Introduction: Behaviour management strategies

Teachers resolve disruptions of a lesson by reinforcing positive behaviour. The first two steps do not cost a student any time. The next two steps do cost a student time. In a friendly and fair manner, teachers give their students multiple chances to adjust their behaviour. With Friendly and Fair Teaching (FFT) there is no need to send a student out of class.

I clearly state my boundaries. With a student who disrupts the lesson I reinforce positive behaviour. I do this in a friendly and fair manner. Therefore, in my classes there are few disruptions.

Current approach:

How do I manage behaviour?

Future approach

How do I manage behaviour in the future?

Introduction video


‘Behaviour management strategies’ is one of the five perspectives of Friendly and Fair Teaching (FFT). It involves different steps to resolve disturbances. With these strategies you create a positive learning environment. If you start working with the five perspectives , it will be less necessary to take these steps. No matter how balanced and professional your teaching, it will always be necessary to reinforce positive behaviour.

Start teaching

When you start teaching, at the beginning of the year, it is often quite pleasant. What do you do when things get too cozy, what do you do when there is unrest and when the lesson is disrupted? How do you solve this in a way that really works in practice?

Succesful teaching seems to be inextricably linked to the absense of disruptions. When this does not come easily to you, you ask your colleagues for advice. A common piece of advice from colleagues is to start strict and then slowly ease the reins. Most teachers are convinced that you should be strict first. But if you send a student out of class in a stern manner, you don’t solve anything.

FFT offers an alternative where you remain friendly and fair while reinforcing positive behaviour. If you find yourself too strict or too friendly, with FFT you switch to friendly and fair with less need for hierarchy, without the need playing the boss.

Five perspectives: a chain

The top link of the chain with which you reinforce positive behaviour is indispensable in education. Just as a chain is just as strong as its weakest link, teaching depends on these five perspectives:

BMS = Behaviour management strategies

OL = Observing learning

PL = Planning lessons

EF = Establishing fairness

EFT = Establishing a friendly tone

The colours of the chain are those of a traffic light. Read more about the origin of that idea.

  1. The first step you take to resolve a disturbance is ‘using body language’. You can do this as often as necessary. Directing with body language is the first step of the module ‘Reinforcing positive behaviour: first steps’
  2. The second step, is to give a (positively worded) Tip to a student who is disrupting the lesson. By noting the Tip, you show the student that you might take action. By counting the Tips and by never giving more than an agreed number of Tips per lesson, you make it clear to your students where your limits lie. Giving a Tip is also part of the module ‘Reinforcing positive behaviour – first steps’
  3. The third step is to that you hand out an assignment to a student: a ‘Future Behaviour letter’. You give that assignment sporadically. You give a student two chances to turn in the assignment to you. The third step is part of the module ‘Reinforcing positive behaviour: next steps’.
  4. If the student does not turn in the assignment, at your request a senior member of staff takes over the turning in of the assignment from you. This is step 4 of the module ‘Reinforcing positive behaviour: next steps’.

Figure 2: Links

Benefits of each step

With reinforcing positive behaviour, it is possible to remain friendly and fair.

  • First step: If you first use body language, there is less need to give Tips (second step)
  • Second step: By Giving few Tips you clearly sets a boundary. You count the number of Tips per lesson with the abacus. By doing so, you make your limit visible to students and limit the number of Tips you give per lesson. Tips are positively worded directions that replace warnings. Too often applied, Tips lose its effect.
  • Third step: By giving an assignment called ‘Future behaviour letter’ you ask a student to indicate how behaviour can be improved. The student gets two chances to hand in the assignment to you.
  • Fourth step. If a student does not hand in the assignment, a senior member of staff takes care of the handing in. By cooperating with your supervisor you make sure that a student always hands in the ‘Future behaviour letter’.

Once handed in, the assignment takes on the function of a contract. Therefore a ‘Future behaviour letter’ is more effective than punishment work. Just like punishment work, a future behaviour letter costs the student time. The difference is that with a ‘Future behaviour letter’ you improve the relationship between you and a student. Punishment work on the contrary puts pressure on the relationship.

These four steps come together in the Ladder of action. When you resolve disruptions in this sequence, everybody can concentrate. In the Overview, you will see in the upper right corner an estimate of how often you will use certain steps. In most cases, to solve a disturbance you use only the first step, sometimes you use two or more steps in succession.

Causes of disruptions

The cause of a lesson disruption may lie with you: you are not friendly enough, you are not fair enough, your lesson content could be better, you forget to observe your students, you behaviour management strategies do not have the desired effect.
The reason a student disrupts class may come from outside: infatuation, mutual conflicts, jealousy, the way classmates treat each other, tension at home or disappointing performance.

