External support mechanisms

Behaviour Management

External support mechanisms

a guide for classroom teachers and teacher aides

Teacher aide writing notes in a classroom.

External support mechanisms are systematic behavioural supports implemented at the school management level. They are introduced to combat challenging students with chronic, repetitive and extreme behavioural issues. These issues are so disruptive and challenging that the teacher cannot manage them on their own or by implementing other strategies (such as curriculum adjustments or behaviour plans). The most common external support system is known as ‘disciplinary referrals’ (when students are sent to the office).

Similarly, the ‘buddy’ system (where a teacher relocates a ‘trouble’ student to another teacher’s class) is common but remains controversial amongst teachers. The buddy system works like this: teachers have a reciprocal arrangement where they each agree to accept disruptive students from another class. If a student is sent outside the room for poor behaviour and then continues to cause problems, the teacher can send that student to the buddy class for the remainder of the lesson. Often the buddy teacher will know the offending student (for example, the maths teacher will send the student to his or her English teacher). Obviously, this can cause issues but surprisingly it is rare for even challenging students to misbehave in their buddy class. For task-avoiders, the student has achieved the goal of being removed, meaning further escalations (on the student’s part) are not necessary. The student knows to sit at the back of the buddy room and to work in silence. The teacher is usually short with the student to ensure there is no enjoyment in the temporary reassignment.

Another example of an external support mechanism is the ‘traffic light’ system. There are various ways this can work but typically a yellow card means ‘needs a break’, a red card means ‘relocation due to disruption or serious offence’, and green means ‘not in trouble’ (doing a job for the teacher). The student carries the card to the front office where a more senior staff member deals with the matter depending on the colour of the card.

Hint: If you are in a school that does not have a system and you feel it is warranted, don’t hesitate to ask your manager to consider implementing one. It is your manager’s job to support teachers in matters such as this.

Finally, a common system is the ‘behaviour card’ or ‘red card’ (known more formally as a daily behaviour report card or DBRC). This is usually instigated as part of a wider behaviour improvement plan for select students, but it can also be used on its own. Again, these can be colour-coded (yellow, red etc.) to signify various levels of concern. In the case of a typical high school, a behaviour card is carried from lesson to lesson for a full 5-day week. The student needs to give the card to the teacher at the start of the lesson and collect it at the end. The teacher gives the student a score for their performance (e.g. 1-3 or 1-5). For the student to ‘get off’ the red card, they need a full-week’s worth of 3+ scores. The teacher is not permitted to sign the card if the student fails to provide it at the start of the lesson (some leeway can be provided here, however the reason for this is important – the teacher needs to know that the card is in play as it helps to manage the student’s behaviour during the lesson).

Cards are often used as a consequence or as a requirement for a reward activity such as being allowed to go on the annual school camp.

A deputy or principal is usually in charge of managing the card system and target students report to them each morning before their first class. Cards are often used as a consequence or as a requirement for a reward activity such as being allowed to go on the annual school camp. It is not unusual for 2 or 3 students in a class to have behaviour cards at any one time. Should a student receive a 1, 2 or no signature, he or she has to begin the card all over again. Some systems are tiered (meaning the student first clears the red card and then has to clear a yellow card). Research has shown that this system is remarkably effective (when managed well) and takes up remarkably little teacher time given its influence on behaviour (Vannest et al., 2011).

Non-compliance and defiance-related behaviours are particularly concerning for teachers and school managers – they are very difficult to manage and cause considerable anxiety amongst staff. They are challenging for teachers because of the natural inclination to be offended and to ‘escalate’ to higher responses as per the pervasive stepped or tiered systems that have been encouraged in the past few decades (with little detailed analysis of the risks and practicalities, as you have read so far).

There are other options for managing defiance which avoid the outright and inevitable ‘war’ that comes with multiple escalations.

There are other options for managing defiance which avoid the outright and inevitable ‘war’ that comes with multiple escalations. Defensive management is one such option and (like defensive driving) is all about avoiding collisions (Fields, 2004). It requires preparation, positive contact, being alert to warning signs, emotional control (e.g. anger), defusing/redirecting techniques, de-escalation strategies (not giving ultimatums, speaking calmly, acknowledging feelings etc.) and reconnecting afterwards to build rapport. All of these strategies are covered in this book at one point or another (see for example ‘relocation refuser’ which is where most defiant behaviour is experienced). However, collating these strategies under one umbrella strategy, defensive management, is an effective way to conceptualise, systematise and formulate a process for managing challenging students.

Hint: Many resistance and defiance-related behaviours occur in classrooms where the student dislikes the teacher (Jones & Jones, 2001). Aspy & Roebuck (1977) showed that students find it difficult to learn from teachers whom they dislike. While this latter research is from the 70s, it’s as relevant today as it was back then.


Vannest, K. J., Burke, M. D., Sauber, S. B., Davis, J. L., & Davis, C. R. (2011). Daily behavior report cards as evidence-based practice for teachers. Beyond Behavior, 20(2), 13-21.

Fields, B. (2004) Breaking the cycle of office referrals and suspensions: defensive management. Educational Psychology in Practice, 20(2), 103-116, https://doi:10.1080/02667360410001691044

Jones, V. F. & Jones, L. S. (2001). Comprehensive classroom management. Allyn & Bacon.

Aspy, D. N., & Roebuck, F. N. (1977). Kids Don’t Learn From People They Don’t Like. Amherst, MA: Human Resource Development Press.

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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