The most difficult student in your classroom may struggle to complete academic work on time, stay organized, listen to directives, or find a way to get other students distracted and off-task.
Remembering that behaviours have an underlying cause and are used to communicate something helps us not to take anything personally. Just as you teach academics and study skills to your students, replacement behaviors must be taught and reinforced throughout the year as well.
1. Dig deep
Find out why a student is angry, distant, or completely disconnected from schoolwork and peers by using the ABC’s of behaviour.
Antecedent: What is likely to “set off” the student’s problem behaviour? Where does the behaviour most often occur (lunch, unstructured moments, playground, math class, etc.)? Who is around when the behaviour happens?
Behaviour: Be concise. Make sure the behaviour you record is measurable and observable. Document how many times you see the behaviour throughout the day.
Consequence: What does the student gain from displaying the behaviour? Common gains include teacher/peer attention, desired item, control, or getting out of doing something.
Once you have documented the ABC’s of behaviour for a few weeks, set aside a time to teach replacement behaviours. For example, if Maria kicks and punches another student when she doesn’t get her way, introduce her to a tool like Stop, Breathe & Think. Checking in with her feelings will allow Maria to choose her own source of calm.
2. Build trust
Take these simple actions to form connection with your students.
Show up: If you tell Kamran you will be at his track meet, be there, center-stage, with a smile on your face. Even if Kamran doesn’t show his excitement, these small moments of showing up will build trust down the road.
Create contracts: By putting your expectations, goals, and strategies in writing, your student and their parents have something concrete to refer back to.
Be consistent: Changing behaviour doesn’t take an hour, a day, or even a week. Be consistent with documenting student behaviour, showing up, and referring to the contracts you make. Your consistency will help your student to feel safe and build a connection with you.
Let them lead: Pay attention to your student’s interests. If Sara loves to write, ask her to take charge of the word wall during your class’s literature circle. If Imran is constantly telling jokes, encourage him to prepare a joke of the day to read aloud to students in the morning. Tapping into your student’s strengths will help them build confidence and promote on-task behaviour.
3. Make mindfulness a priority
According to Rick Hanson, Ph.D., psychologist, and Senior Fellow of the Greater Good Science Centre at UC Berkeley, “What flows through your mind sculpts your brain. Thus, you can use your mind to change your brain for the better.” Students with behavioural challenges experience destructive thought processes. Try using mindfulness in your classroom to promote well-being for all students.
Breathe: At least once during your busy school day, dedicate time for focused breathing. Dim the lights, invite students to lay on the ground or sit cross-legged, and encourage them to focus on their breath. After the breathing exercise, discuss physical sensations and emotions.
Pause: During your lesson, If you notice a student is having a difficult time, becoming agitated, or responding inappropriately, stop what you are doing and ask the other students in your class to take out a book. Quietly take the student into the hallway. Check in with the student, ask what’s going on, and if there is anything you can do to help. Encourage the student to stay in the hallway for some focused breathing before coming back to class.
Process feelings with emotional check-ins: Before class begins in the morning, give your students five minutes to write in journals. Remind your students they can write about anything that is on their mind, writing about emotions is encouraged, and the journals are completely private. Younger students can draw a picture of how they are feeling. After they are done writing or drawing, ask if anyone wants to share something that is going on in their life. When students share difficult situations or emotions, listen attentively and give time for others students to relate and offer feedback.
Getting upset and reacting impulsively can have a negative impact on the relationship you and your student have worked to form. Although it isn’t possible to control your student’s behaviour, you can use these proactive strategies to reach even the most challenging student.