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Factors affecting the implementation of a managing student behaviour plan in a primary school

Adrian Moore
Education Department of WA - Como Primary School


In his 1971 book Teacher and Child, Dr Hiam Ginott talks about classroom control. He speaks from the standpoint of the teacher being the decisive element able to control classroom climate and the feelings of the students. He stresses that the conclusion is frightening to him, that teachers can have such tremendous power.

Twenty-five years later, a twelve year old male primary school student also talks about control in classrooms. When asked about his behavioural attitude and actions, he indicated that he had learned what to do to push each teacher's boundary of acceptance of particular behaviours. He knew how far he could go in order to avoid being placed at the next step of the school's behaviour plan. He challenges teachers to take control by enforcing the management plan. He sees benefit in a behavioural management plan.

These statements are indicators of why an investigation of the factors that affect the implementation of an MSB plan in a Primary School took place. There would be many teachers throughout Western Australia who would dream of teaching at a school like Johnston Primary. After all, it was located in one of the 'better' areas of Perth. Surely it could not be that with only a small turnover of staff in recent years this school had any student behaviour problems. The students were always very well presented. On interschool days, they appeared as a cohesive school unit. Indeed these students appeared not to cause any of their supervising teachers any problems.

Why then did the Deputy Principal, Doug, of Johnston Primary School approach a teacher from nearby Smithson Primary to ask a particular question. He asked why the Smithson students seemed so well-behaved during an interschool athletics carnival. The teacher replied, briefly outlining Smithson's MSB plan and Doug expressed interest at the answer. He indicated that the way in which the Smithson students were being managed would possibly be of interest to Mary, his Johnston female Deputy colleague and indeed the Principal, Jim.

In September 1994, a meeting was arranged between the Smithson teacher and the Johnston administrative team. They would discuss how it was that the Smithson group of children could be so well behaved when they were being supervised by someone other than their classroom teacher. It would clarify what were the factors that positively affected the students' behaviour and sent such a clear message to Doug.

At the end of the arranged meeting, it was agreed by the Johnston administrative team to present the idea of a new MSB plan to their staff. A proposed time frame was mapped out to include presentation of the plan by the Smithson teacher. In this way, the Johnston administrative team felt that while they could provide positive advocacy.

The impetus for implementation would be more acceptable to staff, coming from a classroom teacher peer.

At this time, it was agreed that the undertaking could be made the subject for a Master's research dissertation. Given the complex nature of the study, management of student behaviour without corporal punishment, it was deemed appropriate to undertake a case study approach. Despite its limitations, the case study approach as suggested by Yin (1984) was viewed as having transfer value for other schools, similar in nature and characteristic, though probably not being completely generalizable.


The study would examine the nature of Johnston school, its staff, student and parent bodies. It would go on to investigate the structure of Johnston's existing plan and that of Smithson School. The process of adoption and implementation would be traced then expanded upon through the interview process. The interviews would additionally form the basis of the evaluative part of the study.

The scope of the data collection phase included document analysis that formed the early part of the study. This confirmed that in the latter part of the 1980s, the use of the cane was abolished as a means of discipline in Western Australian Government Schools. The Ministry of Education, as it was then termed, required schools in its Guidelines (1988) to "...develop, implement and maintain a policy on discipline." (p2)

Smithson School had developed such a policy commencing in 1986. They based their plan on the earlier works of William Glasser, making revisions during 1988, 1989 and 1993. The plan and its operation was written up in the school handbook, a copy of which was given to each family.

Johnston had implemented their plan around the same time. In similar fashion to Smithson, it was written up in the school's handbook and diary though a copy was bought by each child.

The steps of each plan were quite clear. Smithson's emphasis was on the child developing a responsibility for its own behaviour (Glasser). Johnston's plan was organised around three aspects of the term 'responsibility', the School's, the student's and the parents'.

Briefly, Glasser's plan was based on students developing acceptance of responsibility for their actions. He advocated a 'ten step' approach. Steps one, two and three incorporated teacher and student reflection on their respective actions. Steps four, five and six required the teacher to guide and counsel the student towards planning more responsible behaviour. Steps seven eight and nine involved the more disruptive student spending time out of lesson time in order to reflect, plan and accept responsibility for their misbehaviours. Step ten required the student to be excluded from school for repeated, serious misbehaviours.

Both plans were comprehensively written and both appeared to satisfy the Ministry of Education brief to "develop, implement and maintain a policy on discipline."

Why, specifically was it that the Johnston Deputy wanted a meeting between the Smithson teacher, the others of the Johnston administrative team and himself?

Doug, in short, was being faced with a line up of students who had been sent to 'see him' by other teachers. The teachers had wanted Doug to 'deal' with these students, the majority of whom he felt had only committed those sorts of offences that should really have been dealt with at the classroom level.

Up to this point, Jim the Principal, had been sceptical about the need for any improvement of their own plan. As he was to indicate later, he had not seen children being placed in detention. He was therefore of the opinion that the plan was not being used. However, he was prepared to listen to his deputies and agree to further discussion of the proposed plan at the staff meeting level, later in the provisional time line.

