ASCD Whole Child Bloggers

Cracking the Whip: Dealing with Bad Behavior

Post submitted by Whole Child Blogger Hunter Holcombe

Close to 300 attendees filed into a Marriott ballroom Saturday afternoon at ASCD's Annual Conference to soak up a discussion on a frustrating topic for many: dealing with bad behavior.

Beverley Johns has handled problematic students since the 1970s and says that behavioral problems have only gotten more frequent—and worse—over the decades. In her presentation, "Twenty-Five Positive Behavioral Interventions That Really Work," Johns listed a number of practical ways, primarily through situation-specific positive reinforcement, that teachers can better deal with these particularly problematic students.

Her most essential point was that educators simply aren't acknowledging positive behavior enough, and those that do aren't doing it sincerely. "Even though we know we are supposed to focus on the positive, we don't do it," she said.

Two other major points Johns made were the following:

  1. Low achievement and behavioral problems go hand in hand.
  2. A large percentage of students with emotional or behavioral disorders are known to have language disorders.

The session audience was divided into 10-chair tables, and Johns asked the groups to collectively brainstorm the best way to deal with problematic situations using the methods she proposed. At one table, the three most popular choices were behavior momentum, behavior-specific dialogue, and positive reinforcement.

When it comes to punishment, Johns take a strong stance against suspensions. However, she recognizes that many teachers simply need a break, and suspension is often the easiest way to get one. Yet she points out that suspension results in valuable instructional time lost and the student falling behind. If their personal time is taken up by suspension, they will use up homework time to recoup their lost social time. Additionally, suspension may allow some students to escape from problems.

As a take-home, Johns handed out small green cards to the attendees, a cheat-sheet she calls her "credit card":

10 Quick Verbal Interventions that can Prevent Behavioral Problems

  1. What do you need to do to follow this rule?
  2. How can I help so that you can...?
  3. Is there something else you need to do this task?
  4. Would you like to figure out a different way? How can I help you?
  5. Is what you're doing getting you what you want?
  6. What is your assigned task now?
  7. What do you think about...?
  8. When will you be ready to start this task?
  9. What could you do to make things better for you?
  10. Is there someone that I can get to help you talk through this?

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