External factors can be a fire alarm that goes of, an unexpected change of classroom, a new student joining the group, etc.
Whether the cause is with you, with the students or whether disruption has an external cause, it is recommended that you respond immediately to any disruption in a way that resolves the disruption. With behaviour management strategies, the first two steps of reinforcing positive behaviour are sufficient in 80 percent of lessons. In twenty percent of the lessons it will be necessary use the third step. This is only an estimation; it may turn out differently for each teacher.

No matter how you teach, there can always be a disruption. When a disruption occurs, it is good to know how to solve it. FFT recommends the use of a ‘Future behaviour letter’ to solve a disruption.

Difference between preventive and curative actions

  1. Preventive: In using step 1 and 2 (reinforcing positive behaviour: first steps), there will be less need to hand out an assignment (Future behaviour letter). Using body language and giving Tips has a preventive effect because you delay the moment handing out an assignment.
  2. Curative: By handing out a Future behaviour letter, you solve a problem. In most cases, the problem will not occur again afterwards. Therefore, a Future behaviour letter has a “healing” effect that FFT calls “curative”.
    By reinforcing positive behaviour you respond both during frontal teaching and independent work to a student’s behaviour that disrupts the lesson or to a harbinger to it. By responding immediately, you remind a student of the framework (friendly and fair) and give a student an early opportunity to modify behaviour. Your goal is to stop that behaviour at that point.


Before you start reinforcing positive behaviour, you discuss this with your students. You explain the steps you take. When you stay friendly and fair, students accept you taking the steps. You are predictable because you always take (a number of) steps of the ladder in the same order. Mostly the first step using body language will do.


If you use Tips or the Future behaviour letter too often, they lose their effect. Therefore:

  1. Limit the number of Tips you give per lesson.
  2. Limit the number of Tips you give one particular student per period.
  3. Limit the number of ‘Future behaviour letters’ that you hand out.
  4. If you have given a student a Tip, avoid giving within a lesson the same student a second Tip. If you do, this student will get the impression that you especially don’t like him or her.
  5. With whole class teaching: If you have given two Tips to two different students, give a third student a Future behaviour letter while stating that you are don’t like to give this assignment, but that it now is necessary.

If you take these four steps , you will make handing out a Future behaviour letter an occasional but necessary event. By collaborating with a senior member of staff, a student always hands in the assignment. This is why the four steps are effective.

It is not necessary to limit ‘Using body language’. You can use body language as much as you want.

Tips in different situations

How you give Tips varies by situation. You can give Tips during frontal teaching, during working independently or give Tips for not doing homework. When giving Tips, how do you involve both the individual responsibility of a student and the collective responsibility of a group? How do you work with the abacus?

Read more about limiting Tips in different situations at ‘Second step: advise’

1. Ladder of action

With the ‘Ladder of Action’ you reinforce positive behaviour in four steps. The name ‘Ladder of Action’ has been chosen to indicate that these are neutral actions. From now on we will speak of steps and not actions. With this ladder you de-escalate possible conflicts. Therefore you could also call this ladder de-escalation ladder. In the sequel FFT will only use the name ‘Ladder of action’. This term is part of FFT’s professional language. We write this self-made word with a capital letter.

At each step of the Ladder of Action by which you reinforce positive behaviour, you give a student a chance to adjust behaviour.

Read this illustration from bottom to top just like climbing a ladder. You perform each step in a friendly, fair manner. The moment a student responds well to one of the four steps of the Ladder of action, you give that student a nod or a compliment (thumbs up) and omit the remaining actions.

Figure 57: Ladder of action (overview)

2. Importance of reinforcing positive behaviour

2.1 Reinforcing positive behaviour

With the four steps of the Ladder of action you are predictable for your students. Your students notice that you always give them a chance to adjust their behaviour and that you are not out to retaliate. They also notice that you remain friendly and fair while addressing behaviour. With this sequence of steps you reduce the number of disruptions and all attention is focused on the lesson.

2.2 Not reinforcing positive behaviour

You warn students without drawing any consequences from this. If there are many disturbances, to some disturbances you turn a blind eye, otherwise you will not get around to teaching. If you find the disruption too bothersome, you send a student (in a rough way) out of the lesson. All this costs you a lot of energy. The next lesson you face the student you sent out of the lesson. Then it appears that the problem has not been solved.

