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Addressing Challenging Behavior in Early Childhood: Strategies of Teachers and Trainers by Maureen Conroy

Primary Sources: America’s Teachers on the Teaching Profession

The Ventura County Office of Education RtI Task Force online handbook.

 

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Make a Joyful Noise
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"What Did Gary Do This Time?"
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Eight Ways to Use Your Student Athletes as Positive Role Models (AMDnet)

Engaging Students with Learning (MIDnet)

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Challenges with Behavior

Behavior challenges are nothing new, but they are appearing with greater frequency as a point of concern in Lutheran schools. How can educators help students who exhibit challenging behavior in their classrooms so that the learning environment is not disrupted? Even with limited resources, there are some strategies educators can employ to help improve the behavior of students who are not behaving appropriately and who are disrupting the learning environment.

While there may be speculation about the root causes of the increase in behavior issues, there is agreement among groups of teachers that behavior issues are on the rise. As reported in Primary Sources: America’s Teachers on the Teaching Profession,68 percent of elementary school teachers, 64 percent of middle school teachers, and 53 percent of high school teachers report an increased level of behavior issues. In other aspects of education, if there is an area in which a student struggles, the teacher provides instruction and assistance in that area. Can the same be said of behavior challenges, or is the inclination to punish rather than teach appropriate behavior?

“If a child doesn’t know how to read, we teach.”
“If a child doesn’t know how to swim, we teach.”
“If a child doesn’t know how to multiply, we teach.”
“If a child doesn’t know how to drive, we teach.”
“If a child doesn’t know how to behave, we... teach? …punish?
Why can’t we finish the last sentence as automatically as we do the others?

(Tom Herner, NASDE President, Counterpoint 1998, p.2)

paper airplaneWhen a student exhibits challenging behavior, a process of positive behavior support should be put into place. Part of this process includes having a team of teachers and school administrators help gather information and develop ideas about the purposes behind the child’s behavior, design appropriate behavior supports and interventions, and then monitor and refine this plan as needed. Rather than making the child the problem, make the behavior the problem and determine why the behavior is occurring. With that information gathered, the team can establish the changes needed to prevent the problem from occurring while teaching the child new skills.

Children use behavior to communicate, and their behavior has a function or purpose that they may not be able to otherwise express.Children use behavior to communicate, and their behavior has a function or purpose that they may not be able to otherwise express. Typically, behaviors fall into one or more of these four functions: escape, attention, sensory, and tactile. The behavior functions as an escape when the child wants to remove himself or herself from a person, situation, or activity. However, the behavior may also serve the purpose of gaining attention when the child is seeking reinforcement or support from a person or group of people. The child could be seeking the positive or negative attention of other students or adults. A behavior falls into the sensory category when there is a desire to either obtain or avoid a specific sensory experience (e.g., avoiding bright lights or loud sounds; desiring movement or quiet). Finally, a behavior is tactile when there is the desire for a particular tangible object.

drawingIdentifying the function of the undesirable behavior is the most important step in planning behavior interventions and teaching appropriate behavior. It is also important to note if there is any event in the environment that occurs shortly before the inappropriate behavior occurs. This could include interaction with certain people, specific classroom or school activities, or other environmental stimuli. Once the function of the behavior is ascertained, educators can begin the process of determining how the student can have that same need or function satisfied, but in an appropriate way.

In planning for appropriate interventions and ways to teach appropriate replacement behaviors, here are some helpful questions for educators to consider:

Also see “Addressing Challenging Behavior in Early Childhood: Strategies of Teachers and Trainers by Maureen Conroy.

Appropriate behavior interventions and replacement behaviors taught should serve the same function for the child as the challenging behavior, but it may take time to see results. Appropriate behavior interventions and replacement behaviors taught should serve the same function for the child as the challenging behavior, but it may take time to see results. A student may already use the replacement behavior, but may be using the behavior inappropriately or inconsistently. In this case, the desired behavior should be reinforced in a manner that motivates the child to behave appropriately. A behavior contract may be needed for the student to reinforce the desired behavior, and reinforcement could also be used when the child attempts to use the new skill or uses the appropriate skill with increased frequency.

scissoringInappropriate behavior should not be reinforced in the classroom. If the child is seeking attention with a challenging behavior, that behavior is only reinforced when a teacher gives him or her that negative attention. Reinforce the appropriate and positive replacement behavior rather than the inappropriate behavior.

When the student is not demonstrating knowledge of the replacement behavior, the behavior may need to be taught directly to the student as well as being modeled and practiced in a school setting. These behaviors could be taught individually to the student or taught to the whole class to benefit all students along with ample opportunities for practice and reinforcement.

For assistance in identifying appropriate replacement behaviors, The Ventura County Office of Education RtI Task Force has published a very helpful online handbook that provides documentation templates and also behavior interventions based on the function of the behavior. Beginning on page 47, you will find multiple interventions and strategies to implement with students based on the purpose of the inappropriate behavior.

While these steps will not eliminate all behavior issues within a classroom or school, learning to identify the purpose of a child’s behavior and appropriate replacement behaviors that serve the same purpose will help educators reduce some challenging behavior. These steps and resources will also provide documentation for teachers and administrators, so if further help and action is needed, there is a record of interventions and strategies already in place. This will help educators teach appropriate behavior, just as other skills are taught to students when they struggle.

Kara Bratton serves as LSEM’s resource center director. Lutheran Special Education Ministries (LSEM) is a Christ-centered resource that supports children with learning needs. If our ministry can help your school or church work with children who have identified learning needs or struggle, please contact us at lsem@luthsped.org or 248-419-3390. You can also learn more about LSEM at https://luthsped.org.

Photos © iStock/studio grand quest, JBryson, XiXinXing, oksun70.