A teacher and a student talking

Respond constructively to student behaviour (Secondary)

teaching practice

For student year

Years 7 to 12

Helps students to

  • build self-esteem
  • stay on task

Helps teachers to

  • increase teaching moments
  • strengthen relationships


For the primary school version of this practice, go to:
Respond constructively to student behaviour (Foundation to year 6).


How teachers respond to behaviour can contribute to a positive, more inclusive learning environment and help prevent inappropriate behaviour. Clear expectations and constructive responses to behaviour can assist students who have difficulty staying on task, completing work, or regulating themselves in class. Responding in this way also builds rapport and trust between student and teacher, which makes managing behaviour easier.

Constructive responses to behaviour, include:
•    using specific praise that’s individualised to reflect what the student has achieved or is undertaking
•    positive reinforcement of appropriate behaviours as opposed to a punitive response
•    looking holistically at a student’s behaviour to understand what might be causing it

Many students, but especially those new to high school or on the autism spectrum, benefit from consistent routines that help them know what behaviour is and isn’t acceptable in the classroom or during a specific activity.

“You can effectively manage your classroom by reinforcing positive behaviour and delivering constructive responses to inappropriate behaviour.”

How the practice works

Watch this video to learn more about this practice.

Duration 2:44

Australian Professional Standards for Teachers related to this practice

4.1 - support student participation

4.3 - manage challenging behaviour

For further information, see Australian Professional Standards for Teachers AITSL page

Preparing to teach

1. Identify behaviours you want to encourage or reduce

  • Think about and plan how you'll respond to these behaviours. Having a list of planned responses that suit your teaching style means you're more likely to use them authentically and efficiently.  


2. Choose strategies to reinforce appropriate behaviour

Strategies might include:

  • specific praise – providing positive verbal feedback specific to the student and the behaviour, e.g. 'Thank you for raising your hand to ask a question, Ash'
  • clearly stating your expectations at the beginning of each lessons or activity.

3. Choose strategies to respond to inappropriate behaviour

Strategies might include: 

  • restating positive expectations – reminding students of the behaviour you want to see in the classroom
  • differential reinforcement – reinforcing or praising only appropriate behaviours and removing or stopping reinforcements for other behaviours
  • conferencing – one-on-one problem-solving with a student when they're calm, asking students to suggest strategies for the future.

NB: As you choose strategies, always refer to the student behaviour policy and guidelines relevant to the state or school system you're operating in.

It works better if:

  • you reinforce appropriate behaviour consistently
  • you offer praise for students’ efforts or for their use of specific work strategies rather than for intelligence or for the mastery of a skill, helping students to build a growth mindset 
  • students are collaborated with to create a list of reinforcing items or activities. Providing choices will increase students’ motivation.

When responding to inappropriate behaviour:

  • use positive, constructive, and consistent responses
  • give specific praise for positive behaviours
  • give students a manageable task, once the student is calm, that focuses on their strengths or interests, i.e. a task they'll succeed in.

It doesn't work if:

  • reinforcement or response doesn't occur as soon as possible following the target behaviour. If reinforcement or response is delayed, the student may not understand which behaviour is being rewarded or is inappropriate.

In the classroom

1. Explicitly state expectations

At the start of each lesson or activity, explicitly state expectations for behaviour.

2. Observe

Before responding to a particular behaviour, consider why it's happened. What's going on with the student? The student may have experienced:

  • confusion (even if you told them what to do)  
  • a sensory trigger
  • miscommunication with a peer  
  • difficulty communicating
  • a feeling of being overwhelmed
  • a lack of belonging, respect, or self-efficacy.

3. Respond immediately

Respond positively and specifically using your chosen constructive response. If inappropriate behaviour continues, choose another constructive response from your list, e.g. asking the student to go to a designated space to calm down.


If a student regularly has difficulty starting their work, notice and comment on their behaviour when they do start their work in a timely manner. To begin with, this may involve finding little things to notice and praise them for. 

4. Provide feedback later

If required, provide constructive feedback after the lesson without peers present. Sometimes this is as simple as restating the expectation of the student.

Practice toolkit

Practice implementation planner template

We know it's not always easy to keep track of what's working and what isn't. So, we've created this template for you to record and reflect on what you're doing to create more inclusive classrooms. The implementation planner contains:

  • guidance around goal setting
  • a reflection section (what worked, didn’t work, what to change, and next steps)
  • prompting questions.

Implementation planner with examples

Set your professional learning goal for:

Respond constructively to student behaviour (Secondary)
You can set and save your goal for inclusive practices using inclusionED. Saved goals will appear in your profile. Here you can access, refine and review your goal easily.

Benefits of goal setting

Setting, working towards, and reflecting on goals helps you grow professionally and improve your practice. You can access AITSL learning resources for teachers to learn more about:
How to set goals
The Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership recommends using the SMART matrix to frame your goal setting.

SMART goals refers to goals that are:
  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-phased
Read more about Improving teaching practices.


Further reading

Articles and guides

Videos – complex communication and sensory processing differences

Watch these Positive Partnership videos to hear first-person accounts regarding communication and sensory processing differences:

Related Practices

This practice is from the core research project