Dealing with Challenging Student Behaviour

Another behaviour management approach to add to your bag of tricks!

23 May, 2022

Earlier this year I had a, let’s just say, *challenging* student in a class I was covering. Now I know that challenging could mean a whole range of things. Without going into the specific situation, basically the student was defiant. Very defiant.

When you come into a class as a reliever, the standard approach tends to be to start on the firmer side so that the students see you as an authority figure and know that they can’t mess around during your watch.

Unfortunately that approach didn’t work for me with this student and I ended up in a stand-off situation in front of the rest of the class where the student just point blank refused to follow my instruction and dug in their heels when I pressed further. Standing firm and restating expectations just did not work in this situation. And the next interaction. And the next.

Over a lunch break, I spoke to another teacher who had dealt with this student before. They explained the approach they used and showed me it in practice during the next lesson. Instead of ‘storming’ into class and coming straight at the problem head on, they took a much more stealthy approach; keeping their intention hidden from the student and opening up a casual ‘just checking in’ conversation.

The beauty of this was that the student didn’t jump straight into RED BRAIN - that’s the Fight or Flight reactive mode where the only thing that matters is survival. Once someone is in their Red Brain, it’s basically impossible to reason with them because their brain has become fixated on one thing only, their body is tense and there are heightened levels of cortisol and adrenaline racing through them. Their ability to respond calmly and logically is outta there.

The teacher was able to get the student talking about their learning, acknowledge that they needed to get their work done and listen to instructions even when their usual teacher was away. This conversation was all done while the student was in GREEN BRAIN mode. And it worked.

I saw a huge turnaround in behaviour after this conversation. By no means did it mean the student was suddenly all chummy with me, but they actually responded to my instructions for the rest of the day.

Full disclosure, in the end I didn’t win the ‘war’ with this student but the few small ‘victories’ showed me that there was room for movement in a situation that I thought was fully doomed.

So I’m tucking that trick away with the knowledge that tact can get you a long way and a ‘softer’ approach can be mightily powerful.

Stealth not Head On. Note to self: Remember that one for later.