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Training Your Substitute Teachers: The Four Principles of Human Behavior

By March 1, 2017June 12th, 2019For Substitute Teachers

You can manage student behavior properly only by first managing your own behavior.


At STEDI, we train substitute teachers across the USA.

To learn about our online or printed courses, please email or call 435-755-7800 or visit


Research has shown that, on average, a student spends over one full year with a substitute teacher by the time the student graduates from high school.

Successful substitute teachers are those who have either consciously, or subconsciously, mastered necessary skills and classroom techniques.

This newsletter will give you ideas that have been researched, documented, and field-tested since 1976.

The skills presented in this newsletter (and future newsletters) are statistically proven to prevent 94% of inappropriate student behavior and provides strategies to handle the remaining 6%.


Research Findings:

Substitutes: The number one request by substitutes is to be trained in the skills to successfully manage inappropriate behavior situations.

Administration: The number one request by permanent teachers and school personnel is that substitute teachers be prepared and professional.

Students: The number one request by students is that substitute teachers present stimulating lessons and exciting fill-in activities.

As you share these time-tested techniques, your substitute teachers will increase their ability to:

  • Effectively get and keep students on task
  • Maintain a risk-free environment
  • Communicate expectations
  • Respond non-coercively to consequential behavior

We will share four principles. Principles are truths not limited by age, time, location, or situation. It is impossible to write a newsletter that covers every classroom scenario substitutes may encounter as a teacher. Thus, substitutes must be principle-based.

When substitutes know and understand these principles, their actions can change, increasing the likelihood that the students will behave appropriately.

Principle #1
Behavior is largely a product of its immediate environment.

The teacher creates the classroom environment through the expectations they set. The environment influences students more than outside factors do.

This environment allows teachers to 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 environment. If the teacher changes the classroom, the behavior of the students will change.

Principle #2
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 the substitute pays more attention to students who are behaving appropriately than to students who are not, they will be encouraging appropriate behavior.

Principle #3
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.

Substitute teachers can help stop undesirable behavior and increase appropriate behavior by genuinely reinforcing the latter.

Principle #4
Whether a behavior has been punished or reinforced is known only by the course of that behavior in the future.

If inappropriate 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 success in the classroom.

As substitute teachers work to fully apply and practice each one, they will feel con dent when approaching the classroom because they 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 the teachers’ part. They can manage student behavior properly only by first managing their own.

How to teach these principles to your substitutes

Your substitutes will learn and, more importantly, retain this information best through active participation. You do not expect your teachers to lecture, so do not use a lecture format in training. Engage them.

When teaching these principles, modeling the way you expect your substitutes to teach is the most powerful method you can use in your training sessions.

Your example can show substitute teachers how to use the teaching tools from this newsletter to actively engage the students they will work with. We welcome your ideas and suggestions about this newsletter!


SubSolutions 2017
Substitute Teacher Manager Conference
Learn how to attract, train, and retain the best substitute teachers.
June 28-30 • Park City, Utah
Enroll at