6 TIPS for taking the challenge out of challenging behavior!

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Happy Sunday!

As we are getting everything prepped and planned for Monday, I wanted to start off everyones week with my 6 TIPS for building our understanding of behavior to to take “challenge” out of “challenging” behavior! As a Special Education Teacher who works primarily with students who have emotional-behavioral disorders or students who express their needs in various ways, these are 6 beliefs that have turned into effective strategies in order to avoid teacher burnout and keep my best self during challenging situations 🙂

  1. The way they are expressing their feelings and emotions is not about you
    One thing that I truly believe is that behavior is learned. When students with challenging behavior are tearing your anchor charts off the wall, telling you they hate you, or all the other various behaviors our most challenging students exhibit in the middle of class, they are expressing themselves the only way they know how. Sure, they might direct all their emotions towards you, but it’s not about you. However, if you are contributing to the reason behind the behavior, it might be about you, but the way they are treating you is a response to what they have learned, and I doubt they learned that behavior for you or from you.
    This has allowed me to focus in on the behavior and separate the child from the behavior… because the behavior and the child are two totally different things. Separating the two has allowed me to maintain my sanity and best self during some incredibly challenging days.
  2. Every day is a new day
    During my graduate program we spent time at a self-contained emotional-behavioral school that embodied the Re-Education Philosophy. My favorite assumption and saying that I use almost daily is every day is a new day. I think sometimes we forget that we are human and learn behaviors and responses as a way to cope and survive as teachers. If a challenging student was incredibly challenging, how often do you dread going to work the next day because of them? I promise you, they can tell. Maybe I’ve convinced myself that every day is a new day, but it truly keeps my mindset positive and has established that persevering through challenging situations is possible for my students.
  3. Before you give a consequence ask yourself, “Does this make me feel better or will they change the students behavior?”
    At least in public schools in Washington, there is a misconception about consequences. When one of my now fifth graders was a third grader, he was suspended TWELVE times from school. TWELVE TIMES. We became a team when he was in fourth grade. After an incredibly challenging day a teacher recommended we should suspend him… because there are consequences for our behavior. This nine year old had been suspended TWELVE times in third grade… It did not change his behavior, making the consequence of being suspended useless. If a kid destroys your classroom and scares the other 24 students, it makes sense that removing that student from the classroom is what’s best for you and the classmates– however, if you want consequences that are going to change behavior, it has to mean something to them, not to you.Disclaimer: Once there is a mutual trust between myself and the student, I will lay on the consequences as needed but they are not punitive consequences… They are either natural consequences or an attempt at changing the behavior/teaching a real life skill.
  4. Start your relationship years before you’re the teacher and advocate for challenging students
    “I’m already dreading when the 1st graders get to 3rd grade…” When kids have had years of negative experiences and interactions at school and in life, even if they don’t trust you or don’t like you, they will see your effort. Every time I see a student I don’t know who appears to be upset (this happens about 30 times a day), I will either smile at them while I walk by or explain that I notice they might be upset and ask if everything is okay. Having your first interaction with a challenging student be positive is empowering for both the teacher and the student. One day if you’re lucky enough to have them in your class, a sliver of relationship baseline will have already been established… and you never know if you’ll be that one teacher that every child needs.
  5. Plant the seed of acceptance, understanding, and grace with the student
    The best teachers I’ve ever had were the 5 students I had in my social-emotional-behavior first period class. I didn’t know it at the time but every day they were preparing me for my next opportunity… a little bit better than I was preparing them… given when their teacher is involuntarily transferred one month into your eighth grade year… I couldn’t have prepared them for that. Back on topic– my middle schoolers taught me punches and throw downs of working with tiny humans who have experienced trauma or have a emotional-behavior disorder. Every time I begin my work with a challenging student we go for a walk and have this conversation:“There are going to be days when you absolutely hate me, when you never want to see me again, when you think I’m being unfair, and days when I don’t understanding you. There are going to be days that your emotions might be so strong, you make a choice you wish you didn’t… I want you to know there is nothing you can do that will ever disappoint me, ever wish I wasn’t your teacher, make me lose faith in you, or make me give up on you. I’m not going to ask you to do things that I don’t think you can do, so if I ask you to do something it’s because I believe in you, I support you, I care about you, and I value you. I am on your team, we are in this together– I will fail along side of you and celebrate all your success with you. “The first blow out: “This is one of those times you might feel like you hate me… It’s okay, I’m not going anywhere”The first consequence: “I’m a holding you to a high expectation because I care about you and I know we can get through this together.”
  6. Pay close attention to the possible reasons behind the behavior
    Kids with challenging behavior aren’t challenging because it’s fun– although sometimes it might appear that way. I think about behavior as being learned and being a form of communication. Are they trying to get your attention? Other students attention? Are they trying to avoid a task? Escape the situation? After you think about a possible reason why, there are logical actions that we can take to meet their needs and create a safe environment for the student to grow. Once you open your mind to behavior being a form of communication that is not directed at you, it’s easy to empathize with the student and engage proactively instead of reactively. At least with my students, the most common reasons behind their behavior are: hungry– but are use to that need not being met. When they are hungry and ask, food isn’t always available… so it’s hard for them to ask for food. The classwork is too hard– it’s way easier to be the class clown than admit needing help. Craving one-on-one attention, seeking control, and gaining attention from parents are three of the other common reasons I encounter. It’s crazy because each child will exhibit similar behavior to get the need met– but it happens at different times and obviously for different reasons… Think about what’s reinforcing it and the consequence that often happens and then you can really target in on what to do to break the negative communication cycle.
  7. Look for the positive’s in every moment!
    Thursday was the first time I’ve ever won a distinguished teaching award;) See picture above for more details…
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Ashley Boston

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