The PNG Definitive Guide to Classroom Management:

Types of Classroom Misbehavior:

There are five main types of misbehavior in a classroom: disruptive, bullying, challenging, crisis, and violent/manipulative. Disruptive behavior is the most common type of misbehavior and the most easily dealt with. 

Disruptive Behavior is common in classes with a lack of structure or rapport and can be common for students with, anxiety, ADD or ADHD. Disruptive behavior happens when students try to avoid doing work with low level misbehaviors such as talking, getting out of their seats, or intentionally making noise. While disruptive behavior can be frustrating given its frequent occurrence, it is also the type of classroom misbehaviour that is most easily dealt with. Disruptive behavior can be resolved over time through rapport building and with the use of consistent and clear expectations. Oftentimes, however, teachers struggle with disruptive behaviors because they are missing one of these key pillars of classroom management, mistakenly believing that rapport building or consistency alone are enough. 

Consistency within classroom management applies to both consistency of expectations and consistency of consequences. Proper classroom behavior has to be taught like a curriculum. If that curriculum is constantly changing and only enforced at random, most students will not learn that curriculum. In order to effectively maintain classroom management, teachers must choose expectations that they are willing to enforce every day and choose consequences for misbehavior that they are confident they can implement. This means that teachers also need to be aware of what misbehaviors their administration is willing to give them support for.

Building Rapport with students can be more challenging than implementing consistency. Some teachers are naturally very charismatic and find building rapport easy; however, sometimes charismatic teachers can become overly reliant on rapport and struggle with consistency, especially when confronted with more challenging classes. There are many ways to build rapport with students, but there is no cookie cutter approach to doing so. Some helpful strategies for building rapport can include smiling, asking students questions about their lives, participating in extracurricular activities, humor, being willing to be silly with students, sharing aspects about our own lives (while remaining professional), and admitting when we are wrong. Ultimately, we want to appear approachable, and genuinely interested in our students’ lives and happiness.

Clarity of Expectations is not only one of our scientific principles of teaching but a core principle of behavior management. This is because behavior management involves teaching a social curriculum. You cannot easily enforce expectations that students are unaware of. Teachers should, on a regular basis, communicate their expectations to students for their daily settings and activities. Likewise, expectations should remain as constant as possible.

Challenging Behavior is the next most common type of classroom misbehavior (excluding bullying, which we will cover in a future article). Challenging behavior occurs when students openly and intentionally challenge a teacher’s authority, either verbally or by completely refusing to follow teacher instructions. Challenging behavior also includes disrespectful language directed at a teacher, such as swearing. Most schools will have some students who display this behavior, however, it is not typically seen in every classroom and it can be very jarring for teachers the first time they encounter it. Students can also display different levels of challenging behavior. If the challenging behavior is infrequent and mild, it can often be resolved with the same classroom management pillars used for disruptive behavior. If the challenging behavior is more frequent or severe, it is more likely that the challenging behavior is the result of a deeper problem and, therefore, will require an in-depth special education approach to address it. Students who display severe and/or frequent challenging behavior often have mild behavior disorders such as ODD. Students who display these types of behaviors, then, may not necessarily be “cured”, but, they can make substantial improvements with the help of a myriad of approaches.

When it comes time to helping a student with a Behavioral Disorder it is important to remember that most if not all students with such disorders (outside of ADD/ADHD and ASD) have a history of trauma. While we, as teachers at school, might see a student with a behavioral disorder displaying “bad behavior”, it is important to remember that these students are actually among the most vulnerable children in our classrooms. Most behavior disordered students are children who have been witnesses to or victims of trauma, which can negatively impact their ability to succeed for the rest of their lives and is part of the reason it is so important not to label challenging students as “bad”. Labelling students who have been victims of trauma is an ethical violation since it is, in essence, another consequence for students who are already suffering. Moreover, research on Labelling Theory and Pygmalion Theory teaches us that giving students negative labels is deleterious to both their self-esteem and success, and negatively impacts our ability to teach them.

According to Dr. Dianne Harris, one of the impediments to students who have suffered trauma is that they struggle with both intrinsic motivation and delayed gratification, which are both extremely important skills for students to have in order to be academically successful. Often, students who have suffered from trauma also have an opposition to authority, responding to confrontation with a fight or flight response. These are psychological issues, which are beyond the scope of a classroom teacher to try and treat; they require professional psychological help. None of this, however, means that a school cannot empower a student who has suffered trauma to be successful.  Because students who have suffered trauma often lack intrinsic motivation, for example, they instead need to be extrinsically motivated, meaning that teachers and special education teams need to work together to find meaningful extrinsic rewards for behavioral students to empower them to succeed.

