Why Is Consistency Important in Behavior Management?

I know I told the students they would get a zero for turning in their work late, but Susie did such a great job! I doubt she slacked off, and I can tell she worked hard. Maybe I’ll give her the zero, but give her 100 points in extra credit for the great quality of work!

Oh, and James is acting up again. I know his parents just got a divorce. I don’t want to make things worse for him. Instead of having him miss recess like my classroom management plan says, I’ll sit with him at lunch.

And the excuses go on—reason after reason for why it would be better to fudge the rules, practices, procedures, and consequences laid out in our classroom management plan. There are a number of circumstances when it’s tempting to make an exception. Should we?

Here are some other common reasons that compel us to stray from our plans:

  • We want to be a loving teacher.
  • We want to respect personalities and circumstances.
  • We want to show kindness and give students one more chance to make the right decision.
  • We’re too tired to deal with behavior right now.

The problem with these good intentions is that they aren’t actually effective—not in the long run, anyway. Instead of encouraging Susie to work hard to manage her time better and get her assignments turned in, we’ve shown her that she can get away with bending the rules and disregarding deadlines. Instead of showing James what it means to take responsibility for the consequences of your actions, we have shown him that there are no consequences.

Regardless of the reason, one thing is certain: Being inconsistent with your behavioral expectations is harmful to students and your classroom environment.

What Is Consistency in Behavior Management?

Most articles on effective classroom management will mention consistency, and for good reason. Consistency in classroom and behavioral management relates to a steady, unchanging follow-through on the routines, policies, procedures, and consequences you have established. There is one set of expectations for all students (unless they have an IEP), one set of rewards or positive reinforcement when expectations are met, and one set of consequences for when they aren’t.

Characteristics of Consistency

For whatever reason, the allure of having a well-oiled classroom was not enough to persuade me to buckle down and stick to the rules I’d established. Instead, I needed to understand the characteristics of consistency and I needed to know that it’s one of the best ways to show my students that I love them.

1. Fair

Consistency is fair. It doesn’t play favorites or create resentment by singling out the students who are not subjected to the same consequences as everyone else. There is one system of rewards and consequences. If you act according to the established standard, you get the reward. If you don’t, you get the consequence.

2. Respectful

When you do what you said you would do, you demonstrate a respect for the students and the work they are putting in to meet your expectations. They, in turn, have much more respect for you when you follow through instead of compromising your standards to appease them. They may not like you at the moment they’re facing the consequences of their actions, such as receiving a poor grade on a late assignment, but they will respect you.

3. Steady

Unlike movies that glorify the idea of bucking the system, what students want is a system with well-defined boundaries. Consistent classroom boundaries provide a sense of security. Students like to know what they can expect. They want to know what the schedule is, what the procedures are, and how they are expected to behave.

The Benefits of Consistency

1. An engaging learning environment

When you’re consistent, students quickly learn what to expect. Since this allows them to feel safe, they’re able to focus their energy on learning.

2. A positive classroom community

Consistency leaves no room for favoritism or discrimination. There is no danger of creating resentment from selective enforcement of the rules. In this kind of fair environment, students will have a more favorable opinion of each other, and of you as well. Besides, if enforcing the policies becomes second nature for you, you’ll feel less frustrated.

3. Less misbehavior

Students will sometimes test you (some more than others). They will push until they’ve figured out where the boundaries lie. As soon as they recognize the limits, they’ll settle in and redirect their energy to something more productive. If you’re consistent, your students will learn that they can trust you to do what you say you’re going to do.

4. Effective classroom management

No plan, no matter how great and well thought out, will work if you don’t implement and enforce it every day. If you’re frustrated because your classroom management plan doesn’t seem to be working, take a look at how consistent you are with it. If you need to, take some time to reteach the expectations and have students practice them. Don’t get discouraged if it doesn’t work the first time. Be patient and keep enforcing the rules. The more consistent you are with your procedures, the more effective they will be.

The Importance of Consistency in the Classroom: A Place for Students to Grow

Consistency is not cruel. It’s fair and respectful for all students in your classroom. By being consistent, you’re creating a safe, positive environment in which they can learn and grow.

This article was adapted from a blog post initially developed by the education technology company Classcraft, which was acquired by HMH in 2023. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of HMH.


Find more lesson plans and classroom resources on Shaped.

Related Reading

Teacher and student working together hero WF1972889

Jennifer Corujo
Shaped Editor

WF1953215 Shaped 2024 Blog Post Benefits of Small Group Instruction2

Richard Blankman

Shaped Executive Editor

Superintendent of the Year Joe Gothard

Dr. Joe Gothard, the 2024 National Superintendent of the Year, speaks at a press conference in April introducing him as the new schools chief for the Madison Metropolitan School District in Wisconsin.

Brenda Iasevoli
Shaped Executive Editor