Teachers typically report that dealing with students’ disruptive behaviors is the single greatest challenge they face (Fox & Hemmeter, 2009). This likely comes as no surprise to anyone who has ever worked in an educational setting. Challenging behaviors can be extraordinarily frustrating for even the most experienced teachers, as they can derail a lesson and reduce learning opportunities for both the student engaging in the behaviors and his/her peers. Challenging behaviors can lead to feelings of stress and uncertainty if teachers don’t feel they have the tools to respond effectively and efficiently. In a 2004 survey, a whopping 75% of teachers reported that they “would have more time to spend on teaching and teaching effectively if there were fewer disruptive behaviors in the classroom” (Guardino & Fullerton, 2010). So how can teachers feel confident in dealing with challenging behaviors and spend more time teaching? Self-management may be the answer.

Self-management is a highly effective evidence-based practice that has been successfully used to improve both academic and behavioral outcomes for students with and without disabilities, from preschool to adulthood, in general and special education classrooms, and in community settings (Ganz, 2008). This is a practice that educators working with any age group and any population can utilize with a high likelihood of success! When students learn to monitor and regulate their own behavior, teachers spend less time addressing challenging behavior and more time engaging students in learning. Self-management is regarded as a “pivotal behavior”, meaning it is easily generalizable (Ganz, 2008; Lee, Simpson & Shogren, 2007) and students can easily apply it to different skills and settings. In other words, it is a meaningful lifelong skill that can truly improve students’ quality of life. That’s a lot of positive outcomes for a single intervention – talk about getting more bang for your buck!

The terms self-management and self-monitoring are sometimes confused. Self-management can be defined as an individual’s application of techniques that achieve a desired change in behavior (Cooper, Heron & Heward, 2007). Self-management is a broader combination of practices that typically includes self-monitoring (encouraging students to be conscious of their own behaviors), as well as self-observation, self-recording, self-evaluation and self-reinforcement (Carr, Moore & Anderson, 2014; Ganz, 2008).  In self-monitoring, students “learn to discriminate the occurrence of a target response, reliably self-record one or more elements of the target response in accordance with some standard or scale, evaluate their behavior relative to an agreed-upon standard, and subsequently deliver contingently self-selected rewards and reinforcement” (Lee et al., 2007). This skill of self-monitoring is the cornerstone skill of self-management.

Self-management may look different depending on the age of students. While there is broad applicability of self-management strategies across age groups, typically self-management interventions with preschool and elementary students involve prompted, frequent (i.e., at least once per minute) self-monitoring, whereas interventions applied with secondary-level students are more likely to incorporate structured behavioral feedback and self-evaluation (Briesch & Briesch, 2016). While the whole of self-management is the ideal, there is strong evidence that individual elements of self-monitoring alone can have a positive impact.  For example, simply having students record their behaviors and then turn in slips at the end of class has been shown to produce significant behavioral improvements (Briesch & Briesch, 2016). One reason for this may be that simply prompting one to attend to one’s own behavior serves as a prompt to perform the behavior (Briesch & Briesch, 2016). Have you ever noticed that weight loss programs almost always tell you to keep some type of food log? Keeping track of what’s being consumed is correlated with decreased calorie consumption; the same logic applies with behavioral self-management – when students become aware of their behavior and have a clear goal in mind, the simple act of keeping track of the behavior helps them achieve the goal.

Given the universal applicability of self-management, regardless of the student’s age, ability level or classroom setting; the potentially huge positive impact this can have on increasing instructional time and reducing disruptive behaviors; the relative ease of the intervention; and the generalizability and lon-term usability of this  skill, it is hard to imagine a reason not to use this highly efficient and effective tactic. Wouldn’t we all love to work smarter and not harder?

If you would like to know more read our blog at https://rsetasc.pnwboces.org/stepping-students-self-management-skills/ for steps for teaching students self-management skills.


Briesch, A. M. & Briesch, J.M. (2016). Meta-Analysis of Behavioral Self-Management Interventions in Single-Case Research. School Psychology Review, 45(1), 3-18.

Carr, M.E., Moore, D.W. & Anderson, A. (2014). Self-Management Interventions on Students with Autism: A Meta-analysis of Single-Subject Research. Exceptional Children, 81(1), 28–44.

Cooper, J. O., Heron, T. E., & Heward, W. L. (2007). Applied behavior analysis, 2nd ed. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Pearson Prentice Hall.

Fox, L. & Hemmeter, M.L. (2009). A tiered model for early childhood: adoption, implementation, and scaling up. Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning. Retrieved from http://www.vanderbilt.edu/csefel

Ganz, J. (2008). Self-Monitoring Across Age and Ability Levels: Teaching Students to Implement Their Own Positive Behavioral Interventions. Preventing School Failure, 53(1), 39-48

Ganz, J. B., Cook, K. E., & Earles-Vollrath, T. L. (2007). A grab-gab of strategies for children with mild communication deficits. Intervention in School and Clinic, 42(3), 179-187.

Guardino, C. A., & Fullerton, E. (2010). Changing behaviors by changing the classroom environment.  Exceptional Children, 42(6), 8-13.  Lee, S., Simpson, R.L., & Shogren, K.A. (2007). Effects and Implications of Self-management for Students with Autism: A Meta-Analysis. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 22(1), 2-13.