2.3 Start reinforcing positive behaviour

Before you start with FFT, ask for your supervisor’s cooperation in the following situation: It may happen that you give a student a ‘Future behaviour letter’ and does not hand it in on time. To avoid a conflict with this student, you then ask the student to hand in the assignment to the supervisor.

Your ways of reinforcing positive behaviour are related to the framework. Therefore, read first how you introduce the framework to a group and then how you connect the framework to reinforcing positive behaviour by observing your students.

If you are going to work with FFT, there are two initial situations:

  1. The group you will be teaching has not yet experienced FFT
  2. The group you are going to teach has had experience with FFT through you or through other teachers.

An explanation for both situations:

Option 1. How to start with FFT if the group you are teaching has no experience there yet

If the group does not know the approach to FFT, introduce the approach in three lessons:

  1. In the first lesson, introduce the ‘Framework‘ and the ‘Future behaviour letter‘ (Framework + Reinforcing positive behaviour: next steps). The Future behaviour letter is the active component of FFT. In terms of administration, you then use only your Tipbook.
  2. In the second lesson you introduce the giving of Tips that precede the Future behaviour letter (Reinforcing positive behavriour: first steps). For administration, from the second lesson use your Tip Book as well as class lists.
  3. In the third lesson introduce the gesture with which you ask for silence and gestures that precede giving Tips (Communicating through gestures + Using body language).

For each of these three lesson, explanations of FFT are always brief and you can start your lesson almost immediately.

Check out these Powerpoints with detailed instruction for a quiet group and for the busy group.

Option 2. How do you start with FFT if the group you are teaching has no experience?

  • If you yourself have no experience withFFT, start as described above.
  • If you do have experience with FFT (and so does the group), then you can start working with all the steps of the ‘Ladder of action‘ right away: gestures, Tips, Future behaviour letter.

3. Points of attention when reinforcing positive behaviour

When observing your students, ask yourself:

  1. Is there mutual trust?
  2. Are my students cooperative?

If not, when reinforcing positive behaviour be sure to:

  1. always remain friendly and clear. You act consistently and consistently (coherent, not contradictory).
  2. respond to all disruptions. Read this side note “Student continues disrupting the lesson“.
  3. not associate yourself with negative, disruptive behaviour.
  4. act predictably and take the steps of the Action Ladder from bottom to top.
  5. make the first step (using body language) inaudible.
  6. use the abacus (which works like a traffic light) to indicate how many Tips you have given. Read more about the differences of using this folder in frontal teaching and independent work.
  7. to pause with the class in the event of a serious disruption. You take time together to reflect on what just happened and your own reaction (moment of truth).
  8. stop taking steps when a disruption is solved. If a student responds well to one of your actions, you respond with a nod or a thumbs-up gesture.

4. Time invested by teacher and student

  • Reinforcing positive behaviour will cost you little time and energy.
  • The first two steps costs the student no time. Step 3 and 4 costs the student time.

Because these last two steps costs a student time, the four steps are effective. That effectiveness is only noticeable after you have handed out a first ‘Future behaviour letter’ and after it has been turned in by a student.

5. Manual for whole class teaching and working independently

Now follow two manuals for reinforcing positive behaviour during frontal teaching and for when students are working independently. In both approaches to teaching, you strive not to send a student out of class. That doesn’t mean you never do it. There are situations when FFT also recommends sending a student out of class.

In both frontal teaching and independent work, you always perform actions in a fixed order. At each step, you give the student the opportunity to improve the behaviour. When the student improves the behaviour you give nod or compliment. When the next student interrupts, you start all over again. With these steps you act friendly and fair.

5.1 Manual for whole class teaching

During a FFT course you will receive a ‘Cheat Sheet‘ (overview of your actions in frontal teaching). You can keep this very short sheet with you the first time you work with FFT. During the course you will practice using this cheat sheet.

1 Using body language
a. Stand still and look at a student who is interrupting in a relaxed manner.
b. Take one step toward the student who disrupts the lesson and look at the student questioningly (eyebrows raised). With this one step you announce that you can take action.
c. Depending on the disturbance, make one of these two sets of gestures: Attention – silent or Attention – stop
2  Tip
Walk up to the student, give a positive Tip and record it in your Tip Book. Then move the abacus one page forward,
3 Future behaviour letter
When handing out a ‘Future behaviour letter’ you indicate that the student is making the assignment at home and that it should be handed in at an agreed upon time. It is also possible to ask the student to come to you at the end of the day to make the assignment  under your supervision.
4 Aid from senior staff member
A student gets two chances to hand in the assignment to you. If the student does not hand in the assignment to you, a senior staff member takes care of the handing in.

