Chat with us, powered by LiveChat This week is all about reframing challenging behavior and dealing with crises artfully. Figure 1.2 i | Office Paper
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This week is all about reframing challenging behavior and dealing with crises artfully. Figure 1.2 in the Rethinking Students Who Challenge Us chapter, displays several examples of commonly identified challenging behaviors that teachers typically describe. Have you ever displayed any of those challenging behaviors? Were you given the support you needed? What did you need at that moment or how do you wish you would have been supported? How can you rethink the common deficit-based approach to dealing with challenging behavior and tell a new story of that student? 

Discussion question responses are due Wednesday and must be at least 200-300 words in length and include a minimum of one peer-reviewed, scholarly resource in APA format. Each discussion question warrants at least two substantive peer responses. Refer to the syllabus for requirements.

References are listed down below!!

Causton, J., & MacLeod, K. (2020). From behaving to belonging: The inclusive art of supporting students who challenge us.

       Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development.

110

7

Dealing with
Crisis Artfully

The goal of this book is to help students be seen, heard, and supported so they
do not end up in an emotional crisis. However, even with thoughtful planning and
creative and engaging support for both the student and yourself, some students will
still struggle with behavior. In this chapter, we work through steps to implement
when a crisis occurs, beginning first by accepting that crises will occur and then
figuring out how to respond in compassionate, calm, and loving ways.

Playing the Long Game of Love and Persistence
We were recently in a kindergarten classroom observing Sam, a student with
very challenging behavior, and were able to witness a beautiful example of love
and connection. As we walked in, Sam was already in a full meltdown. He was
screaming, crying, and hitting the carpet with a pillow. It appeared he had already
knocked several books off the shelf, as there were many books scattered on the
floor, and some looked to be ripped. One of the coteachers had taken the rest
of the class to the library a few minutes early in order to help Sam maintain
dignity and privacy while the other coteacher stayed behind to support. What
we witnessed next was nothing short of magic.

His kindergarten teacher, Mr. Goode, sat on the carpet next to him. He reassured
Sam with the following phrases: “I am here. It is going to be okay, I promise.”

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Causton, Julie, and Kate MacLeod. From Behaving to Belonging : The Inclusive Art of Supporting Students Who Challenge Us, Association for
Supervision & Curriculum Development, 2020. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/uneedu/detail.action?docID=6263859.
Created from uneedu on 2020-09-22 18:08:16.

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D e a l i n g w i t h C r i s i s a r t f u l ly 111

Sam writhed around screaming and hitting the pillow on the carpet. He was
yelling, “I hate you! I hate school! I hate this!” During Sam’s outburst, Mr. Goode’s
disposition remained calm, loving, attentive, nearly meditative. The student
sobbed, screamed, and sobbed some more.

Mr. Goode offered, “Do you want my hand on your back?” Sam yelled, “No!”
Mr. Goode continued sitting silently next to Sam, breathing slowly, deeply, and
audibly. After what seemed like 20  minutes—but was actually only four—something
happened. Sam paused and took a shuttering breath and then sighed. Then
Mr. Goode said, “There you are.”

“There you are,” he repeated, as if to say, “I see you now, and you are not your
behavior.” Sam sighed again and wriggled over to Mr. Goode’s leg and rested
his head on Mr. Goode’s hand. He lay there breathing. Mr. Goode breathed, too.
When Sam’s breathing finally slowed down and he appeared to be ready to get up,
Mr. Goode said, “Let’s get a drink of water and wash your face. I am sorry that was
so hard for you.” They got up to get a drink. Mr. Goode got some water, too. He then
said to Sam, “Let’s clean up these books and then we can get you to the library.”
They cleaned up the books together. With Mr. Goode’s guidance, Sam taped the
book that had ripped. They walked out of the classroom hand in hand.

When Mr. Goode returned, we had a lot of questions for him. The first was
“What started this situation?” We learned that Sam had been having a lot of
trouble because he only wanted to sit next to a student named Sabrina. But during
story time, the two seats next to Sabrina were taken, so Mr. Goode suggested
that he find another spot. Mr. Goode then explained, “Sam’s rage is big and deep,
as you saw. It turned into quite a scene today.”

Next, we asked Mr. Goode to tell us exactly what he was doing while sitting on
the floor with Sam. Mr. Goode smiled and said, “Well, I am certain none of this
can be explained clearly, but I hold space. It may sound strange, but while I sat
there, I opened my heart to Sam. I always first make sure the student is safe and
I am safe.

“Second, I reassure the student and imagine my heart opening up to him and
surrounding him with light. Then I examine my own reactions. I work on calming
myself. Again, I know this sounds strange, but I ask myself, ‘Where does this
hurt?’ and ‘What does this remind me of ?’ I send myself love. I surround myself
with healing energy. It is fairly traumatizing to witness the pain that some of these

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Causton, Julie, and Kate MacLeod. From Behaving to Belonging : The Inclusive Art of Supporting Students Who Challenge Us, Association for
Supervision & Curriculum Development, 2020. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/uneedu/detail.action?docID=6263859.
Created from uneedu on 2020-09-22 18:08:16.

