Effective behaviour programs

There are key elements to consider when designing and implementing effective behaviour interventions.

The content and delivery of a behaviour intervention needs to be relevant to the students it’s designed to support.

Appropriate interventions for younger students usually address building social skills and competence. Interventions for older students include skills and strategies to address risk-taking behaviours, as these tend to increase during adolescence.

Interventions also need to match a student’s developmental readiness. For example, research shows that while mindfulness interventions are quite effective in adults, they have a much lower impact with younger people because they generally lack the level of focus required.

Effective behaviour interventions are proactive and preventative rather than reactive. Preventing a specific behaviour before it occurs is more effective than responding to it after it has occurred.

Evaluations of classroom management practices show proactive and preventative strategies are far more effective in reducing problem behaviour in the classroom than intervening after the event. Proactive strategies include the use of rules and routines that clearly set out behavioural expectations and strategies to stop the escalation of unwanted behaviour.

Effective classroom management includes consistently reinforcing and acknowledging appropriate behaviour.

Establishing a learning environment where the teacher focus is on appropriate rather than problematic behaviour, significantly reduces problem behaviour in the classroom.

One method for creating a supportive atmosphere is improving teacher skills in classroom management. Effective programs empower students by:

  • incorporating opportunities for decision-making
  • including strategies to acknowledge student achievements or contributions to the community.

Interventions are more likely to be effective when they are embedded within peer or student-teacher relationships, other school programs or within curriculum, such as incorporating social skills in literacy and numeracy lessons.

As a general principle, behaviour interventions should not be isolated from broader practices or structures. Positive relationships are particularly important for school connectedness and engagement. Embedding good practice across the school community will require:

  • teacher training in proactive classroom management and interactive teaching
  • supportive whole-school policies
  • parent and community partnerships and collaboration.

Effective interventions explicitly teach skills associated with positive behaviours. As with any new learning, students should be given plenty of opportunities to refine and practise new skills.

To reduce problem behaviour in the classroom, efforts should include specific skill-building and clear communication of rules, routines and expectations. Students should also have opportunities to practise specific behaviour skills through active learning strategies. Studies have found that skills training is most effective when it is active, sequenced, focused and explicit. Active learning strategies need to be appropriate to the developmental level of the students.

The accuracy and consistency of program implementation is critical to program success. Effective interventions should be consistently delivered and regularly assessed to measure their outcomes. When teachers have a deep understanding of the evidence on which the program is founded, there are generally better outcomes.

High quality teacher training and active cultivation of expertise and enthusiasm are important factors in supporting effective program implementation. It is also important that teachers know the theory supporting the intervention. Several studies have suggested that where teachers were uncertain about the theoretical basis for the intervention, the programs were not implemented well. Supportive school leadership is critical. The more involved and positive school executive and key stakeholders are about the intervention, the more successful implementation will be.

Effective interventions are implemented over time to monitor progress and allow for sustainable change.

Behaviour interventions are more effective when schools systematically use data to monitor outcomes and make adjustments. Changes in behaviour may take time to become established, especially at the whole-school level. Typically, where new behaviour approaches are introduced there is an initial spike in instances, due to a heightened awareness of the behaviour. This is often followed by a decline as the intended impact of the program is realised.

STEPS guide for choosing programs and approaches

STEPS is an effective tool to help schools select the most appropriate evidence-based programs and approaches for aggressive student behaviour, such as bullying.

STEPS on the Bullying. No Way! website.

Return to top of page Back to top