Transforming a Troublemaker into your Star Student

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She builds a tower out of pencil cases while you are modeling how to do long division.  He pulls the pigtails of his neighbor when you turn your back for a millisecond to the board.  She makes an inappropriate joke after another student presents.  The troublemaker.  We all have one in our classes.  It’s not an overnight, fix, but here are some ways to transform that pesky troublemaker into your star student!

Minimize the Attention on the Misbehavior in the Moment

Causing trouble can stem from a student seeking attention.  By calling a student out in front of all of the other students, you are giving them the attention they crave, and possibly humiliating them.  If someone is a repeat offender, it is good to set up a private meeting with them and let them know what your behavioral expectations are.  Phrase things positively.  For instance, don’t say, “Don’t hit others.”  Instead, say, “You must keep your hands to yourself.”  Establish a signal, like making a peace sign, that is known only by you and the student.  If they forget, and break an expectation, the signal lets them know that there is a warning, and possibly a consequence.  By keeping the signal private, you draw less attention to the student, which is less embarrassing for them and keeps your class moving on track.

Catch Them Being Good

For some students, the bad behavior far exceeds the good behavior, so this can be a challenge.  Every student does something right every day though.  You can find it if you look hard enough.  It might be entering a sitting down nicely, getting started on an assignment right away, working nicely with a peer, or raising their hand.  By giving them reinforcement for these behaviors, you are giving your troublemaking student positive attention and increasing the likelihood that they will try to do these preferred behaviors (it’s a bit pavlovian, but it works- I promise!).

Work as a Team With Home

Chances are that if there is misbehavior at school that it also occurs at home as well.  As soon as a pattern of misbehavior emerges, let the parents know immediately in a factual, non-judgmental way.  Ask the parents what strategies motivate their child to follow behavioral expectations and to stay on track with good behavior.  Send home frequent updates reporting both good days and more challenging days.  By hearing the same message from home and school about following the rules, the student will receive a consistent message about the importance of good behavior.

Give Them a Job

By giving the student a role in your classroom you are giving them attention and also showing them that you value and trust them to contribute positively to your community.  What are jobs that a particular student would be good at and enjoy?  Line leader?  Date monitor?  Computer Tech?  Office Messenger?  Let the student know that the job is both a privilege and a responsibility, one that they earn through their continued good behavior.  Also, be sure to let them know frequently that you appreciate their help!

Keep Them Engaged

Student misbehavior can also stem from either lack or challenge of challenge or engagement with the material that you are covering.  Gauge your student’s level of mastery and interest with your content to see if this is a contributing factor to their acting out.  If it is, find out ways to differentiate to add rigor, extra support, or entry-points for areas of their personal interests.  When the student sees the effort that you have taken to make the class better for them, they will be more inclined to behave in your class.

What strategies have tamed the most wild, savage beat of a student in your classroom?  Help other students by telling us in the comments!


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