5. Dealing with Negative Behaviors

When something goes wrong, the student knows it. You’re not surprising them when you address behaviors. At first they may seem resistant, argumentative, and like they don’t want to do any better (even though we assume that they do!). What, then, is the next step?

Whenever you set up a follow-up time, you absolutely must follow up at that time. Below are guidelines/steps for following up with behaviors. I’m offering the following suggestions based on many different things: my experience going through CPI training, and a great book I read while at a previous job.
But really, and most importantly, these ideas come from the fact that I have had the privilege of experiencing wonderful teachers who have shaped it all. I have worked with them, and collaborated with them outside of school. Every one of them has taught me something important. This is just my synthesis of what is really their hard work.

Addressing Behaviors – Guidelines

  1. Make the discussion about what happened here. Not about how he always does this, and always does that. Keep it to what happened.
  2. Caveat: if it is part of a larger pattern, you can bring it up appropriately. But keep it focused on this time, and the future. (e.g. “I’ve noticed we’ve been having this conversation a lot lately. This can’t keep happening…” Now you’re bringing up the past, but focusing on the future)
  3. Make it about you, the student, and the class. Abstract moral discussions are for another time.
  4. Make it about you, the student, and the class. The more personal, the less room for argument. And it’s on the list twice because it’s that important.
  5. Focus not on the negative behavior, but on the replacement behaviors. Your expectations for what to do instead.

Addressing Behaviors – Process

Here is a short sample conversation related to addressing behaviors. It keeps in mind the guidelines above, and will structure the conversation without limiting it.


  • Address the concern from your perspective. (Don’t lead with the open-ended, abstract “What happened?” Give your point first, and do it directly)
    • EG: When you banged the desk and swore, that really upset me. I was trying to run a class, and it got derailed. That can’t happen.
  • Ask for the student’s input, and (the hardest part): LISTEN TO IT.
    • EG: I’m assuming that wasn’t how you would normally react. What happened?

Side note: listening to the student’s side does not excuse the behavior. They will probably have a great reason (I was exhausted, and the student next to me had been poking me with scissors all day, and etc etc) and you can sympathize. And you can say that. The reasoning may make perfect sense, but the behavior still can’t happen.

  • Discuss a plan for making it up.
    • Maybe the student apologizes to the class, maybe the student comes during recess or lunch, maybe the student does detention with you. But make it meaningful: it’s not a punishment, it’s a way for the student to make up for a mistake. They can clean, organize, grade papers, help develop a class-wide plan for addressing behaviors that s/he presents to the class. The possibilities are endless.
  • Follow through, and make sure the student follows through.

It’s challenging, logistically and emotionally. But things will get better! By engaging the student in solving the problem, you can often find out what motivates him/her and how to address it. But you do have to be committed to making the change as well!

Coming next: A practical way to set up positive reinforcement in a classroom.


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