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Positive Classroom Management Series

Positive Classroom Discipline

Overview of Back-Up Systems within the Classroom

A back-up system is designed to deal with severe or persistent disruptions of any magnitude. The bottom half of the back-up system consisting of small and medium back-up responses is primarily in the hands of the classroom teachers. It is their responsibility to put the lid on as early and as gently as possible in order to keep the problem from growing and continuing. When teachers do their job quickly and effectively, they protect the student from getting into any big trouble by their calm and by their constructive use of negative sanctions.


It is easy to imagine being in a situation in which a small back-up response might need to be used, but it is difficult to imagine being in the same situation in need of a small back-up response repeatedly. The first or second time it happens to you, chalk it up to experience. The third or fourth time it happens to you, chalk it up to ineptitude or inaction.


A successful back-up system will be self-eliminating because it works - it consistently raises the cost of intolerable behavior above any possible benefit. But a total management system that is successful will also eliminate its back-up system by design - by quickly implementing an incentive to remedy any problem which recurrently calls forth the use of the back-up system. In an analogous fashion when the bottom half of the back-up system is used appropriately within the context of effective limit-setting and incentives, the remainder of the back-up system is rarely needed. When teachers use negative sanctions ineptly, however, they all but guarantee the frequent use of the top half of the back-up system.


Obnoxious behavior is frequent enough to require the use of small and medium back-up responses from time to time in many classrooms. Ugly behavior can occur suddenly and throw the teacher into using large and extra-large back-up responses on rare occasions. But if the teacher is using positive discipline properly, such blow-ups will typically be between peers rather than between student and teacher. The main determiner of whether most obnoxious behavior turns ugly is, as usual, the teacher's initial response to it. Consequently, the frequency of teachers' need for help with discipline from outside their classroom serves as a barometer of the effectiveness of their management within the classroom.

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