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When students need extra behavior support

Try these techniques for resolving problem behavior

Classroom teachers face a range of challenges during their school day but none perhaps so demanding as persistent problem behaviors. Whether schools have a formal positive behavior support system in place or not, having techniques at hand is essential for getting teachers back to teaching and students back to learning.

In The Teacher’s Pocket Guide for Positive Behavior Support, Tim Knoster and Robin Drogan build on the universal supports introduced in The Teacher’s Pocket Guide for Effective Classroom Intervention, Second Edition with targeted approaches for students with challenging behavior. According to Ondine Gross, author of Restore the Respect: How to Mediate School Conflicts and Keep Students Learning, universal supports will suffice for 80–90% of your students. But what about the remaining 10–20%?

For students who don’t respond sufficiently to Tier 1 measures,The Teacher’s Pocket Guide for Positive Behavior Support recommends teachers be prepared with a menu of Tier 2 approaches. The targeted strategies lead to increases in student motivation, engagement, and participation, thus having a constructive impact on classroom and school climate. These approaches include provisions for gradually tapering off interventions as students experience increasing degrees of success.



Having targeted supports and mediation techniques in place makes it easier for teachers to readily manage behavior issues

4 key universal approaches

  • Building rapport
  • Establishing/teaching performance expectations
  • Behavior-specific positive reinforcement
  • Using the 4:1 ratio of praise-to-corrective redirection

Learn more in The Teacher’s Pocket Guide for Effective Classroom Intervention, Second Edition.

Here are some recommended Tier 2 supports: 

Check and Connect

A menu of targeted strategies

In Check and Connect, a staff member (usually not a student’s classroom teacher) serves as a primary point of contact for the student. This person may perform many important duties, including meeting with the student and members of his or her family as well as staff at school and from outside agencies, and people in the community. With the basic level of Check and Connect, the staff member meets with the student on a periodic but less frequent basis (perhaps once a month) as compared to more frequent meetings and interactions at the intensive level. Meetings typically focus on school performance, problem-solving, and social skills.


Alexa, an 8th grader, was performing well enough in most classes, but when it came to math and science, she encountered significant difficulties. Not only were these courses academically challenging for Alexa, she lacked coping mechanisms to manage her frustration. Subsequently, Alexa frequently cut class. When she did attend, she was often disruptive.

Alexa’s Check and Connect program consisted of weekly meetings. During these meetings, Alexa was given the opportunity to discuss her concerns about math and science as well as some peer issues that disturbed her. She also received encouragement and coaching in how to interact appropriately with her teachers. At the same time, Alexa’s teachers received coaching in how to review performance expectations and how to provide encouragement to Alexa. As her academic performance and behavior improved, Check and Connect meetings tapered off.


This intervention is similar to Check and Connect, but is organized around daily meetings between the adult and student. In this scenario the student checks in with the adult, who is often a paraprofessional, at the beginning and end of each day. The brief check-ins focus on helping the student be prepared and organized for classes. In addition, the adult provides encouragement, and shares feedback from daily progress reports compiled by teachers.


Check-in/Check-out was a strategy initiated with Samuel, a 3rd grader who required frequent redirection from his teacher, was aggressive to his classmates, and threw temper tantrums when frustrated. On a daily basis, Samuel checked in with the school’s assistant principal to prepare for the rest of the day. During these morning meetings, Samuel received a daily progress report card that he carried with him throughout the day. He used the card to assess his own performance, had it signed by his mother every evening, and submitted it at check-in the next morning.

Samuel’s teachers provided him with feedback after each class and also completed electronic daily progress reports that were sent to the assistant principal in time for Samuel’s afternoon check-out meeting. On days when Samuel’s positive self-assessment matched the assessments of his teachers, he received points and praise. On days when his behavior failed to meet expectations, he received encouragement and was helped to come up with coping strategies for the future. In less than two months, Samuel’s behavior was within normal limits and the meetings were gradually discontinued.

Check, Connect, and Expect

This support is designed for students with recurring problem behaviors that are not considered dangerous. The approach integrates component parts of Check and Connect and Check-In/Check-Out. Schools staff are positioned to establish an ongoing supportive relationship with targeted students, with a high frequency of interactions and feedback provided on behavior performance through the use of daily progress reports.

The use of student self-monitoring also is systematically built into this approach along with ongoing progress monitoring.


Selina is a 6th-grade student who appeared to be painfully shy but had no history of acting in a manner that was considered disrespectful toward others. Although she made reasonable academic progress, her teachers expressed concern about her persistent withdrawn appearance and change in affect when working with other students. Staff concern had particularly grown in association with Selina’s complaints of stomach pain and nausea, resulting in frequent trips to the school nurse.

