You tend to go the speed limit. Teach on your feet, not your seat.

Reinforce the Positive

Too often students receive attention for being inappropriate. Some students want attention so badly that they will do anything for it. This technique helps reinforce appropriate behavior. Teachers catch their students being good and tell them so. The technique doesn't cost anything except the time it takes to express appreciation to the students, either individually or as a group.

Removal of Seductive Objects

When students' attention is diverted by toys, magazines, lipstick, an insect, etc., the seductive object must be removed. The teacher should confiscate the item and return it at the end of school. Consequences and procedures for removing inappropriate objects brought to school need to be taught with the class and school rules.


A reprimand is a scolding for an inappropriate behavior that is potentially harmful to self, others, or property. Establish eye contact. Deliver your words firmly immediately, privately, clearly, specifically, calmly, and swiftly. Be sure to include the expected behavior and consequences of continuing the inappropriate behavior.


In this technique the student keeps track of progress toward a goal. Baseline data is determined, a data collection system that the student can manage is devised, and the student records the appropriate data. A reward for reaching the goal is specified. A contract or monitoring sheet may assist this process

Signal Interference

The teacher uses non-verbal language to signal inappropriate behavior. The forms vary according to the age group of the students and the teacher's style. The "look", light flicking, a pause in instruction, a finger snap, etc. are variations of a signal that gets everyone's attention. Students are saved embarrassment because no one is singled out.


Exclusion of the student from the instructional setting, sometimes called time-out, should be used with extreme caution and only when other interventions have not been effective. Time-out has many forms.

Planned Ignoring

This technique works for minimal off-task behavior that is designed to get your attention. It includes behaviors like rocking, tapping a pencil, annoying hand waving, etc. Other behaviors like leaving seat, falling asleep, looking at or handling objects, combing hair, writing on desks, writing or passing notes may also be included. If you ignore it, this type of behavior stops. If you call attention to it, you elevate the behavior to the disruptive level, thus causing your own problem. A private word with the student later lets the student know you observed the behavior and that you would like it to cease.

Contingent Observation

In this technique the student is removed from the group but remains within the classroom setting. The student may be asked to sit at the back of the room, at a table, or in an area that is partially blocked from the rest of the room. The advantage of this short distance removal is that the teacher can see and supervise the student and the student can hear what is being taught.


This technique involves the removal of the student from the classroom setting for a specified period of time. Usually the student is asked to step out into the hall or another empty area and wait for the teacher. The waiting time allows the student to reflect on the behavior and removes the reinforcement of peers. One weakness to this plan is that teachers forget the student is outside. Also, if other students have been similarly secluded, they tend to establish eye contact or talk to each other and anyone coming down the hall. This interaction can be preferable to being in class. Students have been known to leave the assigned spot and thus, upon discovering the student is missing, the teacher has to go find him/her.


Detention is a 30-60 minute period that the student spends away from peers, during lunch, after school, or even on Saturdays when the time is longer. Detention should be assigned in writing. Parents must be notified in a timely manner so that transportation may be arranged. Behavior expected during detention must be specified. Consequences for absences or cuts must be provided.

In-School Suspension

The effectiveness of this technique depends on the quality of the placement. While ISS is preferable to out of school suspension because it provides supervision of students it may be reinforcing to students who want to get out of class. For ISS to be effective, there must be adequate physical space for independent work, an effective supervisor, a minimum of privileges, access to texts and tools, appropriate work, and support for completing assignments. In addition, the student should have the opportunity to reflect on the behavior that precipitated the ISS placement and to make a plan for future behavior change.

Out-of-School Suspension

Suspensions are assigned at the discretion of the building administrator. They last from one to 10 days. Often a parent conference is required for the student to re-enter school. The disadvantage of suspension is that the student is not in a learning environment and may be unsupervised while away from school. Students with disabilities may be suspended for a total of no more than 10 days, counting in-school and out-of-school suspensions together. If the suspension is for more than a total of 10 days, a manifestation determination must be conducted to determine whether the behavior was caused by or related to the student's disability. If the behavior was not caused by or related to the student's disability, then the student can be suspended according to normal school policies. However, the school must continue to provide a free appropriate public education during the period of removal (e.g., homebound instruction, alternative education.) If the behavior which resulted in suspension is caused by or related to the student's disability, the IEP must be amended to include instruction on the skills which the student lacks. 


Students expelled from school are restricted from the educational setting for a year. Students with disabilities must be provided an education and thus homebound instruction or some special placement must be secured.


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