An upset teacher trying to manage student behavior in the classroom.

Do you have students who are difficult to manage? Are you looking for ways to get their behavior under control?

Managing student behavior in the classroom is essential if you want to maximize the learning experience and potential of all students. One school of thought is that you should focus on the external environment, while another is that you should look to the internal causes of misbehavior.

Keep reading to learn about these approaches and determine whether one (or a combination of the two) might work in your classroom.

Approach #1: Focus on the External Environment

According to Todd Rose, focusing on the external environment is key to managing student behavior in the classroom. In The End of Average, he contends that one way that our education system limits students’ potential is by falsely believing their personalities to be fixed. When faced with a “bad student,” schools often assume they can’t change the student’s fundamental nature, so they label them a lost cause.

However, this approach is based on a misunderstanding of human personality. Contrary to popular belief, personality is context-dependent: People behave differently in different situations. No one is intrinsically a bad student; they’re just not in a learning environment that fits them as an individual.

(Shortform note: In The Lucifer Effect, Philip Zimbardo takes this idea further, arguing that the situation a person is in doesn’t just shape their personality, but also their morality. He contends that any of us could seriously hurt our fellow humans if we were placed in the wrong situation. To counteract this, do everything you can to stay away from environments that may influence you to behave immorally—for instance, you might stop spending time with friends who don’t share your morals.)

Furthermore, Rose notes that, although personality is context-dependent, it remains fixed across the same context. In other words, people behave consistently when they repeatedly face the same situation. This means that, when students behave in a way that prevents them from learning—for instance, rebelling against teachers—you can permanently change their behavior by putting them in a new situation.

To resolve context-dependent issues, investigate what aspect of the environment is triggering harmful behavior and try to create a context without that trigger. For example, if a child in elementary school keeps distracting their classmates in the middle of an educational video, you might conclude that the student gets bored by videos and give them the option to read the same information in another room.

Approach #2: Focus on the Internal Causes

Arguably, Rose misses part of the bigger picture by focusing solely on the environmental triggers that cause children to misbehave in school. In The Explosive Child, Ross W. Greene contends that children often have disruptive, emotional outbursts when they lack the self-regulatory skills necessary to accomplish a practical task.

Greene would argue that, if you falsely conclude that a child’s misbehavior is entirely caused by their environment rather than a missing internal skill, moving them to a new learning environment won’t help. They’ll just become frustrated again and act out in the new environment. This could further encourage teachers to label the child as a fundamentally bad student.

Greene adds that you can’t just teach children the sophisticated skills they need to solve this problem—they can’t develop these skills that easily. He instead recommends having a dialogue with the child: Help them realize what’s making them act out and brainstorm a solution with them. If you just try to change the child’s environment without consulting them (as Rose suggests), they may see this as an arbitrary punishment or display of power and become defensive and frustrated.

For example, if a child is disruptive during a video shown in class, and you assign them to watch it on an iPad alone in the other room, they may burn with anger at this perceived injustice instead of learning anything. Instead, you might be able to discuss the issue with the child and discover a solution together. If the child understands why a given video is important, they may agree to sit away from their friends.

Managing Student Behavior in the Classroom: 2 Approaches

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, and philosophy. A switch to audiobooks has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.