Effective schools create safe, engaging learning environments through high standards and clear expectations for students and teachers.

The teaching and learning process is the core of the school, and other activities are secondary to the basic mission of academic achievement. Many educators view problem behavior as a separate challenge to learning instead of considering it a deficit—like math and reading deficits—that can be practiced and developed by teaching new strategies.

Problem behavior often interferes with the ability to teach information that engages students and increases academic success. Students need to be taught how to manage stress and frustration in a safe way, and teachers deserve consistent support to upgrade their skill set when it comes to developing behavior interventions.

One way for educators to shift their perception of problem behavior is to view it as a skill deficit just as math and reading challenges are viewed. There is a correlation between problem behavior patterns and academic deficits, and as students progress in school, the gap becomes even more extreme. Teaching prevention and intervention strategies and positive replacement behaviors in the same way that a missing academic skill is taught may provide new strategies for students to manage their behavior. Unfortunately, students are expected to have these skills even if they’ve never been taught, and they’re punished when these skills are missing.

When a math or reading intervention is established, a student is enrolled in an intervention for 4-6 weeks and monitored for progress during that time. As the student makes progress, the intervention is viewed as successful, although the student may still not be proficient in that content area. At the end of the intervention process, the student is evaluated and may continue in the intervention or be upgraded to the next intervention that will help develop a missing skill. A child may remain in a math or reading intervention the whole school year if this process is encouraging academic growth.

If behavior interventions were similarly established as proactive, ongoing support to build missing skills, rather than as a reactive approach like being sent out of the classroom, student growth in missing social and emotional skills could be monitored and supported differently.

Students needing this behavior intervention support for the whole year would be viewed as making progress (but not yet proficient) in the specific social and emotional skill, and they would be encouraged to continue the intervention process without it being viewed as “not working.”

When a leader is willing to view problem behavior as a missing skill and support educators in developing intervention strategies, it helps teachers understand how to provide new strategies and ask for support instead of struggling silently. Collaborating with staff to determine school-wide expectations related to the goals of the school when addressing struggling learners, whether the problem is behavior or academics, allows for individual growth while building unity. This sends a message that as a team, educators are helping to shift the perception and culture of the school norms instead of the administrator doing it for them.

Leaving school-wide discipline as an “each to their own” concept neglects opportunities for students to receive behavior interventions and get the support they deserve to meet their social, emotional, and academic needs. When examining the role of the school in designing healthy and safe classrooms that create optimal learning for students, it consists of more than being sure that they pass the standardized tests each year. However, a student’s physical and emotional needs are a concern that often becomes secondary to academic needs and is neglected when establishing goals for the year (Murray, Hurley & Ahmed, 2015). Working to support the whole child can be an exhausting task when educational leaders have experienced an increase in stress related to attaining high academic scores.

Collaborative working time such as PLC’s (Professional Learning Communities) will provide professional development for teachers so that they are able to teach the whole child and meet the social and emotional needs alongside the academic needs. Incorporating a structured agenda for this meeting time will encourage working toward school-wide goals.

Collaboration about helpful behavior interventions or strategies used to increase student success has not traditionally been incorporated into PLC agendas. Usually only academic areas are discussed and planned for during PLC meetings. Often, admitting that there are behaviors that are challenging can be viewed as a weakness for the teacher. This creates doubt amongst the team and can interfere with the positive working environment that has been created. Providing a consistent opportunity for discussion around behavior struggles and solutions will create a safe environment to make mistakes as teachers and learn to receive suggestions from peers, in the same way academic ideas are discussed and shared.

Establishing a PLC rotation for the month to include math strategies, reading strategies, behavior interventions/strategies and allowing for an “open slot” to include relevant topics that come up will prevent boredom and unproductive discussions during the PLC meetings. Including these topics will support educators in developing effective strategies for both lack of content knowledge and behavior that can interfere with student growth.

Being willing to use new resources to develop a best practice framework for staff will help build a positive school climate. When behavior discussions are included in the PLC structure, willingness to hear different opinions and ideas becomes a way to grow best practice teaching strategies. This also shows that behavior topics are worth investing in when it comes to planning so that change can be supported.

Creating a safe learning environment for educators is the only way that new ideas will be shared. Feeling safe enough to become vulnerable encourages reflection so that adults can be part of the solution when it comes to supporting permanent behavior changes. One way to create safety amongst staff is to provide monthly team building activities. This not only builds connections amongst the team, but also encourages a deeper relationship with trust as the core outcome.

Below are some articles to use for PLC meetings that will encourage reflection and discussion around shifting perception of problem behavior. You can also watch Dr. Becky Bailey’s webinar on the Power of Perception.

Barker, E. (May 19, 2017). New neuroscience reveals 4 rituals that will make you happy.

Entenman, J., Murnen, T.J., & Hendricks, C. (2005). Victims, Bullies, and Bystanders in K-3 Literature. Reading Teacher, 59(4), 352-364.

Fecser, M. E. (2015). Classroom strategies for traumatized, oppositional students. Reclaiming Children & Youth, 24(1), 20-24.

King, M.A., & Janson, G.R. (2011). Beware Emotional Maltreatment. Principal, 91(1), 18-21.

Nance, J.P. (2016). Dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline: Tools for change. Arizona State Law Journal, 48(2), 313-372

Schwartz, K. (April 21, 2016). 20 tips to help de-escalate interactions with anxious or defiant students.