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Course Design Blueprint

Classroom / Learning Behaviours

Good classroom and behaviour management is one of the key elements of successful learning and teaching, and will be crucial to your success and commitment as a teacher. Classroom management has become an increasingly important aspect of a lecturer’s life.

It is compulsory for students under 16 to attend education. Traditionally FE and HE students attended because they wanted to. If they were unhappy with their learning or the institution, they would usually vote with their feet and leave, rather than behave disruptively. 

Apprenticeship programmes contain an element of off-the-job training undertaken here at Suffolk. Adults lacking basic skills may also have to attend literacy and/or numeracy programmes or face losing benefit. Growing unemployment means that some HE students are attending the University because they can’t find work. 

The classroom and learning behaviours information has been adapted from UCU guidance

The majority of younger students will benefit from the adult environment of a University. However, a significant minority will misbehave in this new setting. Lecturers in the classroom increasingly report disruptive behaviour in their classes. The Learning and Skills Development Agency, Northern Ireland, in a useful publication on behaviour management uses the term ‘disruptive behaviour’ to encompass a range of behaviours from the mildly irritating to those which can be dangerous.

The Further Education and Development Agency publication Ain’t Misbehavin defines disruptive behaviour as ‘patterns of repeated behaviour which significantly interrupt the learning of others or threaten their personal security or well being.’ (FEDA 1998) Examples of disruptive behaviour include:

  • l not finishing work or avoiding the task set l teasing or bullying other people l calling out and interrupting
  • coming in noisily/late
  • constant talking
  • refusal to comply with reasonable instruction
  • poor attendance or persistent lateness
  • putting on make-up, combing hair
  • rude, cheeky or inappropriate comments
  • not respecting other people’s property
  • substance abuse

These behaviours are problematic because of their frequency, severity, or duration. They undermine learning and teaching and are a significant cause of stress for all concerned.

Why do students misbehave?

Reasons why students are disruptive in the classroom can include the following:

  • They lack appropriate social skills.
  • They lack basic skills to be successful.
  • Their challenging behaviour has become habitual and is reinforced by the attention they receive from lecturers and peers.
  • Some lecturers may trigger misbehaviour by treating students with disrespect (put downs, sarcasm).

Classroom management is applicable to all learning and teaching situations, whether within formal settings such as the classroom, workshop or laboratory, and within more informal settings such as libraries, resource centres and private study areas. Behaviour management is part and parcel of classroom management, but is often focused around unacceptable and disruptive behaviour. We offer some pointers to more general and positive classroom management, which is followed by information about what to do if students behave in an unacceptable or disruptive way.

This guidance comes from various publications and current work within the FE sector. It therefore has a bias towards FE practice and teaching. However it is likely that the examples given are relevant and transferable to higher education situations.

Creating a positive environment

The core of classroom management is to try to establish a success-orientated environment for teaching and learning. The evidence from schools is that this works best when developed and applied consistently across the whole institution. However there are strategies that you can adopt within your own classroom which will help.

A useful starting point

To establish a positive learning environment in your classroom, you need to create and use a working statement of principles, for example:

  • Teachers have the right to teach.
  • Students have the right to learn.
  • We all have the right to feel safe.
  • We need to make clear that rights are to be linked to responsibilities.

Classroom rules ensure that these principles and responsibilities are established. Rules should be:

  • negotiated, consulted with and discussed with your students
  • enforceable
  • reasonable – not just to the teacher but also to the students
  • framed positively
  • clear, taught, and displayed
  • consistently applied across all your teaching
  • few in number so you and your students know what they are.

Specific subject areas may require you to establish specific rules, and procedures appropriate to that subject such as procedures for the use of tools and equipment. Learners need to experience the consequences of their behaviour whether appropriate or inappropriate.


Online Engagement

This section offers some suggestions, based on a review of the scholarly literature on online engagement by a group of Australian academics (Redmond, Heffernan, Abawi, Brown and Henderson, 2018).

In the review by Redmond et al. (2018), the authors found that online engagement can be categorised under five headings: emotional, social, collaborative, cognitive and behavioural engagement. It’s worth noting that there is opportunity lurking in the crisis, in that there can be some real benefits to students to learning online, for example:

  • Online learning is flexible in terms of time and place. 
  • Online learning can be more inclusive. Since there are a variety of alternative ways to participate, the students who tend to speak the most in class might be less dominant online, and the quiet learners might contribute more ideas in writing. 
  • Written records can be kept of the learning, for example in discussion forums, which students can refer back to later. 
  • Students will learn new ways of communicating and managing relationships online, which may be useful in other situations, such as in employment.