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Teaching challenge

Ms Mahrez is able to tackle disruptive classroom behaviour when it arises, but some of her pupils need constant monitoring to keep them on task and others do little more than the minimum required to complete the task. What can she do to create an even more productive learning environment?

Key idea

Being consistent in sharing and reinforcing expectations supports pupil motivation. Over time it can generate an increasingly positive, stable and effective learning environment.

Evidence summary

Consistency and systems

When teachers are predictable in how they act, pupils come to know what to expect, feel more secure in the classroom and can focus more on their learning (Rathmann et al., 2018). Being predictable entails being consistent in how we respond to similar behaviours by different pupils (both good and bad), and by consistently modelling expected attitudes, values and behaviours (IES, 2008).

One way to increase the predictability of our action is by sticking closely with a classroom behaviour system aligned with wider school expectations. Such systems often include (IES, 2008):

  • Proactive teaching of sanctions and rewards.
  • Reactive procedures for responding to common situations.
  • Basic policies for escalating persistent or extreme behaviour.

It is important that the system is simple to follow and easy to remember, for example with consistent language and non-verbal reminders for common classroom tasks. When this is the case, Ms Mahrez will be able to respond quickly without having to think too hard about every situation, and so is more likely to respond consistently over time.

The most effective systems are those that use reinforcement of positive behaviours more than reprimands (IES, 2008). However, teachers must also be careful not to over-use praise (Coe et al., 2014), using acknowledgement when expectations are met (“Thank you for putting your pen down, Jen”) and only praising when they are exceeded (“Well done for constructing a sentence that uses powerful persuasive language, Jamil”).

Intrinsic motivation

Effective classroom behaviour systems also make the most of pupils’ intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is when pupils do something because they want to, perhaps because it is related to their identity or values. In contrast, extrinsic motivation is where pupils do something because of a sanction or reward. This distinction is important because pupils who are motivated intrinsically are more likely to behave better and persist longer with tasks when they get challenging (Lazowski & Hulleman, 2016).

Over time, teachers should aim to gradually reduce pupil reliance on external rewards or sanctions (IES, 2008). Ms Mahrez could do this by using intentional and consistent language that promotes challenge and aspiration, and helping pupils make links between their actions, successes and long-term goals. For example, when setting up a task which requires retrieval of prior knowledge, Ms Mahrez might say “successfully remembering this will help you to learn about figurative language, which is crucial for much of the English we’ll learn in the future and will also help you with everyday reading and writing”.

Consistency and pupil-teacher relationships

Effective whole school environments often include:

  • High expectations from teachers of pupil learning.
  • Consistent enforcement of collectively agreed upon disciplinary policies.
  • Effective classroom management (Chapman et al., 2013).

Therefore, individual teachers have a role in communicating shared values and improving classroom and school culture. They can do this by reinforcing expectations and following school behaviour policies in their classrooms and around the school. For example, challenging pupils on their manners in the corridor or upholding school rules in the playground.

Teacher consistency can also improve pupil-teacher relationships. Pupil perceptions are based on repeated interactions over time, so when teachers consistently manage the class in a controlled and positive way, pupils are more likely to believe that their teacher has their ‘best interests at heart’ and feel more ‘connected’ to school (Chapman et al., 2013). When this happens, pupils are more likely to interpret corrective interactions from their teacher – for example, being reminded to turn around and listen – as a supportive act rather than just a meaningless punishment.

Consistency breeds success

In addition to improving pupil wellbeing and whole school climate, consistency over time can have a positive impact on pupil outcomes. When teachers regularly communicate a belief that everyone is able to achieve academically, their pupils are more likely to live up to those expectations (Murdock-Perriera et al., 2018). Furthermore, when teachers are able to consistently enable success, pupils will increasingly believe in their own ability, feel more positive about school and improve their outcomes over time.

In short, consistency is a powerful tool for promoting high expectations, enabling a positive whole-school climate and building trusting pupil-teacher relationships.

Nuances and caveats

Teaching pupils strategies to develop their ability to self-regulate their emotions can also lead to more consistent pupil responses in the long term - for example, developing pupil emotional language to express the problems they are experiencing and self-calming strategies to support them to learn more effectively when the content is challenging (EEF, 2018). Supporting pupil success can also help (IES, 2008). Enabling pupils to be successful can minimise emotional barriers while developing emotional self-regulation.

Key takeaways

Ms Mahrez can improve the effectiveness of her classroom by understanding that:

  • consistency entails predictably modelling and enforcing classroom systems. It is most effective when positive reinforcement moves pupils towards intrinsic motivation
  • consistency can improve teacher-pupil relationships and school culture by promoting shared values
  • over time, consistently enabling pupils to be successful can improve pupil wellbeing, motivation, behaviour and academic outcomes

Further reading

Rathmann K., Herke M., Hurrelmann K. & Richter M. (2018). Perceived class climate and school-aged children’s life satisfaction: The role of the learning environment in classrooms. PLOS ONE.


Chapman, R. L., Buckley, L., & Sheehan, M. (2013). School-Based Programs for Increasing Connectedness and Reducing Risk Behavior: A systematic review. Educational Psychology Review, 25(1), 95-114.

Coe, R., Aloisi, C., Higgins, S., & Major, L. E. (2014). What makes great teaching: Review of the underpinning research. Durham University.

EEF (2018). Teaching and Learning Toolkit.

IES (2008). Reducing Behavior Problems in the Elementary School Classroom.

Lazowski, R. A., & Hulleman, C. S. (2016). Motivation Interventions in Education: A Meta-Analytic Review. Review of Educational Research, 86(2), 602–640.

Murdock-Perriera, L. A., & Sedlacek, Q. C. (2018). Questioning Pygmalion in the twenty-first century: the formation, transmission, and attributional influence of teacher expectancies. Social Psychology of Education, 21(3), 691–707.

Rathmann K., Herke M., Hurrelmann K. & Richter M. (2018). Perceived class climate and school-aged children’s life satisfaction: The role of the learning environment in classrooms. PLOS ONE.