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How to Encourage Positive Behavior with a Solid System

Aug 30, 2022 | Behavior Management, Tips and Tricks for Music Teachers, Tips for First Year Music Teachers

How to Encourage Positive Behavior with a Solid System

by guest blogger Kateri Swavely-Veranna

I remember sitting in my college classroom and hearing my professor – who was the head of the music education department and also my advisor – confidently and honestly rather nonchalantly tell my class of future music educators that if our lessons were engaging enough, we wouldn’t need to worry about classroom management. 

Sorry if I just made you snort into your coffee.

I suppose, philosophically, she had a point. In a perfect world, our lessons would be captivating, our students would be enraptured, and at the end of our forty minute class times, our students would be begging not to leave. 


Ok so I didn’t learn a lot about classroom management from that professor. How to teach, sure. But most of what I learned about management I learned from observations, student teaching, crying to colleagues, and trial and error. Mostly error. Because it is true that you have to start off with a solid classroom management system. One that is easy for your students to understand, has clear rules, rewards, consequences, and most importantly is enforced consistently. 

I’m not saying having engaging lessons that interest your students isn’t important, believe me. But on the days that nothing short of a litter of puppies will get your students’ attention, it helps to have a plan. 

Class Reward System

The system I used was a full class reward system. It is important to note here that this doesn’t work if you have individual challenging students. The whole class doesn’t suffer for one nitwit. Rather, this method helped me keep everyone on task and focused. Here’s what I did:

I wrote MUSIC on the whiteboard in a corner everyone could see. If the class misbehaved – talking when they weren’t supposed to, taking too long to transition, not treating instruments properly, etc – I erased a letter. At the end of the class period, if at least M remained on the board, the class received a sticker on their chart. 5 stickers = reward day. 

Sometimes I changed the word. During our Toccata and Fugue unit, the 5th grader’s word was BACH. One less letter. They hated it. 😂 When we prepped for the holiday concert, I used CONCERT. Extra letters! Classes who made it through the whole period without losing a letter got a fun activity at the end of class – like freeze dance, an outdoor activity, or even just a few minutes of free time (the older students loved this one). 

I used this method for kindergarten through fifth grade. The kindergartners bought in a little better, but in general it really worked for me. Plus, there was never any group punishment. They simply didn’t earn the reward. And if the entire class was difficult, with the exception of those few students who are never trouble, I would make a point to speak to them privately to let them know I recognized and appreciated them. 

Beginning of the Year Strategies

At the beginning of the year, I would review our rules list, which was also posted on the classroom wall. I had students act out the incorrect behavior. They loved that, the little ones especially. And it helped set the tone that if they did their part, we could and would have fun. 

As a young teacher with the message “if you’re good at what you do, you won’t have behavior problems!” Classroom management stressed me out. Thinking kids misbehaving means your lessons are bad is not the encouragement a new teacher needs, nor a healthy headspace. More often than not, our students’ behavior has nothing to do with us or our lessons.

Having a system in place and offering clear expectations makes life easier for everyone, especially you. Whatever system you use, be clear, be consistent, and you will set yourself up for success. 

Kateri Swavely-Verenna was a K to 8 general and instrumental music teacher for 8 years. When her position was cute in 2017, she made a big pivot and eventually opened her own virtual assistant business, which she has now been running successfully for two years. She loves helping other small business owners with their social media accounts and copywriting – like newsletters and blogs. She also still loves to create PowerPoints now and then. You can reach her at

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