Saturday, July 2, 2011

Classroom Management of Disruptive Behavior: 18 Psycho-Educational Principles

Psycho-educational or therapeutic teachers believe that behavioral change is primarily a teaching and learning process. To be effective and long-term, behavior change strategies must include cognitive (thinking), affective (feelings), and behavioral aspects. We also believe that we all have the choice of behavioral change, and that all students, including students that exhibit habitually disruptive behaviors in the classroom, can learn new and more positive ways of behaving. In the psycho-educational classroom, educating disruptive children about the motivation behind their behavior plays a vital role. Once children understand that they choose their behavior, they also understand that they can change their behavior. Psycho-educational teachers believe that strengthening children’s coping and social problem solving skills is therapeutic. The psycho-educational or therapeutic model is one of social problem solving and socio-emotional growth rather than disciplining and punishment.

When teachers consistently and systematically follow psycho-educational principles, we can influence the direction of any exchange with a student to move the child away from confrontation, non-compliance, and disruptive behaviors and toward restoring a climate of cooperation and learning in the classroom. The teacher-student relationship is the glue that binds any behavior management intervention to a successful outcome. Simply put, teachers’ positive and supportive interactions with students are our most powerful behavior change tool. Through rapport, benign confrontation, optimistic messages and high expectations, psycho-educational teachers defuse disruptive behaviors, generating positive behavioral responses in students.

Psycho-Educational Principles

1.One size does not fit all. The process of behavioral change must be sensitive to and acknowledge the unique socio-emotional needs of the disruptive student.

2.Relationships with students are dependent on language. For therapeutic and growth promoting relationships, we need to use positive language.

3.Positive messages and high expectations generate positive emotional and behavioral responses. Critical and negative messages generate negative behavioral responses.

4.By changing our messages and vocabulary from critical to supportive and positive, we shape children’s behavior and get better class control.

5.We can reduce disruptive behaviors by communicating positive expectations. What we expect influences what we get.

6.Approaching classroom situations differently can change students’ behavior and the classroom atmosphere.

7.Responding differently to disruptive behaviors in the classroom empowers the teacher. Our greatest power is the power to choose how we are going to react to our students’ disruptive behaviors. We can treat difficult and disruptive behaviors as a challenge or as a threat.

8.Psycho-educational teachers see students’ disruptive behaviors as an opportunity to help children develop more productive and effective ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving.

9.The disruptive student does his behavior, but he is not his behavior. Disruptive behaviors are dysfunctional behaviors, not a fixed personality characteristic. In other words, the behavior is the problem; the child is not the problem.

10.Disruptive behaviors are actions capable of change.

11.Positive and therapeutic relationships with adults shape social roles, problem solving skills, and decision-making.

12. Some rapport with children arises naturally, some we have to create.

13.Teachers can enhance children’s socio-emotional growth. Students that exhibit disruptive behaviors can grow socio-emotionally and can improve themselves.

14.We can teach self-control and self-management of behavior. In the psycho-educational classroom, the long-term goal of discipline is to develop self-awareness, self-direction, and self-control.

15.Students engage in fewer disruptive behaviors when they believe that they have the skills to control (self-manage) their behavior.

16.Students are empowered in behavioral change and self-control when they believe that their effort makes a difference.

17.Self-management of behavior stems from the child’s personal understanding and decision-making skills, rather than being founded in external controls and reinforcement.

18.Students have the resources they need to improve their behaviors. The psycho-educational teacher’s role is to notice those resources and to ally with the child in the process of behavioral change.

A Call to All Teachers:

Proudly announcing our new group for educators worldwide, “We Teach the World.” Our aim is to connect teachers and related school personnel all over the world, so that we can share much-needed ideas, strategies, and lesson plans as well as all kinds of resources in classroom management and in student discipline. Coordinating our effort worldwide, we can tell each other where to find important resources and information. If you administer a teaching blog or have created educational resources to facilitate our job, you are welcome to share them here. As long as they contribute to education, we want to know of your business. Teachers with questions, post them here; mentors and seasoned teachers, your valuable experience and unique perspective matter to us, so make your voices heard. Because isolated, we teachers are imaginative, resourceful and resilient, but connected, connected we are imaginative, resourceful, resilient AND powerful. To join us, click on, “We Teach the World.”

Of Interest to Teachers and School Staff...

Essentials of Emotional Communication for Reaching the Unreachable Student: Where Do I Start? What Do I Say? How Do I Do It? To Previev this book on Amazon, click here.


  1. I think teachers must be strict in class no friendly behavior with students. Moreover, their parents also have a responsibility to teach their children’s behave well in class.

  2. Wow, I am thankful the person who commented before me is a research writer and not a teacher. Unfortunately there are many children who come from unstable or abusive homes and don't have parents who teach them anything, let alone how to behave (because the parents never learned how themselves). More than ever we need teachers who are kind and love children enough to help them. The world is changing and our teaching styles need to adapt as well

  3. As a responsible parent, we cannot be @ school each day, providing the same structure & security that enables our behaviorally-challenged (ADHD) child to stay in control. Is it wrong to expect sp ed public school teachers to figure out how to do this in the classroom setting? To take articles like this seriously? Why is the "I tried it, it didn't work, I give up" attitude OK? How to change the thinking to, "This child can be reached. This is my job. I can do this. We can change this." Is tenure the issue? Is it a leadership (administration) issue? Signed, Very Frustrated in New Jersey

    1. The "I tried, it didn't work, I give up" is in every workplace not just teaching. And yes it is unreasonable for you to be at school each day, however if you can't be there to provide support to the teacher who also has to teach a number of other students as well, who is? Children with behavioural problems can be draining, you feel guilty because you can't reach them, and guilty you aren't being effective for them and other students, and then there aren't enough external support measures to help you work out how to deal with the issues in the classroom, no wonder teachers revert to "I tried it, it didn't work, I give up". THis is a great article, and one I am sure to apply to my teaching!

  4. For the most part, teachers continue their learning and hopefully their learning includes the element of positive, errorless learning in regards to the socio-emotional growth of their students. I know that I strive to make each moment a teachable moment even when there is behavior afoot. You need to remember: you have to meet them where they are at to be most effective you can really facilitate their learning. A student's behavior is their way of communicating even if they can't process or articulate why.

  5. If a child has disruptive behavior, we as parents are very important in their treatment.