When you decided to become a teacher, did you envision changing young people’s lives for the better and coming home each day with a glow of satisfaction? Sadly, the reality can be vastly different! When a classroom is filled with students engaging in challenging behavior, it can begin to feel like a war zone. It can be stressful and lack reward. How is a person supposed to teach when one or more students are being noncompliant, disruptive, and distracting other students? There are some simple strategies that can empower a teacher to turn all of that challenging behavior around and get back to the business of teaching. First, we need to see behavior clearly for what it is: Communication. It is never random; it always has a purpose. If we can begin to recognize the pay-off a student is getting from engaging in the behavior, we can affect great change. There are four main “usual suspects” that are the underlying causes of nearly all challenging behavior in a classroom setting.
Every class has at least one student who has a bottomless need for attention. These students interrupt, make jokes, and talk to draw attention. When people crave attention, they will take it in any form — even negative attention. Scolding or even peacefully talking with them about making other choices is the same as handing them a paycheck and saying, “Please keep doing this, because it’s working!” Convert attention-seeking behavior from a problem to a plus:
All students have nonpreferred subjects and tasks, and it’s normal for them to want to avoid these. Such students get out of their seat or run out of the class, daydream, don’t listen to instructions, are off-task, and may be noncompliant or even engage in aggression or self-injury to avoid tasks. Flip the equation on avoidant behavior:
3. Access to Objects and Activities
Students all have favorite items and activities, and some will do anything to get them. These students tend to struggle with sharing. They can get very upset, and possibly aggressive, when they can’t have access to a preferred item or have to transition from a preferred activity. Turning it around:
4. The Behavior Itself is Rewarding
In all the examples above, the reward for the challenging behavior was provided by another person — the teacher, a student. In this case, the reward is inherent in the behavior. Engaging in the behavior itself provides a pay-off, either because it’s enjoyable, produces desirable sensory stimulation or relief from an unpleasant sensation. These repetitive and ritualistic behaviors are sometimes referred to as stereotypy or self-stimulatory behaviors. Competing with these behaviors is difficult, but can be done:
Beware that students might engage in challenging behavior to get attention in one situation and to escape in another. When a behavior works, it may be used for multiple purposes.
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