The “Theory of Bumps” Explained

This is a summary of the key ideas & strategies I learnt to employ while applying the ‘Theory of Bumps’ framework in my relief (substitute) teaching practice.

For detailed explanations and descriptions of the framework and management strategies, I recommend obtaining a copy of Classroom Management: A Thinking & Caring Approach (Bennett, B. & Smilanich, P, 1994)


Bump 1: Low-Key Responses

Purpose:  To clearly communicate that the teacher is aware of what is happening in their classroom by managing classroom routines, and swiftly and quietly dealing with student misbehaviour before it becomes a problem.

Key Characteristics

  • Winning Over – Meet students at the door, take a genuine interest in their lives, develop positive relationships
  • Explicitly teach & reinforce signals for gaining attention and procedures for lesson transitions – Specify the WHEN, WHAT and WHO of the transition. Practice (repeatedly) and give explicit feedback on students performance. (This is an art)
  • Vary your position in the class. Be a moving target. Don’t be afraid to move in amongst students to ensure compliance, especially when seeking their attention prior to issuing instructions
  • Facilitate interesting learning experiences – use instructional learning strategies
  • Non-verbal/Minimal Verbal Responses – active scan, use of proximity, “the look”, use of student’s name, dramatic pause, hand gestures, assertive body language, planned ignore (of attention-seeking behaviour)
  • Demonstrated respect & polite attitude towards ALL students, particularly those who are misbehaving
  • Be careful using proximity / touch – beware of & respect students’ personal space & cultural differences. Seek to avoid ‘standing over’ or ‘backing students into a corner’.
  • Your allies, those students who are actually demonstrating their best behaviour, are an asset. Reinforce their positive behaviours, and try to avoid collective punishment
  • Focus on the behaviour, not the student. This communicates to the student that they are accepted in the classroom, but their negative behaviours are not.

Bump 2: Squaring Off

The teacher bumps up to ‘squaring off’ when the use of several low-key management strategies have failed to stop the misbehaviour.

Key Characteristics

  • You pause (and stop talking)
  • You turn to towards the student (square off)
  • You give a minimum verbal request to stop
  • Finish with a “thankyou”
  • Resume the lesson

Bump 3: Either/Or Choice

Stop, make eye contact with the student, and offer them a either/or choice. Use an assertive, unemotional voice. For example: “You have a choice – you can choose to behave, or you can choose to go to buddy class. What do you want to do?” Wait for response, and end with a “Thankyou”.

This process doesn’t have conducted in public. Students hate to be shamed or humiliated, and a public reprimand is not always the best approach. In some cases, it is very important to remove the audience. Taking misbehaving students aside for a quiet chat, or keeping them behind for a few minutes at Recess can prove extremely effective, particularly if you are dealing with an angry / attention seeking student. Waving an Office Referral slip under their nose can also be surprisingly effective.

Bump 3 makes the student responsible for their own behaviour, and the consequences they will face if they choose to continue their misbehaviour.


Bump 4: Implied Choice

If the student continues to misbehave, follow through with the consequence from Bump 3. “You’ve made your choice, please …”


Bump 5: Power

If a student tries to draw you in a power struggle, you need to recognise and circumvent it. This is NOT easy, but essential if you wish to maintain your sanity in complex behaviour situations. I will go into more detail about this in an upcoming post about aggressive/ violent/at-risk children.

If the student moves to power, it is often best to take a step back from the situation, ignore or calmly describe the behaviour, or ask the student to leave the classroom due to severity.

If you are faced with a situation where the student has lost control of their anger (e.g. throwing chairs), it is important to remove the audience (either the class or the student) to avoid shaming them, and to allow them to calm down. This also allows the teacher time to consider an appropriate course of action.


Bump 6: Informal Behaviour Contracts

This usually involves formal/informal agreements between the teacher and the student. It may also involve the formulation of Individual Behaviour Plans, in consultation with parents, specialists, etc.

Bennett, B & Smilanich, P. (1994). Classroom Management: Thinking and Caring Approach. Bookstation Inc. Toronto, Ontario

Department of Education and Training (WA): Behaviour Standards and Wellbeing Directorate (2007). Classroom Management Strategies Awareness Workshop Notes.

Julien-Schultz, L. (2008-2009). Preventing and Responding to Misbehaviour through Low-Key Responses. Nipissing University: Faculty of Education. Accessed (2/8/2010) from:

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