When a student struggles with demonstrating appropriate behavior, teachers and admin- istrators often tend to
ask, “Who’s responsible for this student’s
learning?” and to latch on to available
solutions that various staff members can
take to “fix the problem.” Because of
stressors like curricular and assessment
mandates, educators are often pressured
to look beyond the child and the cause of
the behavior to center their efforts on next
steps in an effort to quickly remedy the
But quick remedies usually don’t work.
As a behavior specialist in Cambridge
Public Schools in Massachusetts, I work as
part of a team of educators and specialists
to provide supports for students with
behavioral challenges. The goal is not to
come in and solve the problem. Rather,
the purpose is to build the capacity of
educators to work with all students and to
identify ways in which staff can increase
the skill sets of their students while
growing their own.
A Student Struggles
Take Jane, a 4th grader with whom we’re
currently working, who began to present
some warning signs at the beginning of her
academic career. In the primary grades, she
would become noncompliant, disengage
from the group, or take most of an aca-
demic block just to start a task. However,
she never escalated her behavior to the
point of needing intensive intervention.
An intelligent and vibrant young lady, she
rarely struggled to understand academic
tasks or concepts. In fact, she learned
skills, acquired knowledge, and completed
assignments with ease and accuracy.
But things changed when Jane started
4th grade last fall. Gaps in her skill set and
knowledge began to surface. For example,
she hadn’t yet attained mastery of her
multiplication tables and needed to use a
chart to solve complex problems requiring
By December, she began to communicate her struggles clearly to staff. During
whole-class instruction, she would isolate
herself from the rest of the class, moving
to the back area to roll on the floor and
jump over chairs. During transitions, she
would hide in the classroom cubby area or
behind an easel. When the teacher didn’t
respond to her noncompliance, she’d run
to the door and step into the hall, looking
back to see what the teacher would do.
The after-school program discontinued her
enrollment because she was hiding and
poking pushpins into her fingers.
In addition, Jane had recently been diagnosed with depression. As a black female
living in a high-poverty environment,
challenged by a number of demographic
Jane was bright but presented behavioral challenges.
If statistics had their way, she had few chances
of succeeding in school. Here’s how a school
tried to change all that.