Promoting Appropriate Behavior
When working with students with special needs, it’s crucial that you think about the behaviors you might encounter and consider how you can create systems for addressing them. Some behaviors are fairly easy to manage, while others require more thought to be regulated effectively and positively. In this video, we will discuss promoting appropriate behaviors in the classroom, why they are important, specific strategies to support students with special needs, and ways to structure behaviors in an inclusive classroom. Let’s get started!
It is common for both general and special education classrooms to experience challenging behavior that is disruptive to both teachers and students. However, the crucial importance of positive behavior is magnified in a special education classroom, since creating a structure for positive behavior can reduce great amounts of stress and anxiety, and help students learn skills they will employ throughout their lives. Structured classrooms also allow students to fully focus on their academics since expectations are well-defined.
It is possible to promote appropriate behavior in the classroom in many different ways, but we’ll focus on a few specific ones that are straightforward.
Considering how to set up the physical environment of a classroom is an important step. When designing a classroom, imagine the types of activities students will be doing daily. Having routines that are supported by the physical elements of the room reduces lesson interruptions as well as potential for unnecessary movement. Examples of this include
- always having fresh pens or pencils in one location
- establishing routines early on in the year for asking to go to the restroom
- and keeping materials in well-organized areas.
Placing students in purposeful locations around the room can also provide stability for students that need structure, because they will know exactly where to go as soon as they come in.
Another aspect of creating an environment which promotes appropriate behavior is being an organized teacher. When teachers are well-prepared with their lessons and know how each component of their lessons will run and be assessed, they are able to focus on the students in the room rather than worrying about what they need to do next. When teachers are able to model organization and order for their students, they help create an atmosphere that is less chaotic. Prepared teachers are more likely to both create and maintain structured lessons with predictable elements. One example of how to practically implement this is utilizing bell work that students complete as soon as they enter the classroom every single day. Ensuring that students have routines helps minimize “wait time” in the classroom, and allows less time for disruption.
It’s also helpful to anticipate potential difficulties students may encounter and strategize ways to overcome them as part of this organization. For example, transitions between activities tend to be difficult, especially in special education classrooms, so consider ways to alleviate the stress during these few minutes.
When preparing lessons, teachers should consider how they will utilize proximity and movement. This may include standing near the students or placing their desks right by yours. This may also mean talking with students as you make your way around the class, and waiting to give them praise or criticism until you are standing right next to them. When students know the teacher is close-by and attentive, they are more likely to follow the directions.
The next step is setting clear expectations for the behavior in class, and to do this in a respectful and calm voice. Set these expectations as an imperative, rather than a question, and be as direct as possible. It is important that you explicitly teach the behavior you want the child to exhibit in order to eliminate doubt or confusion. It is also helpful to put a list of these expectations in multiple places around the room, such as on the wall, but also in the student’s notebooks.
Additionally, it is important that the teacher models the behavior when teaching the expectation so that visual learners are able to observe it instead of just hearing it. Be sure to reinforce this behavior during instructional time by watching for students who display this behavior. Then, praise the student for the described behavior right after you see it. This helps the child know they are doing the right thing and feel good about it, and also provides an example for students who have not quite accomplished the goal yet. Sometimes this is referred to as “catching a student being good.”
To help students feel connected to expectations, it may be a good idea to include them in the creation of the rules, as well as the consequences. Students feel a sense of ownership when they are involved in determining what rules logically make sense, and what the related consequences should be if the rules are broken. Rules will be different in each class depending on the individual differences, classroom circumstances, or special needs. Specifically, you will be able to see which behaviors the students care most about and which ones do not seem to affect them as much.
It is also important to take into account how a student’s special needs play into the behavior of the class. Sometimes seemingly insignificant aspects have a larger negative impact than expected. In order to prepare for this, a teacher would use a strategy that is sometimes called antecedent-based intervention, which means changes made to the classroom events, environment, and stimuli that come before the behavior can begin. For example, consider if there are any parts of the classroom that might cause difficulty for a student who is very affected by sensory input. An example might be a light that has gone out in one part of the classroom, or a low noise in the background. In addition, it is important to consider whether there are ways for all students to communicate their needs, specifically if they are nonverbal or have difficulty with their speech. An example of this intervention would be incorporating nonverbal signs, sometimes called silent signs, into your management or creating something that a student could point to if they become overwhelmed.
If a behavior begins that is undesirable, a valuable resource is using redirection. In this case, teachers often use comments or strategies with the aim of interrupting a student’s inappropriate behavior and directing him or her to behave appropriately. Whenever possible, this should be done at the earliest sign of misbehavior. Keep in mind that the earlier you can intervene, the better chance you have that the situation will not escalate. You might do this by introducing something different to try to get the student’s attention, supporting the student with the task, engaging in a conversation, or changing the activity or a piece of it. It is especially important to model calm and controlled behavior during this period.
Creating a sense of community in your classroom can also make a significant difference in decreasing and managing negative behaviors. The importance of this is even greater for inclusive classrooms in which some children have special needs and others are more typically developing. This can be done by initiating collaboration, as well as fostering an acceptance of individual differences and friendships. Allow time for students to get to know each other and see what they have in common. Teach specific lessons on what it means to respond appropriately to each other, and what to do if there is a conflict or frustration. There are numerous benefits for fostering a feeling of community in the classroom, because this sense of belonging can increase positive behaviors.
Finally, while this is true in all classrooms, it is especially important in special education classrooms to provide plenty of opportunities for movement and breaks. Students who have an abundance of energy require multiple opportunities to release it throughout the day. This will allow them to be less stressed and more relaxed during learning time.
Students have many objectives to achieve at school, some academic, some social, and others behavioral. The goal of a well-rounded education is to eventually prepare a child to be outside of the classroom with appropriate behavior, social skills, and academic knowledge. Encouraging appropriate behavior in the classroom will help students feel less stressed, keep the classroom calm and productive, and allow each child to feel like a valued member of the classroom community.
That’s all for this video. Thanks for watching, and happy studying!