The Art of Subtle Arbitration

TECHNIQUE #53:  Least Invasive Intervention

youLeast Invasive Intervention: “Maximize teacher time and minimize drama by using the subtlest and least invasive tactic possible to correct off-task students.   One of the very first gestures I learned in American Sign Language, and the most practical was, ‘Stop it, now.”.  Very effective, required no verbalization;  involved an economy of gesture and effort to communicate a very straight forward, and universal mandate.   Least Invasive Intervention is the stuff that “real” teacher training should be made of; The Meat and Potatoes of behavior management…and I’m finding the need for these types of strategies necessary to navigate my latest endeavors substitute teaching at the middle school level.   Off-task students make their behavior eminently public but should be addressed as privately as possible.  Classroom distractions become a form of theft, in that, the behavior robs students of precious learning time; the counter-productivity of behavior management embezzles hours of valuable content and morale in classrooms throughout the school year.  Behavioral champion teachers “…make the correction as invisibly as possible…while still teaching, and put a premium on privacy…therein lies the secret: if you can manage to correct non-invasively, you are likely to be able to set and reinforce expectations successfully and consistently.”,(p.396)¹.  Here are Six Interventions inspired by champion classroom managers:

NONVERBAL INTERVENTION:the-apprentice_karate-kid-2_5587

  • A hand gesture
  • Intentional modeling, un-narrated, of the corrective action

The challenge here is to seamlessly continue instruction while executing the nonverbal intervention.  If the teaching comes to a halt as you silently make these gestures, everyone becomes off-task, not just the student who is behaviorally off-track.  As close to the off-task student as possible, a raised palm (universal gesture for stop), two fingers up (poised over the desk or within student’s plain of vision) for pause.  If you are looking for a student to be engaged in writing, use the invisible pencil writing in the air gesture, make the L shape and place it up to the ear if the expectation is for students to listen, or laced fingers held at the chest if you are looking for a student to sit still, reset their physical movement.  My idea: What a great opportunity to actually introduce American Sign Language in the classroom!  Generate 4 or 5 hand signs/phrases for students to practice and understand as a classroom.


batmn.jpgIn an effort to keep your “non-compliers off the public stage”, address the aberrant by addressing the entire classroom.  With short, precise economy of language in this non evasive approach, you are not calling a specific student, but the off-taskness is collectively addressed.  You might add a slight non-verbal nod to the student in question.  These are some suggested one-liners:

  • “I need to see everyone writing”
  • “Check your SLANT” (see technique #47)
  • “Everyone’s books, p.72”



Anonymity still in place, with a twist.  Provide a solution and specificity.  How to NOT be off-task and how many people are not in compliance, with out using names.  Although you are addressing the group, quick, eye-contact with the perpetrator/s is recommended; thisugly is kind of like “good cop” behavior in my opinion.  Letting the student know their are off-track, but allowing them the concession of anonymity and the chance to join in the positive group behavior without being called out.

  • “Track me please.  I need two more sets of eyes”
  • “Everybody writes.  Three pencils not in motion”
  • “Books open, thank you.  The left side of the room needs to find p.55”


This tactic is best put into motion when the class as a whole is involved in individual work; problem solving, writing, reading etc.  Without calling out a student’s name, address the duncecapbehavior in a very quiet conference at a the student’s desk; here are the finer points:

  • Crouch down, eye level with seated student
  • Voice dropped
  • Demonstrate that you are not making anything public, neither should they
  • Tell them what they should be doing, describe the solution, not the aberration.
  • Refrain from imperative power statements, “When I ask you to sit up, I expect you to listen”
  • “Robert, now please, show me your best”
  • “Sally, we need you with us so we can learn”
  • “This is important for you to learn, Joe”
  • “Thank you for coming in during recess; at that time, we’ll learn how to do this well”



This move is genius!  This tactic, using the same physical approach, crouch down, eye levelpraise with a seated student, dropped voice, only WHAM, this time you lean in with a compliment!!   This is something that I have always wanted to make sure that I implement on a regular basis, but always falls off my radar.  This would be an extremely valuable behavior management strategy for any educator to implement on a regular basis.   “If students come to expect that a private intervention could be either positive or corrective, they will be more open to you as you approach them.  You also earn trust for your criticism by balancing it with praise.  Most of all you build a defense against the sort of eavesdropping that students do when they are curious about or take delight in the misfortune of others.  “, (p. 401)¹.


Many times the need to move to an “invasive” correction, lesson halts, behavior distractions_webaddressed, is necessary.  Making corrections, with a name attached, should be done as quickly as possible.  The key is economy of language and reference to the normalcy of compliance.  Limiting the amount of time a particular sabotuer has on stage is critical and should be a reflective statement as well on the positive actions of the majority.  Here is some sample Lightening Quick Phraseology:

  • “Quentin, I need your pencil moving, just like those sharp looking scholars in the back row”
  • “Looking good front row, Maria thank you for writing too”
  • “John, I need to see you actively reading, just like Michelle, and John, and thank you too, Melissa”
  • “Excellent problem solving on #’s 4 & 5, Sarah’s getting there now, too”.


As a concluding gesture for Least Invasive Intervention; I do like the fact that Teach Like a Champion 2.0¹ points out that while there are increasing levels of non-invasive correction, complex classrooms require complex navigation of behavior management Power-Struggle-Art.pngstrategies.  One may not always be able to start out with the lowest level of non-invasive reproach; situations may require immediate remediation of specific individuals, period.  The most important misconception that Lemov points out is that “… ignoring misbehavior is the most invasive form of intervention, because the behavior becomes more likely to persist and expand.”,(p.402)¹.  This must be a teaching urban legend, because I have worked with many veteran teachers who insist that it’s best just to ignore the problem, it will usually go away…interesting.


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