Problem Solved

PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT. Your Fastest Fix for Serious Student Behavior Problems

03/31/2010  |  Ruth Herman Wells, M.S

That is by far the most common comment I hear from teachers, counselors, and principals who contact us for professional development. I’ve heard this comment so much that I sometimes joke that educator training seems to prepare teachers to work with Beaver Cleaver, but Beavis and Butthead keep showing up. Throughout the country, educators report seeing growing numbers of uncontrollable students, who present increasingly serious behavior problems that are unresponsive to conventional interventions.
Nothing works anymore to manage our most unmanageable students.

Because educator training is so heavily focused on academic content and testing, many teachers feel unprepared for the huge behavior problems, non-compliance, disrespect, and bad attitudes they encounter from students who appear unintimidated by consequences and indifferent to authority. Many teachers say that they feel like they’re floundering, that they don’t know exactly how to rein their most acting-out students so they “keep trying different things,” hoping to find something that works. Unsurprisingly, principals often tell us that because staff are using varied, random approaches, acting-out youngsters quickly learn how to evade consequences and play staff against each other. The quickest way to get all your staff to be effective with hard-to-manage students is to have your next professional development inservice focus on managing these difficult students. Within hours, your staff can all understand what makes these students “tick” — no more guessing what to do next — and everyone will now be using consistent, effective approaches.

Here are a few of the most important elements that effective professional development on this topic must include:

Stop Using Yesterday’s Methods with Today’s Students

One of the top questions my workshop participants always ask about acting-out students is, “What’s the most important thing to get them in control?” The answer: an educated team. You can’t “sorta” know about acting-out students, or guess what interventions might work and expect to be in control. When only some staff are knowledgeable and using effective, specialized methods with acting-out students, that translates to “Party Time” for your misbehaved youngsters. When all your staff have the same updated skill set, and are using the same type of targeted interventions, the party is over. Be sure to include the bus driver, secretary, and cafeteria worker so that your entire team is educated. If there is anyone who lacks the same knowledge and updated skill set — you can count on your misbehaved students to spot that gap and exploit it.

Avoid One-Size-Fits-All Methods

One text book won’t work for all your students. Similarly, one intervention plan or program won’t fit all your students either. We constantly get calls from teachers lamenting that the intervention program that their school adopted, won’t work with their most misbehaved students. We get the most complaints about popular approaches like character education and using all-positive behavior interventions. While these programs have many worthy elements, expecting these approaches to work with every student isn’t realistic. For example, because many severely acting-out students lack a conscience, character ed interventions can cause the most misbehaved youngsters to actually ramp up their bad behavior. When required to make amends to a student they bullied — as commonly done with character ed — your most out-of-control youngsters may comply, only to retaliate later by beating up the victimized peer.

While character ed and other programs have value for many students, they’re a mismatch when used with severely misbehaved youngsters. Instead, staff should learn the specialized methods that exist for unmanageable students. These tailored approaches are drawn from the mental health and juvenile justice fields, and are research-based. These specialized methods work around the lack of a conscience and remorse, and are designed to work when conventional approaches fail.

Teach Skills, Attitude and Motivation

Here is a quick peek at the specialized techniques that you need to teach misbehaved students to behave. They need thorough skill training, such as what to say, what to touch, and so on. They need help to have a better attitude, and to become motivated to behave differently. A humorous intervention is pictured here, but it’s just a tiny fraction of the tools you’ll need.

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To view more of the updated methods and information that your staff need to manage out-of-control students, visit





Ruth Herman Wells, M.S is the Director of Youth Change Workshops, E-mail Ms. Wells at [email protected] or call 800-545-5736. For more interventions visit

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