Addressing Challenging Behaviors (Part 1, Secondary): Understanding the Acting-Out Cycle
Ms. Harris’ classroom has students with a range of social, emotional, and academic skills. She explicitly teaches and reinforces expectations, rules, and procedures. Despite this, she has two students who continue to struggle.
The first is Ava. She is well-liked by her peers and typically does well academically. As a student athlete, she is competitive both inside and outside the classroom. Because of Ava’s competitive nature, she can be reluctant to transition from engaging group activities like games and debates to independent work or challenging tasks. At times, Ms. Harris is able to quickly re-engage her, but on other occasions Ava’s behavior escalates. She talks back, shouts, and curses at Ms. Harris before eventually leaving the classroom. Ms. Harris has tried reminding Ava of the classroom expectations and pulling her aside to talk about her behavior, but neither action calms her down.
The second student is Sam. He is often shy in the classroom but he has several close friends that he’s known since elementary school. Sam has ADHD and often has trouble completing activities with multiple components. Although he enjoys participating in small-group discussions, he is often hesitant to ask questions or request help because he worries other students might think he’s dumb. Ms. Harris consistently reminds Sam that he needs to give his best effort and that it’s okay to ask questions when he needs help. Sometimes this reminder gets him back on track. But at other times, this approach leads to angry outbursts where he shouts at the teacher and sometimes destroys classroom materials.
Ms. Harris is confused and frustrated. She wonders why her efforts aren’t consistently working for Ava and Sam.
Here’s your challenge:
What should educators understand about challenging behaviors?
How can educators recognize and intervene when student behavior is escalating?