Respectful redirection: A behavior strategy for teachers

Respectful redirection is a quick, in-the-moment strategy to give corrective feedback to students. You get your students’ attention without making a big deal about it, using a calm tone, neutral body language, and clear, concise wording.

You tell students exactly what they’re doing incorrectly and what they should be doing instead with as few words as possible, leaving less room for confusion. (If your school uses a PBIS framework, you may hear this strategy called “error correction.”)

Watch: See respectful redirection in action

Watch this video from Responsive Classroom to see how one teacher uses respectful redirection with her whole class.

Read: How to use this strategy

Objective: Students will behave according to classroom expectations or get back on task after being given a clear, calm, brief, and immediate respectful redirection.

Grade levels (with standards): K–12 (CASEL Core SEL Competencies: Self-management, Relationship skills, Responsible decision-making)

Best used for instruction with:

  • Whole class

  • Individuals

How to prepare:

Set expectations. Before you can start using respectful redirection, make sure your students know what is expected of them in your classroom. These expectations should be reasonable, age-appropriate, and culturally responsive. Knowing your students well will help you create expectations that respect cultural differences and life experiences. Share and review the expectations regularly as part of building your class culture.

Give examples. Be sure to give both examples and non-examples of the rules. If your expectation is for students to use “respectful words and body language,” they need to know what that does and doesn’t look like in your classroom. Fostering a strong and shared understanding of expectations is essential to making respectful redirection an effective strategy.

How to teach:

When a student doesn’t follow a classroom expectation, decide in the moment whether you need to intervene. Ask yourself: What is this behavior communicating? Is it getting in the way of the student’s learning or the learning of others?

Also, when you’re deciding whether to intervene, remember that some students may look off-task when they’re doing things that actually keep them on-task. For example, students who are standing up or fidgeting at their desks may look off-task. But for students who have ADHD, movement can be a strategy that helps them concentrate.

If you decide that you need to use a respectful redirection, follow the steps from the example below.

Scenario: Josh is struggling to have his ideas recognized during group work and keeps interrupting another student.

Step to takeWhat to say

1. Address the issue as quickly as possible. If your redirection will only be for one student, do your best to speak privately.

Walk to Josh and say quietly and calmly, “Josh, I can tell you really want to share your ideas, but you were talking while Laurel was talking.”

2. Describe what the student should do instead by referring to your classroom expectations.

Point to a visual of classroom expectations and say, “In this class, we take turns speaking during discussions. Next time you have an idea to share with the group, wait until the person who is speaking stops, and then share your idea.”

3. Explain why the alternate behavior is a better option.

“It’s easier for people to listen when one person is talking at a time.”

4. Ask the student to demonstrate understanding, either by practicing it immediately or by telling you how they will do it in the future.

“Josh, the next time you want to share your idea when someone else is talking, what could you do?”

5. When the student follows your redirection, provide feedback and reinforcement.

“Josh, the way you waited to speak until after Laurel was finished talking allowed everyone in your group to listen and share their ideas. Well done.”

Understand: Why respectful redirection works

Respectful redirection isn’t just about telling students to focus on what they’re supposed to be doing. It’s also about how you say it. Research shows that this type of brief, consistent, systematic correction with feedback has a positive effect on student behavior. How you speak to students — the tone you use, the words you choose, and how much you say — affects the way they respond to you.

Students who learn and think differently especially benefit from this strategy. For students with ADHD, research shows that delayed feedback is less likely to result in positive behavior changes. An immediate redirection helps students recognize cause and effect.

Also, students who learn and think differently tend to have negative experiences in school more often than their classmates. Seeing teachers enforce rules in a consistent way for all students — not just for those who often have trouble following them — can be a relief to them.

As a predictable framework, respectful redirection can be comforting to students, especially those who have experienced trauma. One of the elements of strong trauma-informed teaching is a safe community. Routines and predictability help to build trust, allowing students to feel safe. They know how the process works and their role in it.

When done successfully, respectful redirection can remove the need for further intervention. Talking to students in a positive, calm manner while giving specific feedback gives them a way to get back on task without needing more information.

Respectful redirection can work at home, too. Share behavior contracts families can use to help their kids learn to replace an inappropriate behavior with a more appropriate one.

Research behind this strategy

“The Redirect Behavior Model and the effects on pre-service teachers’ self-efficacy,” from Journal of Education and Practice

“Classroom management with exceptional learners,” from Teaching Exceptional Children

“Implementing Positive Behavior Support Systems in Early Childhood and Elementary Settings,” by Melissa Stormont, Tim Lewis, Rebecca Beckner, and Nanci W. Johnson


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