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What’s the function of that behavior?

By LeaderTalk Contributor — October 29, 2009 2 min read

I’m surrounded by behaviors that are not always appropriate. I work in an alternative school and with children who are mainly here because their behaviors got them booted out of their home school. I attend many meetings in the districts of our cooperative that are about students and their lack of progress with academics because their behaviors are getting in the way.

When I suggest that maybe we need to focus more on changing the behavior and less on the academics so learning CAN occur, I am looked at as if I suggested that we all wear our swim suits to school. What an appalling thought!!

I talk a lot about the “function” of the behavior. People don’t do things unless there is a pay-off to continue doing it. It is not always easy to see what the function, or purpose, of the behavior is, but with a little investgative work, you can usually come up with a hypothesis. It could be for attention, for control or to escape something, as examples. The student who can’t do math and says, “F you” to the teacher may be trying to get kicked out of class so he doesn’t have to do the math that is too hard for him and feel stupid. It’s easier to get kicked out of class then to ask for help, he may think.

You can also apply this theory with the adults you work with. Have you ever had an adult in your office who displayed behavior that was inappropriate and you wondered what that person was thinking? Or you see the same inappropriate behavior over and over in an adult you know or work with? What’s the function of that behavior? What’s the pay-off for them that they keep doing it? Is it for attention? For control? To escape something?

In this job, we are continually faced with a variety of people, some of whom present challenging behaviors for us to figure out. Some people we don’t want to figure out, if they are adults. It’s the kids with challenging behaviors that we are obligated to figure out. We need to teach them appropriate behaviors to get the same results they were seeking before. Could they raise their hand for attention? Do a job in class for some control? Be given a “Take a break” card to escape something?

Changing behavior is not always easy. If it was, exercising and losing weight would be a snap and my thighs would be thinner (for the bathing suit i never wear). I realize most teachers did not go to school to teach appropriate behaviors but to teach academics.
Yet, it is part of our job as teachers and administrators to help the students we serve become the best person they can be.

Reggie Engebritson

The opinions expressed in LeaderTalk are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.