Successful Extrinsic Motivation Strategies for Behavioral Students include a structured reward system. In order for a reward system to work, however, it needs to have several pillars. A strong reward system must be meaningful to the student, must be frequent enough for the student, and must be achievable. Sometimes teachers will try to implement a reward system and it will not succeed, because it fails to meet one of these criteria. In such cases, this failure does not reflect on the merit of reward systems as a whole. Creating a reward system that works requires individualization and problem solving. If the reward does not matter to the student, the reward will not work. Similarly, if the reward is too infrequent or too challenging to achieve, the reward will not work.

Oftentimes, there is resistance to providing behavioral students with extrinsic motivation. Opponents will argue that offering extrinsic motivation is rewarding “bad” students instead of good students; however, this is an unethical argument for two reasons. First, labelling children who have been victims of trauma is unethical on its own. Second, teachers should not be depriving an identified special education student of what they need to be successful. Depriving behavioral students of the accommodations they need to be successful in order to reinforce positive behavior is a bit like depriving a diabetic student of insulin to promote resiliency.

Another potential concern with providing behavioral students extrinsic motivation stems from the research that overall intrinsic motivating tools have been scientifically more founded. For example, in 2014, Marina S. Lemosa and Lurdes Veríssimob conducted a large study in 200 elementary schools which showed that, while “IM was steadily associated to better achievement, a negative relationship emerged between EM and students’ achievement by the end of elementary school.” (Lemosa and Lurdes, 935). The paper also showed that starting in grade four, extrinsic motivation became less and less effective to the point of which it actually lowered academic results by later elementary grades. (Lemosa and Lurdes, 936).

Another research paper by Matt DeLong and Dale Winter showed that the use of extrinsic rewards can lower the effectiveness of intrinsic motivation. For example, during one set of experiments the psychologist Edward Deci had one group paid to solve puzzles and a control group not paid to solve the puzzles. “ He found that the group that was paid to solve puzzles stopped solving puzzles as soon as the experiment—and the payment—ended. However, the group that wasn’t paid kept solving the puzzles even after the experiment was over.” (Learning to Teaching and Teaching to Learn Mathematics, 168).

While these studies are important for increasing our understanding of motivating typical students, they do not apply to behavioral students who are lacking intrinsic motivation in the first place. However, they do give us some practical considerations for the holistic programming of a behavioral student. They informs us, for example,  that we should ultimately be aiming to get behavioral students (with a combination of good classroom management, externally applied therapy, empathy, and extrinsic motivators) to a place where they no longer need extrinsic motivation. Moreover, they also informs us that we should avoid simply applying extrinsic motivation to the entire classroom.

Crisis Behavior happens when students lose emotional control over themselves and begin to act violently in the classroom. Crisis behavior can include hitting, vandalizing, spitting, biting, screaming, swearing, fighting, or all of the above. It can be common for students with more severe behavioral disorders, especially Autism Spectrum Disorder. Crisis behavior can happen as an isolated incident, when a student is in a high stress environment, or it can be part of a more consistent behavioral pattern. Students who display consistent crisis behavior should have an educator assistant working with them and a behavior safety plan. There are four main things to consider when dealing with a student who displays crisis behavior: general classroom management, extrinsic motivators, de-escalation, and preventative interventions.

De-escalation is the most important consideration when a student is actually in a state of crisis. There are many de-escalation tactics out there, such as humor, positive framing, modelling, planned ignoring, change of face, and distraction. However, there are some core principles that teachers should adhere to when trying to de-escalate any in-crisis student. The core principles of de-escalation include: space, volume, body language, and communication.

The principle of Space during de-escalation refers to being mindful of how close you are to a student in crisis. We want to be implicitly and explicitly conveying to students that we are not a threat to them. This means that, excluding special safety concerns that might occur, we should be giving students as much physical space as possible.

The principle of Volume during de-escalation refers to being mindful of our tone and volume level when speaking to an in-crisis student. We want to be conveying that we are not a threat by speaking in low, calming, and quiet tones of voice.

The principle of Body Language during de-escalation refers to being mindful of the subconscious messages we are sending with our bodies. Movements like crossed arms, finger pointing, clenched hands/jaw, hands on hips, or squinting can signify confrontation and anger toward a student. Everything about our demeanor during a crisis action should be striving for de-escalation - we want to appear non-confrontational and non-threatening.

The principle of Communication refers to what we actually say to de-escalate students. One of the most common mistakes teachers make during crisis moments is to over-communicate. Students rarely just snap out of a true crisis moment, which can be very frustrating, and teachers may be determined to reason with students until they are calm. When a student is in a crisis state they are not acting rationally. Their brains have gone into fight or flight mode and, therefore, it can be very hard to talk a student down from a crisis. In fact, sometimes purposely ignoring students can be a very helpful strategy. Students with  ASD, for example, can feel overwhelmed by stimuli during a crisis so increasing the stimuli with too much talking can be detrimental.

