Challenging Behaviours

Challenging Behaviours

You can’t extinguish a behaviour. Can’t be done. Behaviours can only be replaced, not extinguished. And if you think for a moment it’s very obvious – if they aren’t doing whatever the problem is, they must be doing something instead. Even staring at the wall is doing something.

Unfortunately, too many behaviour management plans focus on the behaviour you are trying to change.

This has two problems – a negative focus is likely to lead to negative strategies, and it could leave you with an even worse behaviour than you started with.

Successful behaviour modification needs to focus on the replacement, not the problem. The question to ask is not

“How do we stop them doing this?”


“How do we get them to do that?”

The first step is to decide exactly what you want them to be doing –

  • Working?
  • Sitting quietly?
  • Staying in their seat?
  • Actively participating in a discussion?

Because the strategies you use to achieve the change will depend on what you want – if you’re happy with sitting quietly you don’t need to encourage them to participate.

Then you can look at why it isn’t happening and go back to the basics of your pedagogy.

  • Are you setting work at levels to cater for everyone in the class?
  • Do they understand what you want them to do?
  • Are you giving them a variety of ways to demonstrate the skill or understanding?
  • Is the work rich and engaging?
  • Are there ways you can negotiate with them and give them some control?

After you’ve torn into your own programs then you can start to look at individuals or groups of students and ways of encouraging them into the behaviour you want. This is where praise and all the different types of reminder, reward and contract systems come in. But the emphasis needs to remain on setting expectations and supporting and encouraging students to meet them. Not on stopping them from misbehaving.

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