The ABCs of Behavioral Management, Part Two: Behavior Response Strategies

Behavior Response Strategies
Teaching Methodology

The ABCs of Behavioral Management, Part Two: Behavior Response Strategies

So now you’ve set up your classroom with a clear structure based on consistent routines, but there are still behavioral issues in your classroom.  Is your structure faulty?  Are your routines flawed?  Are you a bad teacher?  Probably not. 

Structure and routine reduce inappropriate student behaviors, but they won’t eliminate behaviors if there are students who need more nuanced behavior response strategies.  There will be students who regularly need more and those who will need more on occasion.  And, yes, I mean “more from you.”  The teacher has a responsibility to engage and connect with each student.

Now what? 

There are 3 levels of behavioral management –  each level is touched upon below, but there’s much more to each of these behavior response strategies than can be explored in a single blog post.  Feel free to ask questions if they arise.  [You can reach me at Chuck@joinETI.com or on our Facebook fan page, PassTheMTEL

Level I—Label the Behavior

This is the simplest step, but sometimes the most confounding.  It encompasses addressing student behaviors—or not, depending on the behavior’s message (explained below)—and how to address the behavior, specifically which language (both verbal and non-verbal) to use.

As far as support strategies for teachers are concerned, it’s usually better to use as few words as possible.  Better practice is to simply pause and let the student notice the lesson has stopped – and that the class is waiting on him to stop talking – than to call a student out in front of his classmates; risking a potential confrontation (and escalation of the behavior).

If two students are talking, be polite and calm.  This is a correct way of responding to behavior:

“Please stop talking.”

If the talking continues, you might need to label the behavior.  This is the part that can be challenging and invite—or even encourage—students to argue with you.  If you engage in an argument, you have already lost. 

What is the correct label for the behavior intention?  Talking?  Bothering his classmate?

The issue is that he has disrupted the learning process; you are prevented from doing your job, and you can’t allow that. 

Always go back to the 3 support strategies for teachers I recommended in the previous blog, The ABCs of Behavioral Management, Part I

  1. Respect for self
  2. Respect for others
  3. Respect for materials

Make it clear that preventing you from doing your job is not acceptable, but the label is “not respecting yourself, your teacher, or your classmates” by preventing learning. 

It doesn’t sound significant in this example, but this behavior response strategy pays off when you have a kid who is a real wiseass or budding lawyer.  You know he’s doing something, but you can’t tell what it is.  If you lose control and get angry, the class will lose respect for you, and the kid will “win.” 

When enacting behavior intervention, you need to be in control without being controlling.  If you get into a tit-for-tat debate about exactly what he is or isn’t doing, you can’t win.  You don’t know if he’s making faces, teasing a classmate, making fun of you, or farting.  If you make a specific guess, he will honestly deny it, raising his esteem and lowering yours in the minds and hearts of his fellow students. 

This kind of conversation should be held in private, quietly with the student or in the hallway.  Kneel down to his level; don’t stand over the student and look down at him.  Be mindful to not project an intimidating persona.  We are trying to connect with students as we set firm limits:

            “Jimmy, I can’t tell what’s happening, but you’re interfering with my ability to teach, and that’s not allowed.  You aren’t being respectful to me, your classmates, or even yourself.   Can I trust you to stay in control and let me teach?  I’d rather not have to [keep you after school/call your mom/have you fail to earn points/etc.]”

Level II—What’s the Message Behind the Behavior?

Behavior is a message.  Little kids, regressed adolescents & even less enlightened teachers can lack the ability to appropriately express themselves with their words, so they “act out” with behaviors.  While normal in toddlers who have yet to develop the language skills to express themselves and the emotional maturity to control their bodies, acting out is inappropriate for non-toddlers. 

Translating the behavior into language for you and the student is probably one of the most important behavior response strategies.  Doing so can help students grow, develop, and mature with positive behavioral skills.

During my first year at my current job, there was a student who was driving her guidance counselor crazy.  “Susan” would go to the guidance counselor’s office and complain and whine.  She was very “sticky”; it was nearly impossible to get her to leave the office and go back to class.  She would start crying hysterically and tell her about all the impossible things that her teacher expected her to do.  The counselor told me that Susan, now a senior, had done this for years and that she was “just looking for attention.”

