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Targeted Intervention: How to Handle Difficult Classroom Behavior

Last month on the Mondays Made Easy blog I shared some Universal Prevention Strategies to introduce my blog series on Behavioural Management. In my experience – and similar to many areas of life -prevention is the best medicine.

Sometimes, however, a little more TLC is necessary, and so this week we’ll be diving a little deeper and exploring the systems and strategies that you can use in your classroom when difficult classroom behaviors arise.

Tolerance Level for Misbehaviour

I’d like to start out by sharing a tolerance self-assessment provided to me during my studies in Teaching Students with Behavioural Needs. This chart is useful for a number of reasons: first, it is important to recognize that every teacher has a different tolerance for certain misbehaviours in the classroom. Because of this, it can be helpful to identify your unique levels of tolerance so that you can communicate your expectations to your students. Second, identifying your levels of tolerance towards certain misbehaviours can also help you specify what misbehaviour means to you; using specific language will help you communicate concisely to colleagues and professionals and guide you to individualized solutions and strategies. Last (and somewhat least), I also find it helpful to reflect on how interpreting misbehaviour is subjective in nature – knowing that I can easily accept certain forms of misbehaviour while struggle with others hints to the co-creation of conflict within the classroom. This knowledge can provide me with opportunities to reflect and gain insight into why particular behaviours are more bothersome than others, and how I can address my individual mindset and approach.

Tolerance Chart for Classroom Misbehaviour

How to Use the Tolerance Chart

  1. Write down the type of misbehaviour and your self-assessment score for each behavioural category.
  2. Group together the behaviours for which you noted a tolerance level of 1 or 2: these are behaviours that you have a high tolerance for. Consider the strategies and perspectives that you have found successful in dealing with these behaviours and write them down – this can be especially helpful for colleagues that may have lower levels of tolerance for these behaviours.
  3. Group together the behaviours for which you noted a tolerance level of 4 or 5: these are behaviours that you have a low tolerance for. Brainstorm some strategies and perspectives that you have already tried for dealing with these behaviours and write them down. Keep these behaviours in mind so that you can discuss them with colleagues and other trusted professionals. You can also turn to blog posts, podcasts, or Facebook groups to explore these behaviours further and grow your list of strategies.

Behavioural Systems

In order to implement targeted intervention, it is important to operate from a systematic approach. The systems highlighted in this blog post are Positive Behavior Support (PBS), Social-Emotional Learning (SEL), and Eco-Behavioural Analysis (EBA); all three systems are research-based and widely used in education today – you might even be implementing one or more in your school. By adopting a system, classrooms can operate consistently and school-wide measures can be implemented cohesively.


Positive Behavior Support (PBS) and Social-Emotional Learning (SEL)

If you’ve learned about behavioral mediation, you may have come across the abbreviations PBS and SEL – both refer to targeted intervention approaches. To understand these approaches, it is important to acknowledge that they are not mutually exclusive or oppositional; in fact, there are several similarities between the two.

What is Positive Behaviour Support (PBS)?

Positive Behaviour Support (PBS) is a preventative approach to negative behaviour through the encouragement of positive behaviour and replacement of negative behaviour through the elimination of reinforcing factors. The key principles of PBS include consistent behavioural expectations, teaching social problem solving, specified reinforcers and consequences, use of culturally appropriate interventions, and methods of data collection, including documenting inappropriate behaviours to look for patterns. The goal of this approach is to design effective environments to encourage positive behaviour and reduce the effectiveness of problem behaviours. As such, PBS is highly effective when adopted as a school-wide approach.

Examples of PBS:

  • Reading Social Stories to prompt
    expected behaviors
  • Providing cues and prompts about
    upcoming activities
  • Providing positive attention and feedback for
    appropriate behavior
  • Using a picture schedule
  • Asking for a break from group time
  • Using problem-solving strategies
  • Using feelings cards to express feelings
Targeted Intervention for Misbehaviour

What is Social-Emotional Learning (SEL)?

Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) is the process of acquiring knowledge about emotional regulation, developing positive relationships, and practicing empathy towards others. Similar to PBS, SEL encourages positive social behavior and focuses on a school-wide culture to improve learning environments and reduce problematic behaviors. You can essentially interpret SEL to be the system that reinforces the knowledge of appropriate and desired behaviors that act as the foundation for PBS. The key principles of SEL include an emphasis on self-awareness, self-management, relationship skills, and responsible decision making. Approaches include explicit skills instruction and integration with academic curriculum areas. The goal of this approach is to reduce emotional distress, develop positive relationships, and create equitable, supportive, and welcoming learning environments.

Examples of SEL:

  • Modeling and coaching recognition of their own emotions, as well as the emotions of others
  • Guiding students through conflict-resolution
  • Practicing group decision-making and setting classroom rules
  • Learning cooperation and teamwork through participation in team sports and games
  • Cross-age mentoring to build self-confidence, community, and academic success
  • Reflective listening activities amongst students

Eco-Behavioural Analysis (EBA)

Eco-Behaviour Analysis (EBA) refers to the assessment of the classroom environment to “identify the ecological and educational factors that promote or inhibit student academic gains.” EBA involves a specific method with coding systems that have been validated through empirical research. Generally speaking, this method involves observation by staff who collect data on a number of classroom variables, including the teaching environment, classroom relationships, instructional strategies, and levels of student engagement. According to the Journal of Remedial and Special Education, this data is analyzed to determine “how best to increase students’ positive response to instruction and, in turn, improve academic achievement.”

EBA may determine, for example, that students of a particular population demonstrate higher levels of engagement with academic discussions as opposed to lecture-based learning. Other examples of contributing factors that may vary from population to population include the use of group work, teacher positioning, assistive technology, and educational assistants.

How to Handle Difficult Classroom Behaviour: Strategies and Systems

Strategies for Targeted Intervention

Systems can take time and effort to implement, and often work best when they are consistently practiced across classrooms; however, there are several strategies that you can immediately utilize in your own classroom:

  • Implement a Support: When misbehaviors arise, implementing a support is often the first recommended step. Supports can be as simple as a one-on-one conversation or review of behavioral expectations; more structured support can include a behavioral contract, assignment of support staff, or counseling with a school professional. Brainstorming with colleagues is a great way to develop a list of supports that can be used at any time.
  • Implement a Consequence: When considering consequences in the classroom, it is important to first ensure that they’ve been clearly outlined to students. Healthy consequences can help mitigate misbehavior when implemented intentionally. They often model real-world consequences for similar behaviors; for example, cheating on a project may result in the loss of credit for the grade, and violent behavior may result in the loss of participation within the classroom community. Consequences are best assigned with the guidance of administration, along with careful consideration of the student’s age, personal history, and exceptional needs.
  • Restorative Justice: According to Susan Sharpe, Restorative Justice borrows from cultural perspectives that encourage accountability, strengthen community, and “heal what is broken;” these operate from the perspective that students misbehave to meet a personal need, including intellectual stimulation, personal attention, physical closeness, and respect or power. Practices include circles, conferencing, and mediation/reconciliation programs; these restorative approaches prove to be highly effective in qualitative studies.
  • Love and Logic Language: The Love and Logic framework offers “positive teaching solutions and practical classroom management” through the use of research-based principles. The language of Love and Logic is framed in the positive; for example, instead of addressing a student individually and instructing them to stop using profane language, a teacher can instead address the class as a whole and state that “I respond/support to students who speak respectfully to myself and to classmates.” This redirects attention and provides students with the freedom to problem solve, thereby fostering motivation.
    Peer Mediation: When misbehavior exists interpersonally, students can be taught to resolve it nonviolently through the use of a Rogerian approach. This approach provides students with the skills to resolve conflict, actively listen, and find a common ground. Our students can be our partners in classroom management; to read more on this topic, check out my blog post on Classroom Management Strategies That My Students Love.
Targeted Intervention for Misbehaviour in the Classroom

Additional Texts

The list of strategies and supports for targeted intervention is endless, and the systems and resources offered in this article merely skim the surface. Below are some additional links to support a wide range of classrooms and populations:

Ready… Set… Engage!: How to build healthy youth and adult partnerships
BOATS – 2017 Edition: Developed by the Council of Inclusive Education of the Alberta Teachers’ Association to modify challenging behaviours
Pogressive Discipline in Schools: Resources for progressive discipline, prevention, and early intervention practices.
Circle Ways: Workshops and teacher training for restorative justice.
Safe Schools