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F R O M B E H AV I N G TO B E LO N G I N G112

children bring. I use it as an opportunity to heal myself, and I know somehow it
helps to heal them.

“Next, I listen for the pause. There comes a time with Sam where he moves out
of rage and into sadness. I try to let him know he is coming out of it. When I notice
the shift, I say, ‘There you are.’

“I guess,” Mr. Goode continued, “today was a big rage, but it didn’t last as long
as usual. I am noticing improvement in both the length of Sam’s tantrums and also
the intensity. After lunch today, we will spend time talking about that situation, at
a point when he is calm, but it is still fresh in his mind. That is when I like to teach
him alternatives to the rage. He is really improving. It just takes time. Consistency
and love are the only real constants in teaching. You just have to be patient enough
to see it. This is a long game here.”

Although we think Mr. Goode was clear in his explanation, we’ve outlined
his big ideas in Figure  7.1 in an attempt to replicate his calm way of being with a
student during a crisis.

This type of response to crisis behavior requires a teacher who is heart-centered
and ready to deeply listen to and respond appropriately to the content and context
of the student in a rage. Mr. Goode did not react when Sam shouted that he hated
him. He did not react when Sam shouted that he hated the class. Instead, Mr. Goode
responded by breathing. This is one of the most centering things we can do for
ourselves and our students. Although not responding to Sam’s shouting could be
misinterpreted as planned ignoring (Scheuermann & Hall, 2016), it is not.

The idea behind planned ignoring is to provide no feedback, no attention, no
reinforcement to the student. The assumption is that when the teacher withholds

Figure 7.1: Six Steps to Holding Space During Crisis

1. Hold space and open your heart. Visualize your heart opening toward
the student.

2. Reassure the student with a few words and imagine the student surrounded
with healing light.

3. Examine your own reactions. Ask yourself, “Where does this hurt? What does
this remind me of?”

4. Create space to calm and heal yourself.
5. Listen for the pause with your student.
6. Repeat and watch the magic occur over time.

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Causton, Julie, and Kate MacLeod. From Behaving to Belonging : The Inclusive Art of Supporting Students Who Challenge Us, Association for
Supervision & Curriculum Development, 2020. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/uneedu/detail.action?docID=6263859.
Created from uneedu on 2020-09-22 18:08:16.

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D e a l i n g w i t h C r i s i s a r t f u l ly 113

reinforcement or attention related to the behavior (e.g., yelling “I hate you!”), the
student will cease to engage in the behavior. Often, when educators use planned
ignoring, they do not make eye contact or connect to the student until they are
engaged in more appropriate behavior. This is much different from Mr. Goode’s
continuous and thoughtful connection with Sam. He created space for Sam by
physically and emotionally witnessing the crisis, supporting, and providing love.
Mr. Goode did not ignore Sam by not reacting. Instead, he provided an attentive
response the entire time Sam was in crisis. Mr. Goode did not let Sam’s negative
statements take him away from his plan to hold space and provide love. This is the
goal for supporting students when they’re at their most vulnerable.

Staying Safe and Calm
When our students are in crisis, it is important to think about the safety of the
student, their peers, and yourself. The best way we can do this is to practice the
act of remaining calm. Mr. Goode showed us a great example of what this can look
like, as do the six steps for holding space during crisis. By using these six steps
(and others we will share in this chapter), you can begin to build calming strength
as a critical mental resource to help you stay in the present moment and be ready
to work with your students when they are melting down, throwing, kicking,
screaming, punching, or self-harming. These are some of the most challenging
behaviors that teachers report and that we ourselves have experienced.

We’re sure you have heard of the so-called flight, fight, or freeze reactions that
biologically occur when we are faced with the threat of emotional or physical pain.
Broken down a bit more, psychologist Rick Hanson (Hanson & Hanson, 2018)
describes the specific emotional responses in fight, flight, and freeze as fear, anger,
and helplessness. These three emotions are present in a great spectrum when
we are faced with the threat of emotional or physical pain—uneasiness to panic,
annoyance to rage, and feeling overwhelmed to paralysis.

Though it is normal for us to experience these emotions, and as teachers
we often feel many combinations of these emotions when we are engaged with a
student in crisis, it is critical that we learn and help our students learn to meet these
threats of emotional or physical pain with calm strength. When we are calm and
present, we can maintain our own emotional and physical state that allows us to
utilize all our mental resources to support students most effectively.

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Causton, Julie, and Kate MacLeod. From Behaving to Belonging : The Inclusive Art of Supporting Students Who Challenge Us, Association for
Supervision & Curriculum Development, 2020. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/uneedu/detail.action?docID=6263859.
Created from uneedu on 2020-09-22 18:08:16.

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F R O M B E H AV I N G TO B E LO N G I N G114

Understanding the Science of Crisis
When we feel stress—whether it is emotional, physical, environmental, or academic—
our body responds by releasing cortisol. This cortisol then triggers physical
reactions, sometimes manifesting in a depleted immune system, increased blood
pressure, or tension in large muscles. When our students are stressed and release
cortisol, their bodies’ physical reactions often result in behavioral outbursts and
challenging, difficult-to-manage behavior.