Despite its limitations, trying to talk down a student in crisis can be useful so long as we remember the other principles of de-escalation. Talking during a crisis should be primarily limited to clear/simple instructions, distractions, and positive encouragement. Sometimes, when students are approaching the early stages of crisis or a less serious crisis, a reminder of consequences, framed as a choice for students, can be helpful. For example, a teacher could state “If you choose to continue this behavior, you will have detention at recess time today.” That being said, once a student is deeper into crisis, this type of communication is detrimental rather than helpful. It is also important that we do not emotionally load our words when we are trying to de-escalate students, for instance, teachers should avoid describing student behavior or discussing their own feelings about the situation with pejorative words. When we are trying to de-escalate students, everything we do should be about modelling a calm demeanor to the students.

After the crisis, teachers still need to apply normal classroom management protocols. While a student is out of control during a crisis and needs to be de-escalated first, there still needs to be consequences for any misbehavior that occurred during the crisis, so the student is encouraged over time to better regulate their own behavior. However, equality and equity are not the same concept. The consequence for a student with a severe behavior disorder for violence might be different than a regular classroom student. This does not mean that the crisis behavior should be ignored within the context of school discipline. But it is also not equitable to the student with a behavior disorder to be suspended every time they go into crisis, otherwise students with behavior disorders might not be able to have the chance to learn how to function within a school environment.

Before the crisis, some crisis behavior can still be managed within the context of a well-functioning and calm classroom. This means that the same principles of classroom management which are applied for disruptive behavior are also applied within a classroom that has a student that exhibits crisis behavior. That being said, like students that display challenging behavior, students that display crisis behavior also need to be offered extrinsic rewards in order to be successful. Furthermore, preventative interventions should be planned and used frequently in order to avoid crisis behavior from happening. 

Preventative interventions can include planned breaks, extra physical education time, therapy time, fidget toys, chewies, meditation, and mindfulness exercises. Preventative interventions work best when they are actively planned in order for students to avoid triggers, such as transition times. Anything can be a planned preventative intervention, so long as it includes a strategic plan to help students avoid crisis. Preventative interventions can also be used for students who display escalating challenging behavior when they are stressed or during challenging parts of their daily schedules.

Violent Manipulative Behavior (VMB) is by far the most difficult behavior to deal with. In many ways VMD appears similar to crisis behavior and the two types of behavior can be linked to one another. However, VMB is different in that, when the student is behaving aggressively, the student is not actually in a state of emotional crisis. In other words, the student is not behaving aggressively because they are upset, but rather because they intend to use this behaviour as a manipulation. Students who display VMB have severe behavioral disorders and will usually use their behavior as a tool to get something they want, such as getting out of work, or getting extra privileges. It can be very tempting to negotiate with a student displaying VMB behavior, because negotiating is extremely effective in the short term for these students. However, as the student is using VMB as a tool to get what they want, negotiating with them only contributes to the long term problem. Students who display frequent VMB can be very exhausting as they tend to look at daily interactions through the lens of a power struggle. Ultimately, this behavior is in some ways beyond the scope of a school teacher. A student with VMB requires professional psychological support, if they are displaying this behavior. The student that displays VMB has almost certainly experienced trauma and may need therapy, medication, or both. That said, there are strategies teachers can employ to support students with this behavior at school.

Regular classroom management strategies still apply to students with VMB; however, the teacher has to be even more structured and even more consistent. For a student with VMB, every compromise and negotiation encourages more negative behavior. Students with VMB also have a difficult time forging meaningful social relationships, focusing on building rapport with a student with VMB can be both more challenging and more important. Students with VMB can still work themselves into states of crisis, and it is important for teachers to use regular de-escalation tactics when students behave aggressively. Students with VMB, like students with crisis behaviors, can sometimes do better when equipped with preventative interventions and extrinsic reward programs. Ultimately, students with VMB need a combination of professional psychological help, structure, rapport building, preventative interventions, extrinsic rewards, and de-escalation in order to succeed in a classroom environment. Additionally, teachers who have students with VMB or crisis behavior should request additional staff support and further training from companies like Nonviolent Crisis Interventions (NVI), Safe Management, or Team Teach.

Interested in learning more about classroom management, check out our podcast episode on the topic here:

Written by Nate Joseph, 

Last edited 4/23/2020


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Matt DeLong and Dale Winter, Learning to Teaching and Teaching to Learn Mathematics: Resources for Professional Development, Mathematical Association of America, 2002, page 168.

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