The Real Behavior Lessons

I have spent the better part of my last 8 years working in classrooms tearing my hair out over behavior. Behaviors are everywhere. And they can take up all of your day. Most recently, I was trying to avoid a specific behavior with students who are able to understand negative consequences. When they had learned the lesson and earned back what they had lost, they proceeded immediately to have behaviors that indicated they really wanted to learn the loss lesson all over again.

Fortunately for me, the Vice Principal just happened to be walking by when I sent them up to the office. The Vice Principal was a little amused how the class day had gone in the special group, with the loss of their desired item.

She told the students, “You know you’re really lucky you got them back at all; if I had been her, you wouldn’t have gotten them back all class period.”

Which raises the point: Behaviors that are annoying and drive you nuts.

There are a few groupings of behaviors, behaviorist tell you otherwise, this is the list you are much more reactive to:

  • Behaviors that are downright dangerous: the student who cannot have scissors without threatening a classmate. The student who corners the weaker classmates and threatens them even silently staring down at them.
  • Behaviors that are annoying: These are the whining, the protesting. The eating of non-edibles. The most annoying for any adult trying to get a student to do something: the work/task avoidance. Any behavior done specifically to annoy one person. This group also includes: behaviors that we would rather they not do for their own safety: public masturbation, stripping out of their clothes and running down the hall naked, and licking surfaces.
  • Behaviors that serve as communication: The pointing, the shoving away of an item, and crying.

Behaviors that are downright dangerous, especially those that are physical take a toll on paraeducators. Even properly trained and prepared paraeducators can easily get caught up in injuries from both students with disabilities and students in the general population. What I can say here is very important.

  1. Document the event(s).
    1. Be thorough. The student did not “just come up and hit you with a closed fist.” The student may have been, “sitting in the class, turned and spotted you [or a peer], walked over from the opposite end of class to engage with you. The student tried to get your attention, and a closed fist made contact with your shoulder. There is a bruise that will be photographed and documented.”
    2. Get any appropriate medical help that you need. And within the first hour of the event. Once, when a student kicked me in the ankle, I had no clue I had bled through my sock and was turning my grey pants red as well. I just thought it had hurt because I had been kicked.
  2. Be willing to change with someone else.
  3. Follow up with administration and any case manager as appropriate.

Behaviors that serve as a communication tool are the typical focus of behaviorists and the realm of special education. Something happened, then the student did this, and this is what happened—ABC, Antecedent, Behavior, and Consequence. It is always important, and hard to remember, that with ABC data: the first thing is not to say “Student hits when angry”, we are actively looking at the antecedents: time of day, activity, people in contact with student, and any directions prior to behaviors. Consequences are the things that have happened as a result. They are both positive and negative. Not just “lost recess,” but consequences are ‘student got the favorite colored pencil pack’, student was able to sit in preferred seat, and my personal favorite, ‘student’s tantrum sent entire class outside.’ These are behaviors that take time to redirect and teach different strategies to communicate what is exactly wanted. You’re looking for what the student really wants. Yes, this will encompass most of the behaviors.

This series of behaviors and steps to teach students other skills to get what they want instead of behaviors they prefer take time. They may result in kicking and screaming. Yes, both from adults and students; hopefully the adults do it where there are no students watching.

Which brings us down to the behaviors that annoy us. Behaviors that annoy a person are slowly honed by students. They know who they might be able to get the best reaction from when they do a certain behavior. This is not limited to a student who is considered higher functioning. I have seen students with very little ability to speak find the best way to annoy an adult. Maybe the student is resisting suggestions for an assignment, maybe it’s refusing to open a text book, and sometimes, it’s working really hard on an assignment and losing the assignment right away. Either way, at some point, you are done with the student digging in their heels and attempting to whine, cry, or avoid their work.

Things not to do when this is the case

  • Letting the student know that things annoy you. Some students are receptive, other students are pleased and will continue to find out other things to annoy you. Part of this is really a student learning boundaries, but students also a student learning that there are more people in their world themselves.
  • Giving into the behavior inconsistently. Frankly this goes for all behaviors, not just the ones that annoy us. Either ignore or deal with it regularly. It is really hard when you’re tired, but it is when you are tired, that having dealt with the behavior regularly will make it much easier.
  • Be honest with the student. Some students don’t know that it’s annoying to click their pen. Or refuse to do work. And explaining it to them. Give them an opportunity to learn to change their behaviors.

For the adult: Walk away is your best tool. Students who enjoy annoying you will continue to do so. The student is enjoying avoiding work and being a thorn in your side. And laugh later. Sometimes, it’s all you can do.

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