Every teacher will have “that year” or “that student…” You know, the one who never seems to take to your normal classroom management plans. Or the one who despite how much love and grace you pour out, you feel like it never matters. The child who displays challenging student behaviors that you can’t seem to “fix.” Those are the types of behaviors we are talking about here.
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I’ve told this story on the podcast before, and I can laugh about it now, but y’all…I literally tried to pry a pencil out of a student’s hand because I wanted to prove I was in charge.
It was during my first year and I had this kid who displayed a lot of difficult behaviors. So many that the district behavior interventionist happened to be in my room observing on this particular day.
The kid brought a pencil to the ground and I told him he needed to put it away.
He said no.
I said yes.
He said no.
I said yes.
The volley of yeses and nos went on far longer than it should have.
So, in my very knowledgeable first-year teacher state, I decided to throw out all of the correct guidelines of how to deal with a defiant child and I got down on my knees and attempted to pry the pencil out of his little hand.
Yes…yes I did.
I needed him (and all the other kids) to know who was boss.
The behavior interventionist pulled me aside after, and in the most sincere way, let me know that maybe that pencil wasn’t the hill I needed to die on.
It took a lot of practice and failure to find ways that would allow me to manage difficult behaviors without losing my cool.
I’m not here to fix things for you. Far from that. But I do want to share some tips you can use to help manage the challenging student behaviors you might be facing in your classroom.
You Aren’t Alone
Teacher Friend, I want to make sure you aren’t alone! If you are reading things and feel like you are struggling so hard with one student or three or a whole class… I get it, I’ve been there! I know how hard and discouraging it truly is.
In my six years of teaching, I had my share of challenging student behaviors.
Probably the most severe would be year two. But I also struggled in my fourth year when I had another group of kiddos that kept me on my toes when it came to behavior.
Year Two is what I call “The Year to Hell and Back.” I was only a second-year teacher, so hello…that’s part of it!
And also I had four boys in my class, two with extreme, SPED level behavior struggles, and two more with extreme emotional behavior struggles. Plus, all four of these boys clashed with each other.
Really, not much teaching happened that year. It was a lot of just “staying afloat”
Year Four (pictured above) was challenging because I shared thirty-six kids with my partner. Somehow, though, I ended up with all the challenging behaviors in my homeroom. I’m not sure how that happened and felt pretty unfair, but sometimes that’s just how the cards fall when it comes to teaching.
The biggest thing I learned from Year Two that I was able to apply to Year Four was to not take the challenges to heart as much.
In my second year of teaching, every failure felt like a representation of ME.
But as I grew in myself as an educator, I learned how to separate my students’ behavior from my ability as a teacher.
Yes, good classroom management and relationships with students is critical.
But so is learning to leave work at work and not take it home with me. Which is something I didn’t know how to do in Year Two.
Along with a reframed mind, here are some other things I did to make managing the challenging student behaviors a little bit easier.
Management Tips for Challenging Student Behaviors
The first thing we need to talk about is ensuring that you are separating the behavior from the student.
This is HARD. And not something I have always done. In fact, until I updated this post in 2020, it was called “Management Tips for the Challenging Student.”
Okay, sure, that’s an accurate statement. But I want to be better about distinguishing the student from the behavior.
We know that most of the reasons students act out are due to some other reason, but it’s really hard to remember that in the heat of the moment.
1. Whole Group Motivation
It is important that you have your four must-have behavior management plans outlined before the year begins. Here’s why:
In Year Four, I didn’t start out using my whole group management plan. It wasn’t necessary. I was primarily rewarding with my Classroom Economic System and that worked for the first few months.
But as soon as I noticed this group, collectively, was presenting a challenge, I immediately grabbed a jar out of my cabinet and began filling it with marbles to reward the whole group for good behavior and wise choices.
A few tips:
- Have the students help in brainstorming whole group rewards for when the jar is full
- Make the wins quicker by drawing two to three lines on the jar. Once students reach one of the lines, they get one of the rewards
- Give more than one marble at a time… “If you can line up quickly and quietly, I will give you five marbles.” (This gives you the change to only give three marbles if it isn’t as quick or quiet as you’d like.)
This last bullet ^^^ It not only helps the students know what they are working for and know that a reward is on its way, but it also does something for me.
It prepares my mind and sets expectations. I usually have much better success when I do this.
2. Behavior Log
Again, the four must-have behavior management plans should be in place before the first day of school! That way, whenever you discover that you have a student (or two, or three, or four!) with challenging behaviors, you can immediately whip out your plan and put it into action.
