Introductory Challenge

Difficult Behavior

Most educators—perhaps all of us—find aggressive behavior in students uncomfortable and annoying. Quite often such behavior leads educators to fear or even dislike students who act in aggressive ways. Most schools, indeed, have a group of children whose aggressive behavior has negatively colored their relationships with educators and often with other students as well.

Some educators are quite expert in dealing with aggressive behavior. It’s too bad that these educators can’t teach everyone what they know, how they think about the issue, and what they do. That would be a tall order—learning what anyone knows well, how they think clearly, what they do—and then incorporating all that wisdom into our own lives.

So imagine this scenario:
Katya McPherson is a paraprofessional who works on a daily basis with an intervention specialist, Mr. Ibrahim, who is the school’s expert at “extinguishing” aggressive behavior. (This means the teacher is good at reducing it to the point that such behavior is infrequent, brief, and mild.) Katya helps her teacher in this work, and Katya has learned a lot—which she can share with others if the occasion arises.

Another parapro in the school is John Billings. He’s working with a student in another classroom and with another teacher, and things aren’t going so well. The student hits and pushes other students. The student has also hit both John and Mrs. Smith, the classroom teacher. John has heard about Katya’s teacher and wonders what she has learned from Mr. Ibrahim. (John, by the way, knows what confidentiality requires and never mentions his student’s name.)

Katya tells John about what happens when aggressive behavior is “extinguished.” She says, “It’s a process John, and it takes time. You don’t put out a big fire all at once. You set up a system to deal with it—to contain it and then to reduce it. It takes planning and effort.”

Katya concludes, “My role in this containment and reduction effort is mostly to collect data—at the same time I’m trying to work with my student on reading assignments. It’s rewarding because I get to see the student learn to behave better, and I get to spend more time with him on reading. It’s pretty amazing.”

John is impressed by what Katya says and decides to talk to Mrs. Smith about arranging a meeting with Mr. Ibrahim to learn more about how data (collecting it and analyzing it) can help with the management of aggressive behavior.

Food for Thought

(discuss in your group and with a friend or colleague)

  • What sorts of data do you think Mr. Ibrahim and Katya are collecting?
  • How do you think those data relate to changing the student’s behavior?
  • Do you think there are ways to use data to help students improve their academic performance? What might those be?
  • Have you been involved in gathering data? What sense have you made of that task so far?
  • What data do the classroom teachers in your school already collect and use to help them improve teaching and learning?
  • What do you think the classroom teachers in your school would say if you suggested the need for gathering and using additional sorts of data?