Evidence-based classroom management practices can help prevent behavioral problems

As secondary school principals, you may know that employing Tier I evidence-based classroom management (EBCM) practices can reduce disruptive behavior and improve academic engagement. EBCM practices are instructional strategies that are associated with positive student academic and/or social behavior outcomes, such as opportunities to respond with behavior-specific praise.

Two years ago, Carnetta Jackson (not her real name) requested help for two students who were continually struggling behaviorally. She was ready to refer both students to the school’s Early Intervention Team (EIT).

After conducting a direct observation of the classroom, we quickly hypothesized that if we could increase the use of EBCM practices, the two students might not need an individualized EIT plan, and Shanna E. Hirsch, assistant professor of special education at Clemson University and contributor to this article, met with the teacher to create a plan.

Initiating the Plan

Jackson started by completing a classroom management checklist to make sure that she was implementing EBCM practices. As she worked on completing the checklist, Jackson realized that her classroom layout (traffic patterns, students visible across the room) was strong; however, she noted that her behavioral expectations were unclear or unknown to her students. Hirsch visited Jackson’s classroom on three separate occasions for approximately 20 minutes during her most challenging time of the day (small group reading instruction). Hirsch completed an objective observation form during each visit, similar to the one completed by Jackson.

After completing the checklist and meeting with Hirsch, Jackson decided that she wanted to improve her classroom structure and use of EBCM practices before taking other action. Using the book Motivational Interviewing for Effective Classroom Management: The Classroom Check-up as a guide, Jackson narrowed down the areas to strengthen. To start, she established clear classroom expectations and behavioral routines. She taught the expectations (be respectful, be responsible, and be safe) explicitly and acknowledged students for engaging in the appropriate expectation. Hirsch suggested that Jackson try to increase engagement by infusing multiple opportunities to respond into her instruction. They discussed using response cards during instruction to increase participation and provide a quick, formative assessment. Jackson also implemented a token economy to reinforce positive student behavior, both academic and social. Jackson handed out tokens when students exhibited the classroom expectations and paired the delivery with behavior-specific praise.

Three EBCM Practices

Jackson created an outline to identify three EBCM practices she intended to engage and when she would do so. Additionally, she created a checklist to monitor her use of each skill. She implemented the skills during her instruction and recorded data on the self-monitoring form. Then, Jackson and Hirsch reviewed the self-monitoring data and the engagement data from the two target students. One student responded to Tier I EBCM practices and improved her engagement. In contrast, the second student minimally responded. Her overall engagement increased, but it remained variable. This helped the teacher team to prioritize its resources and prompted them to offer the second student targeted supports. On a larger scale, the success of implementing the EBCM practices caused the team to rethink its approach when administering behavioral interventions.


Moving forward, we implemented a system where the EIT chairperson or prescreening team member (instructional coach, administrator) conducts several observations of the classroom environment. These observations provide information about the classroom environment and student behavior. Today, the observer and teacher complete a checklist assessment of the EBCM practices currently in use. In the conference with the observer, the teacher will identify practices to employ and ways of tracking implementation.

In subsequent observations, the EIT member again observes the target students’ behaviors. If EBCM practices are implemented and the behaviors of the identified students do not improve or are not proficient, then the EIT team could reconvene and suggest a Tier II (small group) or Tier III (individualized) intervention. However, as in the case of Jackson, there may be no need to pursue further individual interventions if the behaviors improve with Tier I EBCM practices.

This “EIT checkpoint” is grounded in providing EBCM practices for all students in an effort to prevent problem behaviors. We are not discouraging teams from implementing Tier II or Tier III interventions; instead, we are encouraging teams to consider the classroom environment throughout the referral process. Stopping to check the classroom environment helps the team determine the appropriate level of support for the student. Furthermore, strengthening Tier I efforts may prevent students from participating in unnecessary interventions, thus saving time and valuable school resources.

A Staged Approach

In putting together our plan, we outlined three specific steps for our classroom checklist:

  1. The first step requires the teacher to complete a one- to two-page classroom management checklist. This step makes teachers aware of the critical classroom management components that are implemented as EBCM practices. Teachers are able to evaluate and adjust their environment. They may reach out to a peer or instructional coach to seek assistance implementing the strategies. Some checklists gauge teacher knowledge and confidence in using strategies, whereas other checklists cover multiple classroom management domains.
  2. In the second step, a classroom observation provides an outside perspective on the environment. An EIT member visits the classroom and collects objective data through the use of a checklist (the same as or similar to the one the teacher completed as part of step 1). It is ideal for the EIT member to visit during the most challenging time of the day (based on the teacher’s feedback). The EIT member may complete a checklist by hand or electronically. We have found the Student/Classroom Observation and Analysis (SCOA) app to be easy to use for classroom observations.
  3. In the third step, the teacher and EIT member meet to review the data and create a plan. This is when they determine whether there is a need for Tier II or Tier III support or whether they opt to strengthen EBCM practices by creating an implementation plan. The plan should state the goal (e.g., increase student engagement), describe the behavior to change (e.g., establish expectations, teach behavioral routines), list resources needed (e.g., posters, response cards), and provide a timeline (e.g., start implementing Monday during reading). After a predetermined period of time (two weeks), an EIT member and teacher meet to determine whether there were changes in the target student’s behavior. To evaluate the extent to which the student’s behavior changed, classroom observation data are reviewed to monitor the progress. For students with significant behavior needs, we suggest working with the EIT to decide next steps, such as conducting a functional behavioral assessment or consulting a behavior specialist.

When considering a student for an EIT referral or targeted intervention, we encourage you to also evaluate the classroom environment and determine the extent to which EBCM practices are being implemented. If EBCM practices are not being implemented with fidelity, school resources may need to be provided to support faculty development.

Deanna Rakes Isley, EdS, is principal fo Clark Elementary School in Charlottesville, VA. Shanna E. Hirsch, PhD, is assistant professor of special education at Clemson University in Clemson, SC.

Making It Work

To implement a checklist initiative, follow these steps:

  • Teacher completes a survey to evaluate and reflect on Tier I EBCM implementation
  • EIT member observes classroom and completes a similar survey
  • Teacher and EIT member meet to create a plan
  • Teacher implements the plan, records effectiveness data
  • Team meets to review data and determine next steps

To Learn More…

PBIS.org offers a variety of Tier I classroom management tools (e.g., checklists, training materials) and technical documents, including “Supporting and Respondingto Behavior: Evidence-based Classroom Strategies for Teachers” at http://tinyurl.com/pbisbehavior.

For more information on ECBM practices, check out the free videos at https://edpuzzle.com/join/bimsire. (Tip: Join as a student and create a profile.)

Check out these books for sample checklists and potential interventions:

Lane, K. L., Menzies, H. M., Bruhn, A. L., & Crnobori, M. (2011). Managing Challenging Behaviors in Schools: Research-based Strategies That Work. New York: Guilford Press.

Reinke, W. M., Herman, K. C., & Sprick, R. (2011). Motivational Interviewing for Effective Classroom Management: The Classroom Check-up. New York: Guilford Press.