Why Do Students ‘Misbehave’?
In other words – what is the cause of their behaviour?
When a student displays challenging behaviour, teachers usually look for the antecedent or trigger. Simply put, the trigger is whatever happened immediately prior to the problem behaviour and seems to contribute to the behaviour.
A trigger can be something that seems fairly innocuous to us and doesn’t affect other students, but the student’s behaviour indicates that it is an issue for them.
Additionally, what triggers a student one day, may not have the same effect on another day because they may be in a calmer state or feeling more resilient.
Think about it from your own perspective: your response to an unexpected demand on your time (like an extra playground duty or staff meeting) is likely to be different when you are feeling well-rested and organised, compared to a day where you have been rushing, had an argument with your partner or not slept well the previous night.
Identify the student triggers
When a student has difficult or disruptive behaviour, identifying when, where and near whom the behaviour occurs can help in reducing the behaviours.
Examine the environment including the classroom, the playground, corridors, library and specialist classrooms to determine where and when the problem behaviour occurs.
Investigate what the behaviour looks like in various settings including what students or staff are nearby, and be aware of when the behaviour does not occur.
Think of solutions
Be creative and open to ideas that could prevent the student being triggered.
For example, if a student yells, screams and runs around in assembly, you can be pretty certain that crowds, noise, large spaces or sitting for a long period of time are a cause for the behaviour.
In that case, you may be able to lessen the trigger by experimenting with headphones (to reduce noise), allowing the student to skip assembly or providing a chair on which to sit (rather than the floor).
If a student is triggered by change, for example, having a relief teacher, then you may consider making alternative arrangements for that student on days you are not at school.
They could go to another teacher for the day or help the office ladies, whatever is appropriate in your setting.
Make a consistent plan across the school
When you have identified the triggers for a student, all adults in the school who come into contact with the student need to be made aware so that you can have a consistent approach.
If you discover that being told ‘no’ is a trigger for a student then coming up with other ways to respond to the student and communicating the process with other staff will prevent escalations.
Any plan will only be successful if all adults agree to follow the structure. You lessen trust with the student and ruin all your good work if anyone fails to follow the plan.
Have a calm space
Many schools and classrooms are providing a calming or sensory space for students to access when they need time for themselves. While we have often had time out spaces in classrooms for the ‘tricky students’ that came with a negative connotation.
The calm space is more about any student using the area when they feel overwhelmed, anxious or just a bit out of sorts. Going to the calm space and using it effectively involves teaching the students about their emotions and then discussing appropriate ways to reset themselves so that they are ready to learn.
When a student is anxious or agitated, their memory and attention are affected, meaning that effective learning is not possible.
Being able to take a break and employ a calming during the class increases the likelihood that a student will be able to regulate their behaviour.
Teach strategies for self-regulation
Let’s face it, we could all do with a few lessons in self-regulation. Who amongst us always acts in a calm, considered way, always eats healthily, sleeps well and manages relationships perfectly?
Your students will all benefit from explicit teaching about what to do when they feel stressed, anxious or overwhelmed. Discussing appropriate options for what they could do at school will help students to see that there are strategies that can help.
Students who have particular difficulty with self-regulation may need additional support just as you would provide extra help if they didn’t understand a maths concept.
You could provide further small group work or individual assistance combined with practice and positive reinforcement when the strategies are used appropriately.