While her parents pursued health assessments, Selina began meeting with one of her teachers at the start of each school day, about 10 minutes before homeroom period. The teacher provided some brief words of encouragement and went over targeted goals on Selina’s weekly goal card. Selina’s goals emphasized the use of calming skills to better cope with feelings of stress she might be experiencing. Each teacher provided Selina with private encouragement throughout each class period for appropriate interaction with peers and completed an assessment of Selina’s performance, which were reviewed in a brief end-of-the-day meeting.

The targeted supports, which included discussion of triggers of Selina’s episodes and preventive strategies emphasizing sleep, nutrition, and exercise, helped Selina function throughout each school day.

Social Skills Instruction

This intervention is geared toward helping students who require “reteaching” of the social skills needed for success in and out of the classroom. Typically, social skills trainings take place in a small group setting.


Participation in a weekly school-based social skills group helped Tyler, a high school student identified as having an emotional disturbance, handle behavioral difficulties arising during physical education classes. Tyler had trouble following class rules and was frequently involved in altercations with peers during competitive games.

In the 8-week-long group, facilitated by a school guidance counselor and several teachers, Tyler learned to resolve conflicts through role-play and social skills instruction. After completing the training, Tyler’s behavioral problems diminished significantly.


Used in combination with other targeted supports, mentoring has been effective in helping students to feel more connected to peers, adults, and community members. Mentors can be adults, older students, or peers who attend the school or live in the community. They can also be provided by outside agencies such as Big Brother/Big Sister programs.


Julie, a bright, high achieving 10th grader experiencing stress, anxiety, and sleep disturbance, received significant relief from a variety of interventions including the establishment of a mentoring relationship with a local college student. Mentor and student met 2–3 times a week at first and later on an “as needed” basis.

The guidance counselor, who provided training to the mentor, also worked closely with Julie and her parents to ensure that the mentoring relationship was on track and that Julie received a referral to a local community mental health agency.

The Case for Mediation

Another tool that has proved successful in resolving conflicts and building strong relationships between teachers and students is mediation.

Veteran school psychologist and author of Restore the Respect Ondine Gross was frustrated by the inadequate and even destructive strategies widely used to manage behavioral problems in many American classrooms. In her book, Gross cites a 2014 U.S. Department of Education report called “Guiding Principles: A Resource Guide for Improving School Climate and Discipline.” The report describes the many negative repercussions of using suspension and expulsion to penalize students for behavioral problems at school.

Students who are suspended and expelled miss out on positive teaching, peer interactions, and adult mentorship within the school environment. They lose out on developing skills that would allow them to improve their behavior and avoid future problems. They also struggle academically; these students typically score lower on standardized tests and have poorer academic achievement.

Students who are suspended likely are unsupervised during the day and are at risk for future suspensions, repeating a grade, dropping out, and getting involved in the juvenile justice system. Ultimately, society pays direct and indirect costs. Undereducated people are more likely to be unemployed, earn less when employed, be saddled with greater poverty-related health problems, or be incarcerated.

In addition, studies have found that African American male students and students with disabilities are disproportionately targeted for suspension and expulsion.

To find alternative strategies to combat disruptive behaviors, low motivation, and lack of focus Gross had observed among students at the public schools where she had worked for over 30 years, she returned to school to earn a certificate in mediation as well as a master’s degree in educational policy, organization, and leadership. She was able to use the skills she learned to initiate a mediation program in the high school where she worked.

Resolving conflict

Gross found that mediation was an appropriate remedy for resolving conflicts that arose as a result of communication breakdowns, misunderstandings, and immature social-emotional skills. For example, Mimi, a student profiled in Gross’ book, was asked to participate in mediation after receiving three discipline referrals because of disruptive behavior during class.

According to her teacher, despite the referrals and a call home to Mimi’s mother, Mimi continued to talk and disrupt his class. After Mr. Ramirez shared his concerns with Mimi in the presence of the mediator, Mimi was able to admit that she knew her talking was rude. She also provided an explanation for her behavior. As a new student, Mimi hoped that talking to peers in Mr. Ramirez’s class, which was scheduled right before lunchtime, would lead to an invitation to sit with those students in the lunchroom. Through mediation, Mr. Ramirez gained a better understanding of Mimi’s motivation and was able to empathize. He also let Mimi know that she was a promising student and supported her social aspirations by re-seating her next to one of her new friends.

Proven success

Gross collected data from the mediation program over three years and was gratified to find that after participating in teacher-student mediation, 82% of students had no further disciplinary referrals by that teacher.

Gross also found that mediation helped when conflicts arose between two students or two adults and between school staff members and parents. Restore the Respect includes training for aspiring mediators, a mediation toolbox of hand-outs and forms, including mediation contracts and feedback surveys, sample scripts for mediation practice, and a tool that measures the success of the mediation intervention.


As you look forward to a new year, don’t limit your preparation to lesson-planning. Dedicating an equal amount of your prep time to strategies that build strong relationships with your students will all but ensure a successful and joyful year.


Originally published: December 2016