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Designing school spaces to encourage positive behaviour

Designing to encourage positive behaviour

At times children and students can have behaviours that are challenging to manage or distressing, for themselves and others. There are design features that can encourage positive behaviour and help students to self-regulate. With the help of staff, design features can help these behaviours to be:

  • less intense
  • less frequent
  • shorter-lasting.

In 2014, staff and parents from schools in South Australia told us about how universal design had helped children and students. In a well-designed space, people’s behaviour changed. Challenging behaviour happened less often and was less severe.  This happened in spaces that were designed to help the behaviour of all children.

Feeling happy or unhappy

Students from one site were asked where they could go if they were feeling unhappy at school. They were able to easily talk about different places they felt okay to go to and help manage their feelings.

Choice and freedom

Universal design can offer choice and freedom for children and students. People can be more independent and find ways to self-regulate their feelings and behaviour.

Design features

With help from school staff, these features can help children and students manage their behaviour and feelings:

  • areas in teaching spaces that are quiet, uncluttered, less busy and calming
  • extra rooms or spaces for children and students to go into to quieten themselves down
  • outdoor areas next to classrooms with clear lines of sight to the child or student
  • sensory rooms
  • classrooms that are flexible so they can be used for different activities
  • areas that look and feel different (for example, spaces with different colours) so that children more easily recognise the activities that might happen in the area, and what is expected of them.

For example, a busy class could have lots of material spread out and lots of noise and clutter. This might increase the stress and anxiety for some children.

Setting up the learning environment to have a space, room or outdoor area that the child can go to with the support of the staff is important. The child can gather themselves and self-regulate their emotions. It’s also important that the teacher helps them to learn how to manage their feelings and behaviour.

These features are tools to promote positive behaviour and must not be used for punishment. They are learning tools that help children and students recognise their own behaviour and learn how to best manage it.

What this can help improve

Staff can use these design features to help use least-restrictive practices.

What restrictive practice is

Restrictive practice is any practice or act that removes another person’s freedom or stops them making a decision. It's when someone is:

  • detained, excluded or secluded (locked away or left alone)
  • restrained in any way.

You might have heard in the media about bad cases of restrictive practice happening in a classroom. For example, a child was locked in a cupboard at a school in NSW as a punishment. This is not ever okay.

Asset Standards and Environmental Management

This information was provided by the Ministerial Advisory Committee: Children and Students with Disability which ceased in 2019.

For advice on building standards contact:

Phone: 8226 3497
Email: education.standards@sa.gov.au

For advice on inclusive legislation and policies contact:

Inclusive Teaching and Learning

Phone: 8226 0521
Email: education.DPP@sa.gov.au