How to Encourage Positive Behavior for Substitute Teachers


Our young learners thrive on routine, and even the smallest change in the schedule can invite challenging behavior into the classroom. This is especially true when we’re absent! In this post, I’m sharing my favorite tips to encourage positive behavior for a substitute teacher. 

Encourage positive behavior for subs

How to Encourage Positive Behavior for a Substitute

When the need arises to have a substitute teacher in the classroom, it’s important to address behavior management in our sub plans along with the lesson plans.  We want our students to continue to learn while we’re gone, and maintaining positive classroom behavior is essential to creating an environment for learning. Equipping our subs with the tools they need to help students exhibit positive behavior will help everyone have a successful day!

1. Use a Unique Reward

My first tip to help students maintain expected behavior for substitutes is to use a different reward system! Whether it’s a whole group incentive or individual reward charts, it can be difficult for a substitute teacher to step into an existing behavior management system.  This is especially true in the primary grades. Young students are quick to point out the differences between how the sub is using the reward system and “how Teacher does it.”   The ongoing suggestions from students can become a distraction. In some cases, they might even discourage the sub from trying to use the reward system at all.

Due to this fact, it is often easier to provide a unique reward that is used only when substitutes come to your classroom.  The novelty will keep the students engaged in the reward and will help prevent some of the frustration when the regular reward system isn’t being used in the typical way.  

It can also be helpful to put the regular reward system out of sight so that the students aren’t asking about it throughout the day.  (I’m sure your sub would appreciate a quick note in the plans about “pausing” the regular reward system for the day.)

2. Keep It Simple

The most important tip for providing a substitute teacher reward system is to keep it simple.   Your sub is already working hard to follow a new-to-them classroom routine on top of learning student names. Adding individual reward systems or a complicated classroom incentive to their plate might be asking a lot! By providing a simple, whole-class behavior incentive for your sub, it is more likely that they will actually use the reward while you’re gone.

A partially completed giraffe puzzle.

I have created behavior puzzles that are the perfect substitute teacher behavior management tool! Each puzzle comes with a black and white picture and color puzzle pieces to match.  As the students make positive behavior choices during the day, they can add a piece to the puzzle.  Once students have completed the puzzle, they earn their reward. If you're short on prep time, the class can just color in the black and white picture with crayon.

3. Communicate

The other bonus of a simple reward system is that you don’t have to spend a lot of time describing how to use it.  There is SO much to communicate to a substitute to ensure the day goes smoothly.  Due to this fact, the instructions for your positive behavior reward system might get lost in the shuffle.  

This is one reason why I’ve created a separate instruction card to use with the behavior incentive puzzles.  The reward is front and center at the top of the card, with simple instructions below.  Just place the card next to the incentive for quick communication with the sub.

Turtle behavior incentive puzzle with instruction card for substitute teacher.

4. Don't Wait to Reward

We all know that delayed gratification can be difficult for young learners.  Some students might feel less motivated to complete the puzzle if they won’t receive the reward until you return. 

Instead of waiting until you get back, it’s helpful to choose a reward that the sub can give the students as soon as the puzzle is complete.  Then, you can always reward your class using your regular behavior management system when you return.  For example, you might decide to surprise each student with a bonus sticker on their individual sticker charts as an extra reward for a positive sub report. If you use a different whole-class incentive, you can add a bonus piece when you get back from your absence.

Another thing to consider is whether the sub can use the reward more than once.  Sometimes students exhibit awesome behavior for the substitute teacher and complete the puzzle early in the day.  If this happens, you’ll want the sub to clear the puzzle and start again! The class can work toward the same reward or a secondary reward.  This will ensure that the students stay motivated for the entire day!

A frog behavior puzzle is being colored with crayon.

5. Prepare Students

 While we can’t prevent or foresee all absences, it’s helpful to prepare students for the change in schedule.  You can review the classroom behavior expectations and remind students that the schedule might look a little bit different.  You can also remind them that the substitute will be using one of the special puzzles for the day. Get them excited to have it all filled in when you get back!

Substitute Teacher Behavior Management Tool

Would you like to use these positive behavior incentive puzzles in your classroom? I have created a bundle of behavior puzzles for every season.  This way, you’ll have easy-to-prep behavior incentives for the entire school year!  This large variety of puzzles will keep your students engaged in earning the pieces, since each picture will be new to them!

These puzzles are the perfect size for a pocket chart so the substitute teacher can keep it on display throughout the school day. They’re also just the right size to tuck into a sub folder or binder, so they are great for emergency sub plans as well!

You can find these positive behavior incentive puzzles in the Teaching Exceptional Kinders shop or on Teachers Pay Teachers.  

Behavior Puzzles for the Entire Year

Save This Post for Later!

I hope these tips inspire you to find ways to encourage positive behavior for substitute teachers. Be sure to save this post to your favorite classroom management board on Pinterest.  These tips and resources will be available for you to download and print whenever you’re ready!

How to encourage positive behavior for substitutes


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