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Active engagement

Behaviour Management

Active engagement

a guide for classroom teachers and teacher aides

Art project in a small classroom.

Having a class of highly motivated students who are all eagerly engaged in the activity at hand should be the goal of all teachers. When this happens, proactive strategies and reactive responses are simply not required. It’s better to know and master behaviour management techniques and never use them, than spend all lesson expertly applying them. However, even highly engaged students are off-task now and then, and behaviour management techniques are useful even for the best of classes. The first port of call for many experts and skilled teachers when working with challenging classes is to consider whether the class is indeed actively engaged and if so, for what percentage of the lesson.

Active engagement means that students are not only doing school work but are actually interested and eager to do so under their own volition. The concept of active engagement is useful and makes logical sense: the more students are on-task, the less they will misbehave. Students cannot be both misbehaving and actively engaged at the same time – they are mutually exclusive behaviours. Following this logic, if the teacher develops a highly engaging curriculum and delivers it using a wide variety of best practice techniques, there will be fewer behavioural issues.

Hint: Research shows that the level of active engagement is a key indicator of the effectiveness of the teacher’s overall classroom management approach (Borgmeier et al., 2016). Many high school teachers spend up to 40% of each lesson engaged in non-teaching activities, meaning a significant number of students are off-task for a large portion of a given lesson (Scott et al., 2011).

When designing activities, lessons, units of work or programs, the teacher needs to think about how each decision affects the behaviour of their students. Best practice teaching and learning strategies should be incorporated into standard programs such as pace, short-sharp activities, questioning techniques, explicit instruction, technology, props, worked examples, deliberate practice, metacognitive skills, reviews and consolidation, games and quizzes, goal setting and so forth. For existing programs where behaviour is an ongoing issue, a solution may be to consider a series of curriculum and instructional amendments.

It’s better to know and master behaviour management techniques and never use them, than spend all lesson expertly applying them.

Take the example of a student who is motivated to spend as much time as possible on their phone. First, we cannot correctly say that this student is not motivated. However, we can correctly say that this student is not motivated to do what we want them to do. This means the student can become motivated under the right conditions. While achieving a level of motivation akin to chronic mobile phone addiction is unrealistic, incorporating aspects of known interests into the curriculum will improve the student’s interest and motivation. How can this be achieved? In an English lesson, students could ‘translate’ a text of some type (let’s say a poem or sonnet) into modern text message language. Students might be asked to consider the ‘correct’ spelling of truncated words and acronyms and to explain their reasoning. The class might discuss where language will be in another 10 years’ time or how the internet and text messages have changed how we communicate forever.

While these activities may sound silly at first, they have the effect of slowly bringing disengaged students back into the fold. Psychologically, it’s not possible for a student to go from a position of long-term disengagement to suddenly be an enthusiastic contributor. It takes time to change the student’s beliefs about the purpose of education, what they can get out of it and to adjust his or her behaviour without being ridiculed or questioned by peers. In other words, these types of activities slowly break bad habits and self-expectations – as students use text types that they are familiar with, they may be more eager to participate. Positive prompting and public acknowledgements will help the student to feel successful and serves as a further encouragement. Over time, the student is more and more willing to take part and develops an ‘I can do this’ attitude.


Borgmeier, C., Loman, S. L., & Hara, M. (2016). Teacher self-assessment of evidence-based classroom practices: preliminary findings across primary, intermediate and secondary level teachers. Teacher Development, 20(1), 40-56. https://doi.org/10.1080/13664530.2015.1105863

Scott, T.M., Alter, P.J., & Hirn, R.G. (2011). An Examination of Typical Classroom Context and Instruction for Students With and Without Behavioral Disorders. Education and Treatment of Children 34(4), 619-641. https://www.doi.org/10.1353/etc.2011.0039

About the author

Image of the managing director of ITAC.


Adam Green is an advisor to government, a registered teacher, an instructional designer and a #1 best selling author. He is completing a Doctor of Education and was previously head of department for one of the country’s largest SAER (students at educational risk) schools. Adam is managing director of ITAC, an accredited training provider for thousands of teacher aides every year.

Source: Behaviour Management Skills and Strategies for the Modern Classroom: 100+ research-based strategies for both novice and experienced practitioners.

Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to check his article for accuracy, information may be outdated, inaccurate or not relevant to you and your location/employer/contract. It is not intended as legal or professional advice. Users should seek expert advice such as by contacting the relevant education department, should make their own enquiries, and should not rely on any of the information provided.


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