All six years of teaching, if I had a student with challenging student behaviors, I used this chart to keep them more accountable.
As you can see, it is nothing fancy. I printed them on colored paper and laminated them so that the kids can reuse them each day.
How it Works
- As soon as a challenging behavior starts to display itself, hold a meeting with the student and discuss the choices they are making. Decide on two to three areas they would like to improve in (raising a hand to speak, keep hands to self, etc.)
- Fill out the chart with goals and rewards (try to stick to two or three of each)
- The student keeps the chart with them at all times and can earn a smiley, straight, or frowny face. Each face is worth so many points (typically 0, 1, or 2). At the end of each lesson, the responsible teacher rates how the student did
- At the end of the day, the points are added up. If they met their goal of points earned, then they got to choose from one of their rewards. If they didn’t meet their reward, then we talked about why and made a plan for the next day.
This is a great tool to have in your back pocket because it helps keeps kids focused on what they are working towards. If you let them have a say in the rewards they earn, they are a lot more likely to buy-in.
The Behavior Log also is a great way to track data for RTI.
At the end of each day, I would write down the student’s points. If the behavior continued long enough or became severe enough, I already had data points to take to an RTI meeting.
3. Wheel of Choice
I am a huge proponent of Class Meetings. I typically held two to three Class Meetings a week and my kids always looked forward to this time. (This is the book I recommend to learn about class meetings!)
A Wheel of Choice is created in a Class Meeting and it’s pretty simple!
All you have to do is brainstorm six to eight ways to handle conflict in the classroom. (The kids are doing the brainstorming, not you!)
One year I did it as a class and I created the Wheel of Choice (pictured below).
Another year I had my student teacher do it and she came up with a great idea of splitting the class up into pairs to illustrate the different solutions and piece them together on the Wheel once all students were done.
The great thing about the Wheel of Choice is instead of having to solve the issue of what to do when someone looks at you funny, you just politely remind the kid to go to the Wheel of Choice to find their solution.
Here’s a free download from Positive Discipline if you want to use this in your classroom (or with your own children!).
4. Consistency is Key
Classroom Management and Behavior Management is useless if you are not consistent.
I have found that when I am not being intentional about rewarding the class with marbles or filling out behavior logs, the kids forget about the expectations.
That causes me to lose patience, and then sometimes
I yell things that are maybe not the nicest I go crazy.
Kids are smart and they pick up on how much you will or won’t hold them accountable to the expectations you have laid out.
Whether it is the beginning of the year when you implement more structured management plans (here’s a post on implementing at the beginning of the year), or in the middle of the year when sh*t has it the fan, you have to be consistent (and here’s a post on the middle of the year management update).
Even if the whole first half of the year kids have walked all over you and ran the classroom on their own, you CAN turn it around!
When you say you are going to do something, do it, and watch the behavior in your classroom transform. (P.S. I love Linda Kardamis from Teach 4 the Heart for this exact topic, she talks about this on Simply Teach episode.)
It’s also important that I mention before I wrap up this post, that not all behaviors are yours alone to deal with.
The four must-have behavior management plans are there to help you manage the majority of stuff in your classroom. But if you have severe behavior problems that involve anger, hitting, yelling, daily disrespect…you NEED to reach out for help!
(I’m talking about for the kids- hah! But if it’s you…find a therapist, they work wonders!)
Behavior Management Economic System
The whole group management system I used all my years of teaching (and a TSOT blog favorite!) is the Behavior Management Classroom Economic System that allows you to teach personal financial literacy while managing behavior in a practical and hands-on way.
If you are struggling with a few challenging student behaviors in your classroom, remember you aren’t alone! Every teacher goes through their “year” of really difficult students.
When you hit that year, remember to:
- Use the whole group to motivate students
- Have a student log ready to go for whenever you might need it
- Implement a Wheel of Choice
- Be consistent!
If you try these tactics and find that you still aren’t able to reach that student, don’t hesitate to reach out to other school personelle to help you!
Here’s a quick recap of all the links I shared in this post!
- How to Implement Classroom Management Plans
- 3 Tips for Classroom Management in the Middle of the Year
- How to Implement a Behavior Management Economic System
- 4 Must-Have Behavior Management Plans
- Classroom Management Tips for Secondary (podcast interview with Linda Kardamis)
- Purchase the Behavior Management Economic System
Until next time,
If you found this post helpful, then be sure to Pin it for later or for another teacher to find!