I became involved in her case later that year, and Susan would visit my office.  Susan never spent more than 10 minutes with me, and she always went directly back to class.  The guidance counselor was amazed.  “What did you say?  How did you get her back to class?”

The counselor herself gave me the answer—she told me the message behind the behavior.  Susan was looking for attention, so I didn’t necessarily represent what she was looking for. 

If we know the messages behind student behaviors, we know how to better respond to them. 

When Susan came into my office, I would let her know that I had 10 minutes to talk to her before I had to do something. 

“Susan, it’s great to see you!  What class are you in now? …  Ok.  I have about 10 minutes before I have to go talk to Mr. Fuller.  What’s up?”

She’d start crying a few minutes into the conversation.  I would present the same affect I had since she walked in and say that I couldn’t understand her when she’s crying so hard.  I asked her to please take a few deep breaths so we could continue our conversation.  I never gave her a “poor baby, what’s wrong” reaction.  I focused her on her breathing and getting herself in control.  I expected her to act like the young adult she was.  She usually stopped crying within a few minutes, and we would continue our conversation.  After about 10 minutes, I would remind her that I needed to go:

            “You can hang out here for a bit and dry your eyes before going back to class, ok?”

Then I walked out.  When I returned, she’d be gone and back in class.  It never failed.  She was looking for attention.  I gave her appropriate attention with age-appropriate, positive behavioral expectations.  That was it.  She actually came to me more often and went to guidance less often.  Why do you think that was?

Let’s get back to Jimmy from our earlier discussion on Labeling Behavior.  Why is he acting up?  If you don’t know, you need to find out, or he’s going to keep behaving the same way.  Things will escalate between you and him, and he will feel like he cannot be successful in school.  He may develop evidence-based learned helplessness [SEE THIS BLOG].

How do you find out?  Ask him.  Talk to previous teachers and his parents. Observe.  Does he hate math? English? School in general?  Does he have a crush on the girl two rows back?  Does he feel threatened by Billy?  Is he terrified that you’ll call on him to read out loud or answer a question?  Has he not eaten?  Did his father beat his mother last night? 

Any of those reasons would have a different appropriate response.  If you find the reason, you’ll know what to do (if you’re not sure what to do, feel free to send me an email).

Level III—What’s the Teacher’s Role in the Behavior?

A few weeks back, a student contacted me about a behavioral issue a student of hers was having in the classroom.  She’s the student teacher doing her practicum, and a little boy was giving the teacher fits.  About 3 minutes into her description of the problem, I stopped her and said, “The teacher hates him, doesn’t she?”

She did.  This student was “one of the worst” of her career.  Kids aren’t stupid.  He knows that the teacher hates him.  He can’t express himself, and even if he did, who’s going to believe him or be able to help him. 

We all have baggage.  We can’t love every child.  Many will push our buttons for reasons we understand or reasons we don’t.  What is important is that we recognize when this occurs and not blame the child.  It is the responsibility of the teacher—not the student—to remain civil and build positive behavioral relationships.  If you notice you’re having strong feelings—positive or negative—talk to a supervisor or trusted colleague. 

Teachers are human, so it is normal to get upset when students say mean things or obviously don’t like us.  But does it make any sense to take things so personally?  Your students do not know you.  They know you in your role as a teacher. 

For many students, school has been a terrible experience. All their teachers may have hated them, and they have struggled to learn.  School means to be confronted with their weaknesses and inadequacies.  These kids will strike first and lash out at the teacher.

Be different!  When choosing from behavior response strategies, understand that the issue is the student’s, not yours.  Do not take student’s issues personally.  Do not react to their behavior.  Respond with compassion and caring.  Take the time to discover the message; help the child deal with his issues and have a positive experience.  Change the script.  Be different

Please let me know what kinds of behavioral issues you are struggling with in your classroom!  We’re here to help.

And, of course, if you need help passing the MTELs, www.joinETI.com, or contact me directly at chuck@joinETI.com.

Keep your ideas and questions for future blogs coming!

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