Managing Student Behavior in In-Person and Virtual Settings

How a student behaves affects the teaching and learning process. Students develop behavioral traits by learning, watching, and imitating others. A teacher must observe and identify these behaviors and, if found unsatisfactory, try to change the behaviors, or encourage students to follow a desired pattern of behavior. Teachers must develop proactive skills to prevent problematic or disruptive behaviors.

While on the subject, let’s be clear that teachers cannot control their student’s behavior. Teachers can only guide them using evidence-based strategies and show them how to positively interact with their community and environment.

Identifying the Reasons Behind Behavior

To manage a student’s behavior, the teacher or parent should try to figure out the underlying cause- identifying why children behave this way. There can be several reasons behind a student’s poor behavior. Some of them are listed below:

  • Family Issues – These reasons can vary from the birth of a younger sibling to parents divorcing. Family issues may lead to depression or stress. The child may feel neglected which may result in mood swings, impulsive behavior, and/or a lack of concentration.
  • Low Self-esteem – Often children are afraid of failure which may cause them to avoid specific tasks or activities which they think may end with them receiving a low grade or being embarrassed.
  • Physiological factors- Simple signs like hunger, tiredness, and sickness could sometimes be the reason for cranky and irritable behavior which can cause problems at school.
  • Anxiety -Anxiety disorders are a common issue among many people today and students are no exception. Student anxieties are often displayed in three areas: test anxiety, social anxiety, and school refusal (refusal to attend, refusal to do work, etc.) These situations can be very sensitive to handle. When teachers try to supervise a student with an anxiety disorder, they should approach them carefully and consider talking with a school counselor or therapist about how to approach the student. 

It is worth noting that it is okay to ask for help. You can seek support from other teachers, school counselors, and other staff to help recognize and address concerning behaviors. 

Student Behavior Management with In-person Teaching

A classroom is the place where students and teachers interact the most. When noticing students with poor behavior, teachers should be the first to assess and intervene. Without proper management, a classroom can be chaotic, hectic, and disastrous.

Below are strategies that you can adopt to manage students’ behavior in the classroom.

  1. Model ideal behavior  – When you establish an ideal behavior checklist and work towards ensuring that the students make it a habit, it will be a realistic approach. While developing and implementing your class rules, remember the following points:
  • Use polite language
  • Maintain eye contact
  • Maintain a good flow of communication
  • Use a normal and natural voice
  1. Make inclusive guidelines – When you involve students in planning expectations and rules, you will make it easier for them to understand and follow. Make sure to discuss rules in detail to avoid confusion and to reach mutual understanding.
  1. Document rules – So, you are all set with the rules and guidelines, what’s next? Time for documentation. This gesture will teach students about respecting policies and laws and encourage them to understand the seriousness of the matter. Be sure to make the document easily accessible. This will often vary depending on the age of the students (e.g., kindergarten students may have the “class rules” written and posted in the classroom whereas older students might view the rules online.)
  1. Encourage initiative – Help students expand their thinking by incorporating variety in your teaching. When possible, allow students to submit their work in advance and provide feedback before final submissions are due. This can motivate them to work hard, respect the time frame for a project/activity, and learn the importance of continuous improvement.
  1. Praise and reward appropriately – Rewards and praise have always been a driving force in people’s lives. Students are no different. Congratulating them on a good performance and/or appropriate behavior can boost their spirits and set examples for others. Praised/rewarded behaviors are repeated and become a habit over time.
  1. Address problematic behavior wisely and quickly – When encountering inappropriate behavior, addressed the matter quickly to avoid recurrence and to prevent negative feelings from festering. Talk with the student privately so he or she can discuss any issues influencing the behavior.

Student Behavior Management in Virtual Settings

Virtual classes became a new norm during the tough and trying time of the last two school years. While many school systems have returned to in-person learning, it’s beneficial to understand the challenges of and explore some tips for managing student behavior virtually.

Managing behavior virtually may look impossible, but it is not. It demands a different teaching approach. There can be no detentions and stern stares cannot be directed at a single individual. Despite these challenges, teachers can take advantage of the different options an online platform provides. Below are some tips for managing student’s behavior in a virtual setting.

  1. Know the technology first – There are many tools that can be used in virtual teaching. Many of these tools used with in-person teaching. Some typical tools include the following:
  • Learning Management System (LMS): Some examples are Google Classroom, Schoology, Blackboard, Edmodo, Pearson
  • Personalized Learning Platforms and Content Sources: Some examples are Chalkable, Class Doja, Edmodo, Khan Academy, MicroSoft OneNote Classroom
  • Student and/or Teacher Collaboration Tools: Some examples are Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams, Parlay.

Having a good understanding of and comfort with your virtual tools can save unnecessary confusion and heartache. Know the strengths and weaknesses of the tool. Talk with those who have used the tool effectively in their classrooms. Have the customer service number on speed dial. If involved in the selection process, keep in mind the audience who will be using the tool (e.g., students, parents, teachers, administrators, school staff, etc.) and their ease of access to and level of familiarity and comfort with the tools.

  1. Create a routine – Designing a routine is productive for both teachers and students. It helps teachers keep track and be prepared for class and helps students understand the flow of class.  Make the virtual routine clear and easy to follow. Let the students know about a change as earlier as possible to avoid class disruption and pushback; work one-on-one with the students who have trouble with or are apprehensive about change.
  1. Provide effective instructions – Many students are hesitant to ask their teachers questions. This reluctance seems to increase in the virtual setting which makes it critical to provide good instructions. When giving students instructions, make sure to do the following:
  • Provide context
  • Clearly specific tasks. Do the instructions answer these questions?
    • Content (what is the task?)
    • Sequence (in what order it should occur)
    • Timing (about how long should it take?)
    • Outcome (what result is clearly expected?)
  • Frequently point out compliant behavior. Once again this can reinforce the behavior you expect and want.
  1. Increase motivation and engagement – This principle is fundamental, whether it is in a classroom or in a virtual setting. Engage students with relevant examples. Have students “teach” their classmates. If appropriate, you can create rewards with virtual teaching. First, determine how students can earn points toward rewards. Provide plenty of opportunities to earn rewards which can build momentum. Be sure to properly recognize students for earning rewards.


No matter the location, managing student behaviors is beneficial for creating a positive class environment and for preparing students for their future. It takes pre-planning, patience, and sometimes requests for help. However, the benefits reaped from effective student behavior management are worth the effort.