When kids experience high levels of stress and continual high cortisol levels day
in and day out, they can begin to react to everyday experiences as if their safety and
security is threatened. For example, one student, Tommy, melted into crisis when
he was asked to pick up his paper off the ground. This moment of crisis can often
feel very confusing for us, but it is important to remember Tommy’s physiological
response to the various stressors he may be under. His crisis was not a rational,
cognitive choice. It was likely a physiological response from continuous exposure
to stress throughout his day and life. He also likely did not yet have the skills
required to manage his stress and calm his mind and body. Keeping all this in
mind is useful as you commit to responding in calm, measured, and reassuring
ways when your students are in crisis.

Becoming Mindful of the Breath
When our students are in crisis, our minds and bodies often respond chaotically
as we attempt to deal with our emotions, thoughts, body sensations, triggers, and
actions all at once. Training ourselves to focus on our breath can help us cultivate
a resilience and a calmness that allows us to be present during a student crisis. We
can also teach our students this skill to help them come back to themselves from
the pain, stress, anger, and powerlessness they are feeling. You can focus on your
breath and then invite the student to do the same. We like using hand signals, such
as palms up to breathe in and palms down to breathe out. Bringing attention to
our breath gives us and the student a chance to move on from flight, fight, or freeze
mode—and into recovery mode.

Don’t Overestimate Threats or Underestimate Resources
As humans, biologically, we often overestimate a potential threat and under-

estimate our resources to handle that threat. When a student is crying or screaming,

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Causton, Julie, and Kate MacLeod. From Behaving to Belonging : The Inclusive Art of Supporting Students Who Challenge Us, Association for
Supervision & Curriculum Development, 2020. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/uneedu/detail.action?docID=6263859.
Created from uneedu on 2020-09-22 18:08:16.

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D e a l i n g w i t h C r i s i s a r t f u l ly 115

we might overestimate the problem or threat and react as if it were a crisis when
in reality, it is not. Have we reflected on our own reaction? Did we breathe deeply?
Is the student safe? Can you sit near her and breathe deeply, assuring her that you
are there and will wait with her?

Pause and Avoid Speaking or Acting in Anger
This doesn’t mean we are asking you to never feel anger when a student says

something hurtful to you or another student. You might feel anger. This is normal.
But we want you to practice not speaking or acting from that anger toward the
student. Instead, pause and assess your emotions underneath the anger, such as
your concerns or fears. For example, you can say, “I’m angry Joe is calling me hurtful
names. Pause. Underneath that anger, I’m concerned because he has disrespected
me in front of the class, and I will lose the respect of all the other students if I don’t
discipline him now.”

Once you’ve acknowledged the anger and its underlying concern, we want you
to practice self-compassion and talk to yourself in a heartfelt way. Separate your
anger from everything else. Doing these steps will help you stay calm and speak in
a way that aligns with the belief that no student is bad—and their behavior is a form
of communication.

This is also a practice we can teach our students and colleagues. In many
instances, these two steps can help avoid turning challenging behavior into an
even greater crisis. For example, take our friend Shane, the assistant principal of
a middle school in a small rural district in the northeast United States. One day
at her school, a fight broke out between two 8th grade girls. Hair was pulled, faces
were slapped and scratched, and yelling echoed through the hallway. Shane was
in her office with the principal when the two girls were brought in by a science
teacher who had stopped the fight. The teacher began explaining what he had
seen. The principal began to order suspensions for both girls while asking who
had started the fight and why. In response, the girls started to scream at each
other and at the principal.

Shane interrupted and said, “Why don’t we all pause?” She paused, took a deep
breath, and then continued, “Before we pass blame or suspensions. Let’s take some
time to cool down and come back together to talk about this when we’re not all in
such a heated zone.” The girls looked at Shane. The principal looked at Shane but

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Causton, Julie, and Kate MacLeod. From Behaving to Belonging : The Inclusive Art of Supporting Students Who Challenge Us, Association for
Supervision & Curriculum Development, 2020. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/uneedu/detail.action?docID=6263859.
Created from uneedu on 2020-09-22 18:08:16.

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F R O M B E H AV I N G TO B E LO N G I N G116

then nodded and said to the girls, “Yes, Mrs. Ruddy is right. I’ll call your parents
to have them come get you today. Tomorrow morning, once we’ve had time to
cool down and think, we’ll have a talk to figure out the best consequence and
course of action.”

We love this example because Shane was able to model the practice of pausing
and not acting or speaking from a place of anger or fear for her two students in
crisis. After sharing this story with us, Shane reflected on the issues that can arise
when adults hastily dole out consequences in the heat of the moment before
anyone has had a chance to cool down or discuss what happened. Students feel
they are not listened to. They often don’t have a chance to attempt a mediation
to resolve this issue, and they don’t feel connected to the consequence. Instead,
Shane likes to pause and come back together when everyone—adults, students,
and parents—are calmer and ready to at least attempt to discuss the issue and
come to a resolution. When this happens, she says, students feel supported,
respected, and listened to.

