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Engineered controls

Behaviour Management

Engineered controls

a guide for classroom teachers and teacher aides

Education support worker helping students during class lesson.

When teachers develop rules, routines, procedures, expectations, consequences, plans, classroom layouts, lessons, activities or select strategies and techniques, they are engineering a particular response. Every decision the teacher makes has an effect – it alters the behaviour of students in some way.

Engineered controls usually refer to systems or processes designed and implemented to prevent injury or death in industries such as construction and shipping. In the classroom environment, engineered controls refer to routines and procedures planned and implemented by the teacher to prevent certain responses from being possible. Adjusting or implementing a new routine is a classic example. A routine is an action regularly and repeatedly undertaken at predictable points in time. A procedure is a set of instructions that are to be followed to complete a specific task. Systems, procedures and routines reduce stress and cognitive load. Systems make decisions for you. Decision fatigue is reduced significantly because the number of decisions you are required to make is reduced.

Systems, procedures and routines reduce stress and cognitive load. Systems make decisions for you.

These routines and procedures support behaviour management efforts because students can be trained and learn how to behave when performing a given task. For example, students learn that if they want to leave on time, all rubbish needs to be picked up and their tables and chairs need to be straight, neat and tidy. They know packing up early will result in practising to pack up after class. These are all engineered controls – think about them deeply, plan them out, change them, adjust them, experiment, monitor their effects on yourself and others – manipulate them to your own ends.

Set routines and processes and then figure out what aspect is working and what is not – make changes to your design. The ideal goal of ‘engineering controls’ is to create a situation in which there is no possibility of a behavioural issue eventuating. While nothing is fool-proof, think about how your unwritten systems, routines and processes could be redesigned to be more effective. Note that if you don’t design your classroom’s systems, routines and processes, students will design them for you.

Seating plans are a case in point. Teachers use a horseshoe layout for example when they want students to interact more or when behaviour is not a big issue. If students are too social however, the teacher can engineer a change in layout ranging from straight rows to pair or even individual desks. Each design has a different effect on students’ behaviour. Thinking in terms of ‘engineering’ the way the class operates opens the door for many new and innovative ideas.

Hint: Tell students about their new routines and why they are important – don’t expect that they will automatically know what to do. For example, if students do daily ‘write to learn’ sessions when they first walk in the door – the routine needs to be discussed and explained. These types of routines make life easier for the teacher because students walk into the room and ‘get on with it’ without having to be told what to do each lesson.

The concept of engineered controls sounds very business-like, corporate and somewhat impersonal. In actual fact, this approach makes life easier for everyone involved and allows you to target individuals who have particular needs (a strategy known as differentiation) as well as hot-spots. This means there is actually more time for things like rapport building and one-on-one support. Engineered controls allow you to be more caring and more supportive.

If you don’t design your classroom’s systems, routines and processes, students will design them for you.

Hint: The very act of writing out a procedure often reveals innovative ideas and methods. It helps teachers to realise how many steps there actually are in even the simplest of tasks. The process also helps the teacher to clarify in their own mind exactly what they expect; this paves the way for clearer instructions and less confusion amongst students.

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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