For Paraprofessionals

Supporting Students with IEPs in the Classroom- Series Part 2

Understanding the Behavioral

Needs of Students

If you are here, you’ve likely already read Part 1, Understanding Academic Needs of Students, where we talked about different needs related to reading, writing, math and organization and what to do about it. Hopefully that all made sense to you. If you missed Part 1, you can catch it below:

  • Part 1 Understanding the Academic Needs of Students
  • Part 2 Understanding the Behavioral Needs of Students
  • Part 3 Supporting Students Needs in the Classroom

Today we are going to talk about a topic that has been near and dear to my heart for many years, in Part 2: Understanding the Behavior Needs of Students

Behavior is Hard

While our focus is really to concentrate on getting work done while we’re in class, behavior issues often take center stage. One student’s behavior can derail the progress of an entire class period. Whether a student has difficulties with impulse control, regulating their emotions or whether they are super anxious, the difficulties can impact everyone in the space. The ways we react to each situation matters very much in helping to mitigate the damage. For the child who is struggling and for the rest of the group.

We may have loads of empathy. But it’s much harder to pull out your empathy and follow a plan when someone just said or did something really mean, especially if it’s directed at us or it’s interrupting instruction. We need to have a few skills in our bag of tricks so that we don’t make the situation worse than it already is. So let’s understand some of the challenges.

Academic Challenges

We spent the whole last post talking about academic challenges but the reality is I need to say it again here. A student with behaviors can have academic challenges too and sometimes, that’s a huge part of the issue. Students feel bad about their academic delays or gaps and they act out because of it. It’s often difficult to determine whether the learning difficulty or the behavior came first, so many students aren’t diagnosed with LDs. But the issue is there. When you see lack of participation, refusal to participate or limited engagement in classes the first thing I ask myself is: can they do this work? Often the classes with limited engagement are connected to the area that’s hard for them. It may spill over into other classes as well.

Emotional Challenges

Students who have big swings of emotion during a school day have a tough time because they are not consistently “available” for instruction. They could be perfectly fine one class period and be asking to go home the next. All manner of things bother them that to the average person is no big deal. They are easily offended and worry more than average about what others are thinking. Behaviors could be more inward like hiding and or refusing to go to class. Or more externalizing with obvious irritability, work refusal, or cussing someone out.  It’s not that they want to be that way, and truly most feel pretty terrible about it. Even if they never tell you. With all the emotions or need to discuss issues, they generally miss a lot of classroom lessons, note-taking and work time. 

ADHD Challenges

Students with ADHD can be overly emotional too, but it is coming from a slightly different place. That’s more of an impulse control or a filtering problem versus having emotions that are overwhelming. With limited impulse control, you may see more externalizing behaviors like standing on tables or grabbing something from a peer and running away, yelling out, making a scene without seeming aware of what they are doing. They, like students with emotional challenges, miss a lot of classroom conversation, note-taking and work time. And it’s because they are not filtering out distractions. 

Social Challenges

Students who have social challenges will often say the wrong thing at the wrong time. They have less awareness/concern about how their words impact others and/or less able to control or inhibit what they are thinking. They are truth-tellers or “truth as they see it” tellers. A student who struggles here will try to “be the teacher”. They often don’t mean to cause the commotion they may unleash with what they say or do, and they are open to suggestions if you put it out there. 


So we understand a little more about the challenges some of our kid’s face and what it looks like in the classroom. Now let’s talk about how we should be interacting with students to lessen the likelihood of situations.

It’s Not About You

It’s really important to keep in mind that in most cases, the behavior that occurred has nothing to do with you. It has everything to do with the student and their difficulties navigating and managing their emotional reactions. It impacts you because it may have been directed at you or because it feels some kind of way for you, but it’s not about you. In many cases, we take things personally when it’s not personal. Its easier said than done I know.

Be A Good Listener

The most important thing that we can do as models and mentors are to form good relationships with students. Especially early on when you are getting to know students, take the time to listen to all the things they have to say, even if it takes away class time. This time spent up-front will pay you back with dividends later when you have to say no or you have to follow through on something more negative.

Use the 3 Cs: Be Clear, Concise and Consistent

The 3 C’s will help when developing a relationship because the students will know what to expect. Whether talking about behavior or a task for an assignment, be clear and concise with directions. I need you to do X. For this assignment, you will be writing Y. Do you have questions about it? I tend to talk a lot–but when it comes to directions, I think about how I can say it in the fewest words possible.

Consistency is important too. Again, it helps students know to expect. In the classroom, make a routine for interaction and work something they can count on.

Follow Through

Kids learn very quickly which adults keep their word and those adults who don’t get crossed off the trust list. Whether it’s good or bad, follow through. If it’s good, students will learn that you care enough about them to do something nice. And while students are never going to be happy to be called -out on something, they will learn you mean what you say. These times solidify for kids that you mean it so when there’s a really tough situation, they see you will see you as someone to trust.

Be Objective

When a problem arises or a behavior occurs, personal feelings and biases need to be set aside. It doesn’t matter how you feel about the discipline policy or the student at that time. Follow the plan that’s in place and take as much negative emotion out of it as possible. Wait until you are in a better space. Team members have to be able to say “Here’s the plan, here’s what we do now. Bummer, kiddo. ” I know what I’m asking. Really. If I didn’t have to do it every day I wouldn’t ask others to do it. But it is a crucial aspect of doing well with students who have behaviors. And if it helps any, I can’t always be objective. I let others step in at those times.

Offer Options for Working

For students who are struggling with participation, its a great idea to provide some options for getting work done. We can work in the collaboration space, we can work in the room, we can work in the hall. I can help you write this part, then you can do that part. We can do this much today and this much tomorrow. We can talk to Mrs. Wise to see if she has other ideas for where or how to get this done.

For Social Issues

The case manager is likely working with students on social issues in a more formal setting. There may be a more specific plan to deal with those types of comments, but for the most part, it’s a good idea to remind the student that they are not the teacher so they should not be directing other students or telling the teacher what to do. Other types of behaviors should be shared with the case manager so that he or she can come up with a better plan for dealing with that issue.

Understanding how and why students are struggling often helps us determine what to do next. If we keep our message clear and consistent and keep our own emotions in check, we are well on the road to success. But the most important thing we all can do is to create solid relationships that can withstand the good and bad things that will happen during the year. Each case is very individual and you are key to the success of each student you work with. Stay tuned for Part 3 for the final wrap up. This is where we put all the knowledge together from the first 2 parts-Supporting Students IEP Needs in the Classroom. 

What skills do you think are needed to support tough behavior? Let me know in the comments section below.

Share your thoughts here.....

%d bloggers like this: