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The Four Principles of Human Behavior

By July 1, 2015 November 8th, 2018 Uncategorized

Four Principles of Human Behavior

As you well know, a large portion of the SubSkills Online Training Course was dedicated to classroom management strategies as it is the number one concern of substitute teachers. Before we begin reviewing those strategies, four principles of human behavior need to be understood.

Principles are truths not limited by age, time, location, or situation. Once you become familiar with behavior principles, you will see them illustrated all around you—between parents and children, in stores, on playgrounds, at family events, etc. It is impossible to write a book that covers every classroom scenario you may encounter as a teacher. However, when you know and understand these principles, your actions can change, increasing the likelihood that the students in your class will behave appropriately.

Principle One: Behavior is largely a product of its immediate environment.


The classroom environment teachers create through the expectations they set will influence students more than outside factors do. This allows teachers to take control and influence the students’ behavior in their classrooms. If a student is acting out, the teacher should pay special attention to altering the classroom (immediate environment). If the teacher changes the classroom, the behavior of the students will change.

Principle Two: Behavior is strengthened or weakened by its consequences.

When disruptive behavior becomes a pattern, it is important to take a look at what is happening immediately after the behavior. Attention from a teacher is a powerful motivator for most students. If you pay more attention to students who are behaving appropriately than to students who are not, you will be encouraging appropriate behavior.

Principle Three: Behavior ultimately responds better to positive than to negative consequences.

People respond better to positive encouragement than to negative processes. Think of the tasks you do every day; if someone thanks you or compliments you on how well you did, you feel much more likely to continue the task. As a teacher, you can help stop undesirable behavior and increase appropriate behavior by genuinely reinforcing the latter.

Principle Four: Whether a behavior has been punished or reinforced is known only by the course of that behavior in the future.

If an appropriate behavior is repeated, it has been reinforced. If an undesirable behavior is repeated, it too has been reinforced. If an undesirable behavior has discontinued, it has been properly disciplined.

The only way to tell if a response to a behavior is punishing or reinforcing is to watch what happens to the behavior in the future. What is considered a punishment to one person may reinforce and perpetuate a behavior in another.

Understanding these four principles of human behavior is a key to your success in the classroom. As you work to fully apply and practice each one, you will feel confident when approaching the classroom because you can make correct decisions about managing behavior. The most important thing to remember about each of these principles is that they are a call to action on your part—you can manage student behavior properly only by first managing your own.

Jessica Smith

About Jessica Smith

I am the Chief Education Officer at the Substitute Teaching Division of STEDI.org. I have worked as both a permanent teacher and a substitute teacher. Now I train thousands of substitute teachers nationwide through webinars, online, and onsite training.

One Comment

  • Constance uzor says:

    Principles of Human Behavior and Classroom Management are closely linked. It is important for me to understand these principles so as to to be able to develop strategies to manage students’ behavior.
    Secondly as a sub-teacher, I must manage my behavior because the teacher’s behavior is the key to classroom management.

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