To solve behaviour we must first understand it

If a child runs from the classroom and seals himself in the bathroom, raging, what can we teach him in that moment?

We can thank him for choosing to leave rather than harm or destroy. We can thank him for choosing a safe place to be and help him practice deep breathing in that moment. We can ask him if, when angry, he needs a quiet space to be alone?

In that small span of time, we have taught him through our modeling that it is possible to stay calm. We have taught him that he has made a good choice by removing himself to a safer space. We have taught him to recognize that perhaps he needs a quiet space. We can then teach him how to ask for what he needs when he first feels that sensation of anger or frustration.

No matter the situation, all behaviour is a teachable moment through modeling and determining with the child what they need to be successful and how to get there in socially appropriate ways.

Here we will discuss the "why" of behaviour and important foundational concepts of working with challenging behaviours at home or in the classroom.

Understanding behaviour

Getting to the root cause of behaviour

Letting go of the curricular side of things is incredibly challenging for teachers, support staff and caregivers alike. It is that short-term pain for long-term gain scenario. Most children struggling with behaviour are either not in a place to learn, (active crises or trauma, recovering from trauma regardless of the type) or unable to control the behaviours due to organic/medical issues, (complex needs: ADHD, ASD, FAS, etc.).

Behaviour is never a child’s “fault” it is merely a symptom of the “disease”. If you can shift your perception to view it this way, it is much easier to step back and see the big picture. Controlling it and changing it is about understanding it’s function and meeting the needs of that function so that we are teaching socially appropriate ways to get our needs met.


Strength based approach

As Cummins (1996) has insightfully stated, “Human relationships are the heart of schooling. The interactions that take place between students and teachers and among students are more central to student success than any method of teaching literacy, or science, or math. When powerful relationships are established between teachers and students, these relationships frequently can transcend the economic and social disadvantages that afflict communities and schools alike”.

A strength-based approach is a specific method of working with and resolving challenges experienced by the engaged person. It does not attempt to ignore the problems and difficulties. Rather, it attempts to identify the positive basis of the person’s resources (or what may need to be added) and strengths that will lay the basis to address the challenges resulting from the problems. The strengths of a person give one a sense of how things might be and ideas about how to bring about the desired changes (Hammond & Zimmerman, 2012).


Creating resiliency

“Persistence and resilience only come from having been given the chance to work through difficult problems.”― Gever Tulley


Managing crises and


Common Assumptions

  1. I can’t let student get away with this.

  2. What will others think of my teaching?

  3. I need to establish authority.

  4. I need to settle down agitated students.

  5. I need to be in control, compliance is everything.


What to say

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

-Viktor E. Frankl


When working with children struggling with behaviour, it is imperative that our language comes from a strength-based place. That we are always teaching and modeling that to get what we need we must use our words. Teaching that there is always a collaborative way to come at a problem.


The effects of poverty

Children from low-income families often do not receive the required stimulation and do not learn the appropriate social skills to prepare them for school. Problems can involve: parental inconsistency (ie: daily routines and parenting), frequent changes in primary caregivers, lack of adult supervision and poor adult role modelling. This is not to say that all children in low income homes suffer.


Cultural Awareness

In this new culturally diverse climate, how do we incorporate cultural awareness in our classrooms?


I love to watch pre-school and kindergarten children play together. They are at that beautiful stage where even gender is almost irrelevant to them. They rarely care about race, colour, religion, disability or sex. They just see people, but this erodes quickly. So, how can we help to maintain that moment of stillness in which our students, our children, see past all outer shells to the humanity within us all.


The unfixable child 

The unfixable child: severe behaviours due to

trauma and some complex needs


I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge us as teachers, support staff, administrators and caregivers.


We are not miracle workers. We are often dealing with children going through or having gone through some truly terrible, horrific things as well as poverty and poor modeling.


We cannot expect to repair the damage in a few months or even a year. Every improvement not matter how small, every good day is a success for them and for us. They will never be “fixed”, they may struggle throughout life and we can only hope to and ask of our ourselves, to make a difference for them; to guide them on a better path with the possibility of a functional future.


Understanding trauma

ACES - Adverse Childhood Experiences

I have seen many studies and though most have the same 10-12 ACEs others include experiences that I know from my own work to be just as damaging. The lists that hold up to 15 resonate the most with what I have seen in my work and in my life. As the studies continue, our understanding of trauma will continue to grow offering us greater opportunity to prevent and support.


Global Developmental


Global Developmental Delay (GDD) is a condition that occurs during the developmental period of a child somewhere between birth and 18 years. It is typically defined with the child being diagnosed with having lower intellectual functioning than what is perceived as ‘normal’. It is usually accompanied by significant limitations in communication. It is known to affect approximately:  1-3% of the population.


Theraputic Crisis

Intervention (TCI)


TCI is formal training in crises intervention and de-escalation during the crises cycle. It teaches us the skills to use in volatile situations, how to be proactive and when to be reactive if necessary. It is training that I believe, all school staff should have. Many crises can be avoided and/or de-escalated without incident, with the right knowledge, skill set and management.

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© Kerry Orchard 2018