Detention was one of the very last sanctions in the Johnston plan. Jim was unaware that the mid stages, additional tasks in the classroom and playground and loss of privileges, were hardly being used by teachers at all. When he had been request ed to talk to a student, it was then that he would put into action one of the earlier stages, which was the issuing of a calm rebuke. Consequently, those children spoken to by him could remember anything other than a calm rebuke and talk and little else of any moment. Later, Jim referred to his having followed the plan in 'pussycat' style.

There was a lack of communication between teachers and administration. Why students were being referred was unclear to the students and the administrative team. It was this point that resulted in students not being dealt with appropriately by the Principal or Deputies.

Doug illustrated this by referring to being confronted by students bearing notes from teachers. Some of these notes read, for example, "speak sternly to this child", "straighten him out", "speak to him, he will not do as I ask, is it because I'm a woman?" . His colleague Mary, was similarly faced with matters. In the main they could only be termed as being of a niggling nature. There did not appear to be any misbehaviours of a violent nature. However, Jim later reported that he had noticed occasions where playground behaviour was somewhat rougher than in previous times.

At the planned December 1994 meeting, staff had participated in the two session presentation given by the Smithson teacher. It had been full of lively debate, questions anecdotes and answers. It was clear from staff comment that there were indeed student misbehaviour problems that needed addressing. Each teacher had their own classroom control methodology, but a concern was continually expressed by support teachers about student misbehaviour while in their classes. There seemed to be a tendency for some students to misbehave in the single lessons that involved a 'support teacher' where students had to move from the supervision of their classroom teacher.

Additionally, several teachers reported that the behaviour of certain students at recess and lunchtimes was "not good". Concern over general playground behaviour and students' misbehaviour at assemblies was expressed. Staff mentioned that on excursions, several students did not always exhibit their best behaviour.

Between them the staff had expressed a range of concerns. The majority of these centred on times when classroom teachers were not necessarily in direct control of their 'own' students. At the carnival, it had been obvious to Doug that the Smithson students were not of the same year levels and therefore could not have the same classroom teacher. Each student was behaving very well for the Smithson staff so far as he could see. At that point he appeared to grasp the root of the problem at Johnston. The students needed to be managed by some sort of system which could be handled by any staff member when they were in charge of students other than those of their own class, in any situation.

Despite the staff having raised these concerns themselves, they had as one teacher put it "...always been fed the notion that this was a brilliant school."


What effect would a new plan have on the Johnston Primary School community?

By the end of the morning, staff had agreed to adopt and implement the Smithson plan in its Smithson configuration for Semester One of 1995. They agreed that they would adhere to the plan. The Smithson teacher would be invited back at the end of Semester One to address any concerns which may have arisen. The Johnston Administrators wanted to leave this time free of any intervention. In this way, they felt they would be able to monitor the staff fidelity to the operation. They agreed to take charge of liaising with their very supportive School Council and the P&C. Additionally they would promote the plan to the school community through assemblies, newsletters and general talks with students.

Class teachers agreed that they would present the plan as an integral part of their own classroom management plans. In particular, the support staff indicated that they would implement the plan in the course of their teaching. All agreed to adhere to the principles of consistency of application and operation. All appeared in readiness.

By the end of the first semester of operation, it had become apparent to Doug that it was indeed time to invite the Smithson teacher back to assist in dealing with issues. During the semester, staff had expressed various concerns. When these came to be aired in the ensuing staff meeting, it became obvious that they centred on the varying degrees of fidelity to the plan employed by each teacher.

Of particular interest was one way in which the Smithson plan had been varied by some of the Johnston staff. As the original plan was of a continuum nature based upon Glasser's 'ten steps' it was obvious that students for whom a particular stage of the plan was not working, would progress to the next stage. According to Tom, a support teacher interview respondent, some Johnston staff had devised a 'formula'. This formula involved issuing a number of warnings at one step before the student progressed to the next step. By this, it was apparent that certain staff were somewhat reluctant to place a student at a later stage of the plan for whatever reason they held.

Experience at Smithson had witnessed a similar phenomenon, staff being reluctant to recommend to the Principal that a student should be placed in in-school suspension. In this case, it was due to perceived parental reaction. In another case, a support teacher had backed away from making the appropriate placement due to the communication procedure that had to be carried out.

The feature that appealed to Doug regarding control of students whilst not in their 'own' teachers' care had been an adaptation at Smithson in 1993. It was developed as a result of these and other similar incidents. The adaptation involved a reporting procedure from any teacher to the student's 'own' teacher in which the misbehaving student had to accept their misbehaviour by explaining their actions in writing. The documentation procedure meant that any teacher could take control of any misbehaviour situation. A student's own classroom teacher could then confidently handle the appropriate placement of the student on the management continuum.

The Smithson teacher dealt with the Johnston staff concerns and Doug was most emphatic that uniformity and consistency of the plan's application should be paramount. Each teacher and administrative team member agreed. Semester Two of 1995 would see the plan operating more effectively. The Smithson teacher was invited to return for a December 1995 staff meeting in order to listen to the experiences of the staff and arrange evaluation.

