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One of the key lessons presented by remote learning was that many of the behavior management tools available with in-person learning were not accessible when our students were not physically present. Moving a non-compliant student to a remote part of the room was not an option. Imposing progressive disciplinary sanctions was often impractical. And we could not send a student out of the room to see the principal.


The shift to remote learning drove us to develop new strategies and approaches to gain student attention, cooperation, and engagement. It took time, repeated attempts, and more than a few missteps before many of us became adept at using commitment-based approaches and intrinsic motivational strategies.


Our return to in-person learning offers the opportunity to rethink compliance-driven behavior management and progressive discipline practices before we again become reliant on these approaches. We need to examine the extent to which compliance-driven approaches undermine and interfere with our goal of developing independent, mature, self-regulating young people. Here’s why:

  • We risk communicating to students that their behavior should be controlled by external sources and forces rather than through their own choices, self-discipline, and sense of direction.
  • The causes of individual choices and drivers of behavior are complex and varied. For example, the lack of completed homework or a negative attitude early in the day may be the result of factors and forces at home or outside of school that have little to do with a student’s valuing of class rules or academic expectations.
  • Incentives only work if students place a reasonably high value on them. Once we reduce student behavior and academic engagement to rewards and punishment, we risk losing student compliance if they do not see the reward as compelling, or do not consider the punishment to be severe enough to drive the choice to comply.


What are some ways to leverage commitment and intrinsic motivation?

  • We can start by engaging students in the process of developing class rules and expectations so they feel ownership and understand the reasons for rules and expectations. We can coach and model positive, productive behaviors. Further, we can brainstorm with students strategies to use when they face situations that might lead to behaviors that are not acceptable or do not contribute to their success.
  • We can also pay attention to circumstances that may lead to unacceptable and non-productive behaviors. Often charting of patterns of misbehavior can offer clues to where and how we can make changes in routines, practices, and expectations to prevent poor choices and inclinations toward unacceptable behaviors. For example, we may discover that at a certain time of the day students struggle to pay attention because they are hungry, so we might schedule a snack time.
  • We can focus on the purpose, or the “why” of what we ask of students. Exploring why certain behaviors and limits are important to the effective and efficient operation of the class can help students see how their behavior can have an impact on their and other’s success.
  • We can commit to developing strong, positive relationships with our students. When students know we care about them and their success, we can have a powerful influence on how they think and feel about behaving and learning in our class.


The experience of the pandemic and remote learning, undoubtedly, has led to even more lessons about commitment-based and intrinsic-driven behavior approaches. Now is a good time to share with colleagues what you have learned and listen to their insights and strategies.

Thought for the Week

Understanding why students may be reluctant to engage is a crucial first step in countering the behavior and opening the door to full participation and learning success.

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