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Serious Solutions for Serious Behaviors

One of my general education students has been having a REALLY. ROUGH. TIME.  We all have students who have occasional bad days, but this student has been experiencing some severe distress for a while now.  He has regular tantrums, doesn’t relate well to his peers, and is often very disruptive to my generally productive, happy classroom learning environment.  While my first step as a teacher is to examine what role I or my instruction or my classroom environment is playing in this student’s behavior, it is often necessary to look beyond myself to figure out what’s going on. 


My first step in a situation such as this is to make sure to keep careful anecdotal records.  I use this form Download Anecdotal record sheet to keep track of students’ behaviors in an easy, quick, and objective way, using codes and quick notes to record the antecedent (what happened before), the behavior, and the consequence/response to consequence.  When I feel like I have collected sufficient data, I talk to the student involved.  I show him or her the notes I have taken and we try to figure out why these things are occurring.  Some students are willing to discuss their behaviors and some don’t want to take responsibility, but I do believe that being honest with my students about how I feel about their behavior is important. 


I try to set up a behavior compact with the student.  We determine a schedule for ‘check ins’ and rewards, clearly list out the terms of the agreement, and each sign a copy.  Since my students are in fifth grade, I generally try to have them keep track of their own progress with a chart in their desk rather than stickers or something visible ON their desks to try to preserve their privacy, but for students who require more teacher direction, an index card on their desk can work wonders.  With this particular student, several behavior compacts later, we continued to experience disturbances in the classroom, so I needed to reach out further. 


In this student’s case, a confluence of academic, social, and emotional factors contribute to his troubles.  We chat regularly regarding all of these arenas as well as ways he can handle his frustration and anger when faced with a difficulty in one of these areas.  This student’s behavior situation is not unique to my classroom; actually, he’s doing relatively well this year compared to others.  I spoke to his counselor, as I regularly do, and we are all working on strategies to help this student regulate his behavior more effectively.  It’s nice to know that I am not alone in trying to help him, and feeling a sense of shared concern helps me communicate to my student that he is a cared-about, wanted, and respected member of the classroom community. 


If his behaviors continue, I’m sure that there will be a conversation with the School-Based Support Team regarding his setting.  Moving students to more restrictive environments due to behavior problems is very controversial, but it is sometimes unavoidable. In my student’s case general education with related services is generally sufficient to promote his academic success, but I am beginning to worry that if his behavior continues to escalate, it will affect his class work and grades, not to mention the learning and emotional safety of my other students. When considering a setting change, a teacher or support team’s primary goal should be to keep a student in the least restrictive setting conducive to his/her most effective academic achievement. 


If that were to be the case, a team would convene to discuss his case and discuss possibilities for additional interventions I could implement in the classroom.  We would then observe the student for a Response to Intervention (RTI).  We also might perform a functional behavioral analysis (FBA) to get more detailed information about when and how his most severe behaviors manifested in the hopes of drawing conclusions about WHY they occurred and WHAT we could do to help him. 


I am feeling very frustrated by the weight of these possibilities.  I am really committed to serving this student and his family appropriately, and I am fighting desperately to do this in my general education classroom.  However, I do recognize that the student’s needs may just not be served here.  I’m hoping that this is a bad patch for him and that he will come back from vacation refreshed and ready to revisit some of the conflict-resolution and anger management approaches we’ve explored together.  I am looking forward to next week’s vacation, and will spend at least a part of it brainstorming serious solutions for serious behaviors. 

Have you experienced something like this in your class?  Does this perfectly describe THAT KID in your room?  Let’s pool our collective teaching consciousness and dialogue about strategies for addressing students’ extreme behavior needs in minimally restrictive settings. I will keep you updated on how he's doing, and please check back next week for an overview of available special education settings.  I sincerely hope my student's needs can be managed in his present setting, and would welcome any suggestions or encouragement to help me help him stay here!


Alyssa Zelkowitz

A promised update:

My student is still struggling, and his behaviors seem to have become more extreme out of the classroom (although fortunately, he can usually be engaged IN the consistent setting of the classroom environment). Through consultation with his counselor and my administrator after some particularly extreme episodes that threatened the safety of other students and staff, we have decided on a disciplinary measure at the school level (beyond another classroom intervention).

This was necessary both to demonstrate to the other students that their concerns are being taken seriously and to attempt yet another method to address the problematic behaviors. It can be very difficult to balance the needs of students with emotional or behavior problems against the concerns of other students or staff members, so I hope this additional intervention will effectively strike that balance.


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