In this particular crisis at Shane’s middle school, the girls did not receive
suspensions. Instead, they participated in a mediation session with Shane, who had
been formally studying Restorative Practices (RP) and conflict resolution in order
to prepare for implementing RP schoolwide the following academic year. Shane,
in collaboration with the principal and the two girls, decided that an appropriate
consequence for their actions both in harming each other and their 8th grade
community hallway would be to provide a service to their peers. They would create
a project highlighting the importance of respect and healthy communication
between friends and peers.

With the help of their school health teacher, the girls planned a 30-minute
lunchtime event for their fellow 8th graders about healthy relationships. This led to
an activity about setting boundaries and having clear communication. They shared
with their peers that their fight had resulted because of rumors instead of clear
communication. Shane was inspired by how effective this approach was to the girls’
crisis, how much more the girls learned from mediation and service work in lieu of
traditional suspensions, and how it not only helped mitigate the negative impact on
the school community but also provided a positive impact.

After dealing with that crisis using RP, Shane was even more committed to
implementing the approach schoolwide. Three years later, both her district’s

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Causton, Julie, and Kate MacLeod. From Behaving to Belonging : The Inclusive Art of Supporting Students Who Challenge Us, Association for
Supervision & Curriculum Development, 2020. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/uneedu/detail.action?docID=6263859.
Created from uneedu on 2020-09-22 18:08:16.

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D e a l i n g w i t h C r i s i s a r t f u l ly 117

middle school and high school use RP as a foundation for supporting all students.
Shane reports that in-school and out-of-school suspensions are significantly down,
and the attendance and graduation rates at the middle and high schools are up.
Her district’s positive outcomes are not singular. Research has consistently shown
that schools that strive to keep students in school—compared with schools that
more actively suspend students—have increased student achieve ment outcomes
(Osher, Poirier, Jarjoura, & Brown, 2014).

Creating Your Own Success Plan
In Chapter  6, we outlined our process for heartfelt problem solving that results
in developing a success plan for students. Sometimes, though, when crises erupt,
we also need to create our own success plan. We recommend using the steps in
Figure 7.2 alone or with a friend, colleague, or loved one.

Another important factor in effectively supporting students in crisis is to
understand that public reprimands always increase the chance of escalating the
student’s behavior. Whether it is raising your voice or using a public behavior chart,
these types of public displays send a negative message to the student who will then
experience a swell of anxiety, embarrassment, and shame. Certainly, we know that
students can press our buttons even when we acknowledge and try to always honor
these important truths.

Kate vividly remembers during her first month as a teacher, she sent a student
named Jonas out of her classroom after getting into an argument about his
independent research project.

Jonas had cursed at me and told me he hated me and my stupid class. I remember
turning bright red, feeling my flight-or-fight response kicking in, and telling him,
“We don’t speak to each other like that in here. You better leave now and go to the
office to cool down before returning.” Oh, did I make a mistake.

At that point in my career, I didn’t have the skills to deal with behavior and
crisis that I needed. I hadn’t committed to understanding that student behavior is
communication, and I certainly didn’t pause to avoid acting in anger before doling
out a consequence. I took everything Jonas said personally. I thought, “He is right;
I’m a terrible teacher and my class is stupid!”

Worst of all, I knew I had branded myself as a teacher who sends students out of
the room, signaling to Jonas and his peers that he did not belong in our class. This

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Causton, Julie, and Kate MacLeod. From Behaving to Belonging : The Inclusive Art of Supporting Students Who Challenge Us, Association for
Supervision & Curriculum Development, 2020. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/uneedu/detail.action?docID=6263859.
Created from uneedu on 2020-09-22 18:08:16.

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F R O M B E H AV I N G TO B E LO N G I N G118

Figure 7.2: Creating Your Own Student Success Plan

What do I need to recover from this situation?

What might need repair? How can I repair it? What might I need to restore?
How can I restore it?

What types of supports can I put in place?

In what ways do I need to fill my cup to be even more prepared for this situation
in the future?

What are three steps I can put in place to help me feel more successful?
1.

2.

3.

Is there anyone I need to talk to about this?

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Causton, Julie, and Kate MacLeod. From Behaving to Belonging : The Inclusive Art of Supporting Students Who Challenge Us, Association for
Supervision & Curriculum Development, 2020. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/uneedu/detail.action?docID=6263859.
Created from uneedu on 2020-09-22 18:08:16.

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D e a l i n g w i t h C r i s i s a r t f u l ly 119

was not the teacher I wanted to be, and it was not the teacher Jonas needed me to
be. Jonas tested me and instead of leaning in, I pushed back.

When Jonas left my classroom, he didn’t come back that period. Or the next
day. Or the next. I knew he was skipping class because I made him feel bad, and I
had done so in front of his peers. I needed to check in with him and apologize. I
needed my own success plan. I sought him out during lunch time in the courtyard
where I knew he often hung out with his friends. When I approached the group, he
was there but avoided looking at me. I asked if I could speak to him privately and,
without speaking, he moved to one side, away from his peers.

I told him that I’d messed up. I shouldn’t have raised my voice at him or sent
him out of the class. I told him I was sorry I had done it, sorry if I had hurt him,
and sorry that even though it hurt my feelings that he had called me names,
I was the one who was there to protect him and teach him, and I hadn’t done
that to the best of my ability. I finished by telling him that I missed him, his
humor, and his ideas in class a great deal. I told him I really wanted him to come
back to class and figure out how I could help him better—and how he could help
himself, too.