5.2 Manual for working independently

  1. When your students are working independently and a student disturbs a fellow student, you walk up to the student (but not to close) who is interrupting and seek eye contact. This usually has an effect. If the student responds well, give a nod.
  2. If the student keeps disturbing, depending on the type of disturbance, choose from these two gestures:
    a) Attention – quiet (you use this when a student disturbs by talking)
    b) Attention – stop (you use this if a learner disturbs by doing something)
    If the student is responding well then you compliment the student (thumbs up).
  3. If the student is not reacting well, you give a Tip. When giving a Tip, stand next to the student (rather than facing a student) and speak softly so as not to disturb the concentration of other students. By speaking softly, you only address the student who is interrupting. You immediately write down your Tip on a list of names. After you give a Tip, move the abacus one Tip forward. By doing so, you make the entire group collectively responsible for the proper conduct when working independently. If you see that you are noting down a student’s second Tip, tell that student that the next step is a ‘Future behaviour letter’.

If a student has already received two Tips and interrupts again in a subsequent lesson, hand out a ‘Future behaviour letter’.

Aim to hand out no more than one Future behaviour letter per lesson when the students are working independently. The hand-in procedure is similar to steps 3 and 4 above.

6. Origin using colours

FFT uses colours as a signal to students in both the abacus as with Future behaviour letters.


  1. The colours of the images of the abacus with which you count Tips are derived from the colours of a traffic light (Green, orange and red).
  2. When the students are working independently, some extra colours are added to the abacus: green, light yellow, dark yellow, orange and red.

Future behaviour letters

  1. The colours of the Future behaviour letters you give during whole class teaching are derived from the cards a referee hands out in soccer (yellow and red). These colours are shown in the overview.
  2. When working independently, you use a future behaviour letter on white paper.

After a ‘Future behaviour letter’ is handed in, you keep them. By the colour you can see in what circumstance the student received the assignment.

6.1 Origin using colours with abacus

Traffic light

Kees de Heus told Johan ‘t Hart that elementary school teachers work with the colours of a traffic light. That concept with the colours green, orange and red FFT uses when counting Tips within a lesson. You count Tips using images that are grouped together in a folder. By counting the Tips, you indicate your limit. Your students then know, as the images change colour (green, orange, red just like a traffic light), when to stop with behaviour that disrupts the lesson.

Education Preconditions

The colours of a traffic light are also reflected in this picture of a chain with the five perspectives of FFT (preconditions education). Yellow indicates using body language and giving Tips. Red is handing out a Future behaviour letter.

Figure 2: Links

7. Summary

The Ladder of Action shows four steps to reinforce positive behaviour:

  1. Using body language
  2. Tips
  3. Future behaviour letter
  4. Help from senior member of staff with handing in the assignment.

With the abacus you count and limit the number of Tips in a for students visible  way. The reinforcing of positive behaviour is effective because students avoid reflecting on their own (negative) behaviour.

Steps 1 and 2 prevent you from handing out a Future behaviour letter too often. If you never hand out a Future behaviour letter (step 3), steps 1 and 2 lose their power. With Step 4, you avoid getting into conflict with a student if they do not hand in the assignment to you.

8. Contribution Astrid Boon – reflective writing assignment

In case a student already made a ‘Future behaviour letter’, the next assignment can be a Reflective writing assignment.

9. Credits

Rense Houwing -Editor Friendly and Fair Teaching
Rense has made the distinction between steps that cost a student no time, and steps that cost a student time. Thanks to him, Observation is now a separate, observation-oriented, perspective of Friendly and Fair Teaching. Observations precede reinforcing positive behaviour.
Astrid Boon – Orthopedagogue Astrid Boon indicated that a teacher often has only two ways of addressing behaviour: warning (too many) and sending a student out of class. Astrid indicated that intermediate steps are missing. FFT fills that gap with the Ladder of action.
Peter Teitler
Peter Teitler uses the name “Escalation ladder”  Teachers use his escalation ladder to adjust student’s behaviour. Friendly and Fair Teaching takes the idea of a ladder from Peter Teitler. FFT omits the idea of “escalation” and replaces it with “action”. FFT’s new name is ‘Ladder of action’. When applied by Friendly Fair Teaching, all steps of the Ladder of action have a friendly and fair character.
Kees de Heus – A former teacher at the Geography teacher training college and active as creator of test questions and tests for Higher Professional Education. Kees de Heus told Johan ‘t Hart about the use of the colors of a traffic light in elementary school. This led with FFT to the abacus with the colours of a traffic light.