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Looking beyond student misbehavior: why they act the way they do

Author: Dawn Mitchell


Hi everyone,

I’ve noticed through the years that it is when we are getting into the routines of teaching that we begin to notice differences in the behaviors of our students.  When I have conversations with teachers about how things are going, typically I hear from secondary teachers about that one tough block or class of students.  From elementary and early childhood teachers, I hear about students - how things are going well except for the concerning behaviors of a few students. 

In Chapter 3 of Shouting Won’t Grow Dendrites (2014), author Dr. Marcia Tate discusses four major reasons for student misbehavior:  desire for attention, desire for power or control, boredom, and feelings of inadequacy.  She writes, “You can deal with difficult students if you first recognize their primary needs. (Canter & Canter, 1993)  Once you look beyond the symptoms of misbehavior, you may discover the causes.  Simply treating the symptoms may stop them temporarily.  However, if there is to be meaningful behavior change, a deeper inspection is warranted.”  Tate encourages us to look beyond the behavior to truly see the student.  She also provides us with possibilities for our classroom application that can help on pages 32 and 33.  See below:

If you are interested in learning more about the twenty brain based strategies for effective student engagement to which Dr. Tate refers, please click this link to her website. 

I want to leave you with this quote by Wayne Dyer. 

“If you change the way you look at things the things you look at change.” 

When considering our students, we must remember that they are more than their worst behaviors. We must change our mindset from students are bad and classes are bad because of their behavior to the mindset that behaviors are clues that can tell us the needs of students.  When we combine this knowledge with what we know about our students as people with unique likes, dislikes, interests, abilities, histories, beliefs, and experiences, we can address their behaviors through providing strategic support. This leads to progress.



Dawn Mitchell

South Carolina ASCD President



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