He didn’t say anything in return, but he came to class the next day. I spent the
next few weeks earning his trust back by talking to him quietly; learning more
about him, his strengths, and his needs; and leaving him positive and encouraging
notes. Jonas was one of my most important early lessons as a teacher. In fact, he
helped me determine who I wanted to be as an educator and commit to many of the
ideas and strategies discussed in this chapter:

• Practice the pause.
• Avoid acting or speaking in anger.
• Hold a private conversation with the student. Create conversations that

maintain their dignity and connect with love, patience, and persistence.

When faced with a student’s challenging behavior, imagine you are the parent
of that child or someone who loves the child deeply, even if you are still learning to
embrace the child, behaviors and all. Consider how you would react from that loving
perspective. By reacting from a position of love and acceptance, your response
will be with kindness, patience, and humanity—rather than with punishment or
control. A crisis response must express compassion for all involved.

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Causton, Julie, and Kate MacLeod. From Behaving to Belonging : The Inclusive Art of Supporting Students Who Challenge Us, Association for
Supervision & Curriculum Development, 2020. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/uneedu/detail.action?docID=6263859.
Created from uneedu on 2020-09-22 18:08:16.

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F R O M B E H AV I N G TO B E LO N G I N G120

Healing with the Arts
Sometimes students aren’t able or ready to communicate about pain or suffering.
Miranda Field (2016) shows that music, creative writing, performing arts, and fine
arts can help calm the body’s stress responses and help our students feel safer and
calmer in our classrooms. Let’s look at a couple examples.

Writing a New Path
Aiden was a student who had been educated full time in self-contained, special

education classroom for students with emotional disabilities during 4th grade and
part of his 5th grade year. In 5th grade, though, his special education teacher, Kim,
and one of the general education teachers in the school, Nancy, wanted to see him
included in the general education classroom full time.

Nancy and Kim worked together …

12

1

Rethinking Students
Who Challenge Us

If we are to reclaim our classrooms as inclusive and loving spaces where
all students are valued and celebrated, we must actively work on rethinking
our students’ challenging behavior using a strengths-based, holistic, and
loving approach. In this chapter, we aim to shift from a traditional deficit-
based way of understanding kids with challenging behavior and instead
describe new ways of thinking about student differences, including approaching
behaviors as natural and expected means of communication. We then help
you focus on the strengths, gifts, and talents of each student and provide specific
ways of being and practices to help you reset and reinvigorate your thinking
about students with challenging behavior. This approach helps us boost
and lean into our natural inclination to support students in creative and
loving ways.

Value Student Differences
The richness of our classrooms, schools, and communities is derived from
difference. In a classroom community that operates from a place of love, we’ve
watched it take only a few moments for students to notice, learn about, and

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Causton, Julie, and Kate MacLeod. From Behaving to Belonging : The Inclusive Art of Supporting Students Who Challenge Us, Association for
Supervision & Curriculum Development, 2020. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/uneedu/detail.action?docID=6263859.
Created from uneedu on 2020-09-22 18:08:35.

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r e t h I n k I n g S t u d e n tS W h o c h a l l e n g e u S 13

embrace one another’s differences. Often, this process of understanding and
valuing difference uses a similar pattern with groups of students:

• Students noticing something different about a peer.
• Students becoming curious about that difference.
• Students learning what that difference means for how to engage and connect

with the peer.
• Students embracing the difference and the peer.

We see students engage in this loving work every day. In 2017, a video from BBC
News (2017) began circulating the internet and perfectly documented this natural
peer process of embracing differences. A group of students greet their classmate
Anu as she walks to the playground for the first time with her new prosthetic leg.
Her peers bend down to take a look at her new neon pink titanium leg. They ask
questions such as, “Did it hurt?” and “Did you pick the color?” They embrace her in
hugs. The young girl then shows them how she can run with her new leg. Then her
peers begin to run beside her and behind her, matching her pace. Soon, she is leading
the way. This brief video ends with the young girl and a peer walking hand in hand.

We can learn so much from our students about how quickly and readily they
embrace and celebrate differences (in the case above, in 42  seconds). But first,
we must provide students with the opportunity to interact with and embrace one
another’s differences so they can lean into their strengths and talents and learn
from and grow with one another. Students’ readiness to embrace differences can
often be stifled by school cultures and structures that focus on the concept of
normalcy; consequently, schools often sort and separate students with differences
before the peer community even has a chance to love and embrace them. The first
step is breaking down the myth of normal.

No Student Is Bad
It is this mythical concept of normal that can too often perpetuate barriers

for our students’ success. It can impede our ability to value student diversity and
instead label it as different, challenging, or deficient. Perhaps the most pressing
issue with labeling a student as challenging or deficient is that none of these
labels are ever true. Isn’t that refreshing? Our students are not challenging, bad,

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Causton, Julie, and Kate MacLeod. From Behaving to Belonging : The Inclusive Art of Supporting Students Who Challenge Us, Association for
Supervision & Curriculum Development, 2020. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/uneedu/detail.action?docID=6263859.
Created from uneedu on 2020-09-22 18:08:35.

