Behavior Management in Classroom: What works and does not work?

Mar 23, 2021

Even though you have a behaviourally supportive classroom in place, you may still have a student who exhibits challenging behaviors and needs more individual behavioural support.  

The first step is to try to figure out the function of the behaviour.  While we tend to talk about the behaviour by its form (e.g., biting, hitting), we need to focus on its function (i.e., why it is occurring) to improve it.  

The function of the behaviour is more important than the form of the behaviour because it tells us how to address it.  Many times parents will ask me what to do about biting or spitting, but the question is not about what to do with those specific behaviours, but instead what to do with why these behaviours are happening.

In taking a proactive approach, we want to determine what is happening in the environment that keeps the behaviour occurring and hopefully what starts it off.  If we know these pieces of information then we can make changes proactively in the environment and also teach the individual a better way to get what they need.  

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For instance, if the student is hitting people because it gets them to attend to him or have a big reaction, we might want to create a situation in which they receive positive attention for appropriate behaviour more often and also teach him how to ask for attention or gain a reaction more appropriately. So, the class clown who loves the reactions he gets from his peers in response to his antics like standing on the table might be taught to tell jokes to get that same reaction more appropriately.

Typically behaviour occurs to either obtain something or escape or avoid something.  Common things that can be obtained might be a desired activity or item that is either I cannot ask for or I am denied access to.  Common things that might be avoided might be work demands, or social demands, or overstimulating environments. The student can also gain automatic reinforcers, like self-stimulatory behaviour, or escape internal feelings like anxiety.  

Treating the function of the behaviour instead of just the form makes the possibility of lasting changes more probable and makes it more likely that the behavioural change will generalize.  If you just treat the form of the behaviour without addressing the underlying need for attention/reaction, sensory stimulation, avoiding difficult situations, etc. you are likely to just see a different form of behaviour pop back up to serve that function.  It is like pulling a weed. If you do not pull the roots and only get what you see, then the weeds will just grow back.

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Rebbie Lao

Rebbie Lao has 28 years of experience in teaching exceptional learners, Sped program and curriculum consultant, developmental Interventionist at St. Dymphna SpEd Intervention Center.