At that meeting it was evident that the concerted effort by staff had brought improved results. The was an air of cohesion and empowerment about the staff that had not been evidenced twelve months earlier. There was no further adaptation to the plan with regard to holding students back from continuum procedure. Johnston had in fact made one adaptation regarding documentation of their student's accountability for their misbehaviour in their own classroom. This was a variation on the Smithson theme in which Johnston involved their students in somewhat greater depth at the earlier stages of the plan. The staff found that their students were responding well to the plan with its emphasis on behaviour outside their own classrooms. They recognised the plan's powerful aspects, those of making students take responsibility and own up to their misbehaviours.

In mid 1996, the Smithson teacher arranged interviews with Jim, Doug the Deputy and Year 7 teacher, Jill the new Year 2/3 teacher, Rosa the Year 4/5 teacher and June the Year 6 teacher. They all volunteered to be interviewed. Additionally, Tom the former Year 1-7 Library Support Teacher volunteered. This gave the study interviews a range of three each of male and female respondents. All students across years 1-7 were taught by members of this sample and two administrator perspectives were included. The six 30 to 45 minute semi-structured audio recorded interviews wer e subsequently transcribed and examined for commonalities. Each of these was then examined for degree of depth.


In its summative statements, the study contained respondent quotes which graphically illustrated and illuminated the degree of progress that had been made at Johnston in its management of student behaviour.

Rosa had said that when she cast her mind back, she had felt frustrated that when a few children misbehaved, there seemed little else that she could do apart from what she was doing herself. She had noted that when she 'sent students to the office', they seemed to thoroughly enjoy talking with the Principal.

Sceptical in the past, Jim had since stated in a staff memo that it had taken some of them, especially him, a long time to agree that a more formal discipline approach was required at Johnston. He added that those less blinkered had seen the need years before. It was apparent to him that since the new plan's implementation, it appeared to be keeping classroom teachers happy, there was harmony in the classrooms and a certain consistency across the school. He added that there was something 'magic' about the way some aspects of the plan were working.

Jill and June focused on the plan's strengths. Jill emphasised that the plan kept the teacher 'cool' and she had noticed that students were taking more responsibility for their actions. The plan removed anger and hostility, indeed it helped the whole classroom tone to sit happier and lighter. June brought up the aspect of teachers' perceptions of what constituted 'naughty' behaviour. Staff were more able to discern and tolerate students' common behaviour levels. She referred to the plan's operation showing parents that a student's misbehaviour may not necessarily have occurred for simply one particular teacher for example.

Supporting this was Tom who was impressed by the way in which a student's total behaviour was mapped. He had earlier mentioned that some misbehaviours had not been 'netted' by individual classroom management plans. He felt that the new plan was able to identify a good deal of what he had previously identified as passive bullying.

Doug had been faced with line-ups of students. He said that the plan had been a godsend for him. He stressed that whilst he possessed a certain positional authority, teachers had much more than he had. They had the constant contact and time with their students and were in a position to do far more than he could in terms of management of their behaviour. He felt that for years, he had had to act out a play of 'punishing' students who had done no wrong for him. What more did he have than the teachers?

As Ginott stated, it was the teacher who was the decisive element in the classroom, powerful and able to control the classroom climate. Doug's observations were along those lines. The twelve years old boy recognised that the teacher should be in control and recognised the need for limits to be imposed by enforcement of a behaviour plan.


Canter, L. (1989). Assertive Discipline - More than Names on the Board and Marbles in a Jar. Phi Delta Kappan, 71(1), 57-61.

Canter, L. (1988). Assertive Discipline and the Search for the Perfect Classroom. Young Children, 43(2), 24.

Charles, C. M. (1993). Building Classroom Discipline (3rd ed.) New York: Longman.

Education Department of Western Australia (1983, March). Report of the Working Party on the Abolition of Corporal Punishment. Perth,Western Australia.

Education Department of Western Australia (1990-96). Schools and Staffing.

Ginott, H. (1971). Teacher and Child . New York: Macmillan.

Glasser, W. (1986). Control Theory in the Classroom. New York: Harper & Row.

Harris, T. A. (1973). I'm O.K., You're O.K. Pan: London

Johnston Primary School (1993). Discipline Plan (Revised)

Ministry of Education (1988). Guidelines for School Discipline. Perth, Western Australia.

Moore, A. P. (1996). Factors Affecting The Implementation of a Managing Student Behaviour Plan in a Primary School. Unpublished Master's Dissertation, Curtin University, Western Australia.

Lewis, R. & Lovegrove, M. N. (1987). The Teacher as Disciplinarian: How do students feel? Australian Journal of Education, 31 (2) 173-186.

Smithson Primary School (1986). Whole School Discipline Plan.

Smithson Primary School (1989). Managing Student Behaviour Plan. (Revised)

Yin, R. (1984). Case Study Research. Beverly Hills: Sage Publications.

Please cite as: Moore, A. (1997). Factors affecting the implementation of a managing student behaviour plan in a primary school. Proceedings Western Australian Institute for Educational Research Forum 1997. http://www.waier.org.au/forums/1997/moore.html

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