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F R O M B E H AV I N G TO B E LO N G I N G14

or naughty. Instead, student actions and behaviors, influenced by a contextual
stew of socioemotional, academic, environmental, and disability-specific factors,
present as challenging or disruptive.

In other words, we must remember that kids are not bad. All kids want to be
loved and understood. All challenging behavior is merely evidence of kids asking us
for that love and understanding in a way they know how. The more significant the
presentation of behavior, the more we need to use love, support, and understanding
in order to address the student’s needs.

All Students Want Love and Understanding
All students want love and understanding, so it is critical to rethink deficit-

based thinking about students and student behavior. We’re sure you have,
at some point, said or heard a teacher say something like, “He’s an attention seeker.
He only acts out because he knows it will get him attention from the teacher
or his peers.” This is a very common way to describe and explain students and
their behavior. Ultimately, though, this way of thinking is fundamentally flawed.
Consider the following examples:

Deficit-based thinking: We assume only kids with challenging behavior seek
attention from adults and peers.

Truth: All kids seek attention. Attention is proof that we are loved and
understood, which is a fundamental need for all humans.

Deficit-based thinking: We assume that kids only display the challenging
behavior because it gets them something (i.e., attention).

Truth: All students would display the expected behavior if they knew how to
get attention in appropriate and expected ways. The student exhibiting the
challenging behavior simply doesn’t have the skills, tools, or knowledge about
how to display the appropriate behavior yet.

Let’s look at another common phrase we sometimes say or hear about students
with challenging behavior in teachers’ lounges and meetings: “She’s manipulative.
She asks me questions that have nothing to do with the lesson, argues with me, and
tells me all about what other kids are doing wrong. She often says, ‘The other kids
don’t like the way I talk about them, so they avoid me.’ And I know she does all this
just to avoid work!”

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Causton, Julie, and Kate MacLeod. From Behaving to Belonging : The Inclusive Art of Supporting Students Who Challenge Us, Association for
Supervision & Curriculum Development, 2020. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/uneedu/detail.action?docID=6263859.
Created from uneedu on 2020-09-22 18:08:35.

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r e t h I n k I n g S t u d e n tS W h o c h a l l e n g e u S 15

Again, we understand the student’s behavior is working in her favor! But here,
too, this deficit-based thinking about a student and her behavior is fundamentally
flawed. Let’s consider another set of beliefs around student behavior:

Deficit-based thinking: We assume that kids who display challenging
behavior have planned the behaviors out using skillful forethought, impulse
control, planning, and organization.

Truth: Most of us behave in ways to get our needs met. That does not make
us manipulative. Most students with challenging behavior don’t have the very
skills (i.e., impulse control, planning, and organization) needed to manipulate
an outcome. In fact, if the kid had those skills, she would most likely be able to
attend to the tasks at hand (e.g., focusing on the lesson and building positive
relationships with peers) and avoid getting in trouble and isolating herself
from peers.

Rethinking the deficit-based approach to working with students that attempts
to incorrectly identify student behavior as normal or abnormal, good or bad, or
malicious or innocent is the first step in reclaiming our classrooms as places of love.
We must commit to the understanding that all kids want to behave because they
all want love, understanding, and success. For kids with challenging behavior, we
must remember that they want to attend to the math task like you’ve asked. They
want to engage with peers in appropriate ways that lead to strong peer connections
and friendships. They want to have positive relationships with adults, including
you. But for kids with challenging behavior, they might not have the specific skills,
prior knowledge, or opportunities to succeed in the ways in which schools expect
them to succeed and behave.

Kids Do Well if They Can
Ross Greene, a scholar who writes and speaks with great expertise about how

to implement better, more effective ways to work with kids with challenging
behavior, explains in his important school-based text Lost at School (2008) that
we must shift our thinking from “Kids do well if they want to” to “Kids do well if
they can” (p. 10). This paradigm shift is powerful because it helps us reimagine
our students using a strengths-based and compassionate perspective.

When we realize that all students want to do well, it helps us approach
students in new ways. Even when students are demonstrating that they don’t

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Causton, Julie, and Kate MacLeod. From Behaving to Belonging : The Inclusive Art of Supporting Students Who Challenge Us, Association for
Supervision & Curriculum Development, 2020. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/uneedu/detail.action?docID=6263859.
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F R O M B E H AV I N G TO B E LO N G I N G16

care or don’t want to try, we must look past the actual behaviors and language
to the meaning behind it. Students might act as if they don’t care because they
are fearful they won’t be successful. Students might say they hate us because
they are scared we will be disappointed in them. Supporting a student who is
scared or anxious is much different than looking at the behavior as defiance or
manipulation. We not only need to rethink student motivations; we also need to
reexamine our larger structures that are based on the myth of normalcy.

Normalcy Is a Myth
In schools across the country, the concept of “normal” often marginalizes

students based on issues of differences, such as perceived ability, behavior, race,
and language. We often do it with the best of intentions, but it still happens. The
student with dyslexia who doesn’t read as well or as quickly as her peers is often
educated in a segregated reading room down the hall. The student who is more
verbal than others is told again and again to be quiet. The African American boy
who displays challenging behavior in a predominately white school can be quickly
disciplined, or even wrongly labeled with an emotional disturbance. Though there
are many issues to grapple with in these examples, ultimately, they represent the
damage deficit-based thinking can inflict on student structures such as placement,
labeling, rules, policies, regulations, and ideas about what students can be.

