Supporting Student Behavior

Teacher Instructing StudentsHow can we as educators better understand behavior as a form of communication we all practice and exhibit in our day-to-day lives? When we deepen our understanding of behavior, we can better support our students.  

Behavior, as a form of communication, is something we exhibit every day. This is not a form of communication that excludes adults, though we often observe student behavior as a topic adults discuss without reflecting on their own behaviors. Usually, the topic is spoken about because we have labeled a situation with a student as challenging or “difficult.” A label is given when the interaction did not turn out the way the adult had planned or expected. Since educators directly work with students, this is a topic discussed every day in our schools.  We can increase our awareness of behavior, learn how to support behavior, and ensure that we listen to it. 

Each of us carries a vocabulary of how we label a child's temperament or behavior. We may say, “that student is active, or creative.” “That student escapes from assigned tasks” is another behavior we experience and is often labeled as “difficult.” However, if we see these behaviors, as a form of communication when there is a want or need, we can better understand what is happening with our students. They may be acting this way because they are seeking power, attention, or even avoidance and have lagging skills in communicating these needs. 

Female Student SuccessAs educators, it is our job to first and foremost create a safe and nurturing environment. How can we do this? We create a learning environment where expectations are clearly stated along with rules and contracts so that students know and are a part of building the culture of the classroom. This is foundational to students’ development and success. Once class contracts are co-established, students know what to expect from their peers and you, and they know what is expected of them in the learning community. As a result, students trust in bringing their true selves to the classroom (behaviors included) as the environment is a place where they belong, not just “fit in.” This culture establishes what students bring from their home and culture are assets to the classroom community. There are some strong strategies to understanding and managing student behavior: Below you will find 3 tips to support you in listening and learning from behavior (as a form of communication) in your learning environment: 

#1: Identify student assets  to acknowledge the classroom as a culturally & linguistically diverse environment:

  • To identify student assets, educators need to learn to understand students’ life experiences. 
    • Take the time to develop activities and opportunities for collaboration among peers in which students can share about their cultures, their positive and negative experiences with positions of power, times of celebration, and moments of struggle. 
      • By engaging in this sharing, educators will more deeply understand the underlying cause  of student behavior when it is not what a  teacher “expects,” or “is used to.”

#2: Teach, Model, Practice, and Celebrate Self-management skills:

  • SEL curriculums are developed to directly teach emotional skills, practice building awareness in isolation, and then use the skills in real-life situations. 
  • As educators, we need to pause throughout the day (not just during SEL curriculum time) to spotlight these moments with our students and celebrate the practice of self-management skills students are trialing throughout the day.

#3: Know your ABCs: Assess and respond to the student, not the behavior:

  • Antecedent: Events, actions, or circumstances that occur before a behavior
  • Behavior: The precise behavior that the student is demonstrating
  • Consequences: The action or response that follows as a result of the behavior 
    • Treating the behavior as a behavior and not as the child will help build a more loving storyline for your students’ lives.

If you have reflections from this article or want to share strategies you have used with your students, or just want to chat more as you work through your path of supporting student behavior connect with me via Twitter: @CarolynHanser or email:

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