The more equitable, effective, and loving way to work with kids with diverse
backgrounds, abilities, and needs—including behavioral needs—builds on the
peer process of diversity acceptance we shared earlier. First, we acknowledge
that difference is the norm. This means that normal behavior, normal academic
achievement, normal communication styles, and normal social skills—frankly,
whatever you are attempting to normalize!—are myths. You and your students
are thankfully too diverse and amazing to behave, move, think, communicate, and
interact in the same standardized ways.

It is often easy for us to value diversity, but when it comes to students with
challenging behavior, it is common for us to quickly jump to conclusions and beliefs
about the student. Instead of these knee-jerk reactions when we are faced with
behaviors that challenge us, we must pause and take the time to acknowledge and
value the individual differences that have carried the student to this particular
point in her life, education, and, of course, the specific challenging behaviors.

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Causton, Julie, and Kate MacLeod. From Behaving to Belonging : The Inclusive Art of Supporting Students Who Challenge Us, Association for
Supervision & Curriculum Development, 2020. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/uneedu/detail.action?docID=6263859.
Created from uneedu on 2020-09-22 18:08:35.

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r e t h I n k I n g S t u d e n tS W h o c h a l l e n g e u S 17

Embracing diversity means we must also abandon the idea that normal
behavior is the only valuable behavior. This idea can be very hard because we know
classroom disruptions happen due to challenging behavior, and we’d rather those
disruptions didn’t happen at all. But if we take a moment to reimagine our well-
behaved students and expand our thinking to include all our students, even if they
have challenging behaviors, we then begin to expect that all our students will behave
differently and will need to learn different skills.

If students are only valued when they are quiet and compliant learners, never
question our authority, and do what they’re told, we run the significant risk of
devaluing and underestimating too many of our students. Instead, when we
seek to understand the whole student, we can begin to celebrate how they show
up every day, even without all the skills it might take to succeed the way they’d
like to (or in the ways we’d like them to). Only then can we begin to consciously
create a classroom environment that values and addresses not only the needs of
our diverse students but also the individuality they each bring to our world. Only
then can we truly begin to understand our students as valuable—not despite the
individual ways they move, think, play, and communicate but because of those
differences.

Star the Strengths
Often, our kids with challenging behavior can spend the majority of their days
being told what they’re doing wrong and how to do it—whatever it is—the “right”
way. Sit still. Be quiet. Do your work. Walk in a straight line. Write neatly. Speak
clearly. Raise your hand. It can be exhausting for educators and students. When
we hyperfocus on fixing the behaviors and require kids to achieve that mythical
norm, we often miss out on opportunities to give them a chance to nurture talents
and skills. Let’s push against the traditional school mode of obedience and lean into
radical love in the classroom. We begin by starring students’ strengths.

Carve out time and space to help students develop and build upon what they are
interested in and good at. Starring the strengths helps you to approach students
from a place of love and respect, and it helps you build their confidence so they feel,
perhaps even for the first time, successful and confident at school. For example,
take the way 10th grade teacher, Patrice Smith, approached a student named Song

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Causton, Julie, and Kate MacLeod. From Behaving to Belonging : The Inclusive Art of Supporting Students Who Challenge Us, Association for
Supervision & Curriculum Development, 2020. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/uneedu/detail.action?docID=6263859.
Created from uneedu on 2020-09-22 18:08:35.

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F R O M B E H AV I N G TO B E LO N G I N G18

and starred her strengths to help address challenging behavior and simultaneously
improve her feelings of success and belonging.

Song was often in the principal’s office for “defiant and loud class disruptions,”
particularly during her English class with her ELA teacher, Tom. Tom was at his
wits’ end because, as he said, “Song is such a bright student, a good student, but
she just can’t keep it together in ELA. And with her outbursts, I just can’t have her
constantly disrupting the class. I don’t know what to do.” Song ’s geometry teacher,
Kim, knew Song to be an excellent student with minimal to no disruptions in class.
Kim suggested that she and Tom brainstorm about Song ’s strengths and talents
together. They discovered that Song

• Is a strong student who loves math and problem solving.
• Has two younger siblings and works very well with younger students.
• Loves comic books.
• Is interested in her Asian American heritage.
• Is musical.
• Is a kinesthetic learner and likes to move about when working.
• Is a leader among her peers.

Maybe you’re thinking that you’re at the beginning of the school year and you
couldn’t possibly know all the relevant information about a student yet, not to
mention a list of their talents and strengths. We recommend engaging students
in this work by asking them to think through their strengths and talents during
class meetings or morning circles, or even by handing out a survey or multiple
intelligence quiz in class. These practices can help students identify and star their
own strengths, talents, and interests so they know how best they can learn, interact,
and grow.

Once you do this with your entire class, you can create a positive student profile
that helps you understand particular students with challenging behavior from a
restoried, strengths-based perspective. By using Figure 1.1, we recommend writing
this positive student profile with the student to make sure everything is accurate
and true and that they feel a part of the process. Sometimes, this might require
support from family, siblings, and friends. Keep in mind that the information in the
profile should be used to create new ways and opportunities for the student to build
on their strengths and interests and, ultimately, to shine in your classroom.

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Causton, Julie, and Kate MacLeod. From Behaving to Belonging : The Inclusive Art of Supporting Students Who Challenge Us, Association for
Supervision & Curriculum Development, 2020. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/uneedu/detail.action?docID=6263859.
Created from uneedu on 2020-09-22 18:08:35.

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r e t h I n k I n g S t u d e n tS W h o c h a l l e n g e u S 19

STRENGTHS, TALENTS, AND INTERESTS
• Is a strong student who loves math and solving problems
• Is bilingual
• Has two younger siblings and works very well with younger students
• Loves comic books
• Loves K-Pop
• Is interested in her Asian American heritage
• Is a leader among her peers

MULTIPLE INTELLIGENCES
• Has logical-mathematical intelligence
• Has musical intelligence
• Is a kinesthetic learner and likes to move when working

ACADEMIC SUBJECT INFORMATION
• Is very strong in math and science
• Excels in art and music class
• Loves science and maintains a 99% average
• Loves lab assignments, especially when she is the lab leader
• Reads English independently at two grade levels below her peers
• Has a reading comprehension level one grade level above her peers with access

to audio, text, and read-alouds

SOCIAL INFORMATION
• Has some close friends
• Still has learning strategies for dealing with conflict

FAMILY INFORMATION
• Lives with her parents, grandmother, and three elementary-aged younger siblings
• Moved from South Korea when she was in elementary school

SPECIAL EDUCATION SERVICES OR ACCOMMODATIONS (IF APPLICABLE)
• Has been labeled with a specific learning disability in reading
• Has access to accommodations for audio text, text-to-speech prompts, tests,

and read alouds
• Receives consultant support from special education teacher regarding reading

supports

Figure 1.1: Song’s Positive Student Profile

(continues)

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Causton, Julie, and Kate MacLeod. From Behaving to Belonging : The Inclusive Art of Supporting Students Who Challenge Us, Association for
Supervision & Curriculum Development, 2020. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/uneedu/detail.action?docID=6263859.
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F R O M B E H AV I N G TO B E LO N G I N G20

Restory the Challenging Behavior
Next, you’ll want to practice restorying the student’s challenging behavior. To
begin this work, we ask you to join us in a short exercise. Use Figure  1.2 to look
over some of the most challenging behaviors educators consistently highlight.
However, instead of asking whether you have seen your students display these
challenging behaviors in your own classroom, we’d instead like you to circle any
of the behaviors you yourself have engaged in over the years—as a student, an
employee, a family member, a friend, or a community member.

If you’re anything like us, you might have circled several of these challenging
behaviors. This also means you are perfectly human. The fact that you’ve engaged
in some challenging behavior in your life doesn’t mean you are not a valued student,
employee, partner, parent, or friend. It simply means you were communicating
something at the time. Perhaps, at that time, you didn’t have all the necessary skills
and tools to understand your behaviors or manage them to the best of your ability.

STRATEGIES THAT WORK
• Allowed to take frequent breaks (up to three per class)
• Responds to asking her what she needs when she seems upset
• Reacts well to calm, loving responses to her behavior
• Allowed to listen to music
• Has access to audiobooks and texts
• Has access to partnered reading
• Needs help resetting behavior after an outburst

Figure 1.1: Song’s Positive Student Profile (continued)

• Yelling
• Fighting
• Throwing items
• Avoiding work
• Leaving or storming out of the room
• Shutting down or closing off

• Challenging authority
• Talking back
• Swearing
• Talking out of turn
• Talking to your neighbor when the

expectation is that you should be
listening to the speaker

Figure 1.2: Identifying Challenging Behavior

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Causton, Julie, and Kate MacLeod. From Behaving to Belonging : The Inclusive Art of Supporting Students Who Challenge Us, Association for
Supervision & Curriculum Development, 2020. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/uneedu/detail.action?docID=6263859.
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r e t h I n k I n g S t u d e n tS W h o c h a l l e n g e u S 21

Talking to the person next to you during a faculty meeting might have communi-
cated that the principal had gone on too long about the new literacy program and
you needed a chance to actively engage with another person rather than passively
absorb. Yelling at a spouse might communicate that you are angry or not OK and
need new and improved skills to help communicate anger or pain more effectively.

Now, turn this same understanding toward student behavior. Throwing
something across the room might communicate she is not OK and needs support
and new skills to better communicate her anger, confusion, or pain. Likewise,
running out of the room and turning desks over on the way out after an altercation
with a peer might communicate that the student is angry and embarrassed.
Perhaps her peers didn’t know or understand that she needed a note-taking
accommodation during work time. Perhaps she wanted to socialize but doesn’t
have all the skills required to do so yet.

Remember, kids do well if they can. All kids want to do well because they want
love, belonging, and understanding. It is up to us to restory our students’ challenging
behavior in order to help them succeed, feel loved, and feel understood. Certainly,
it’s what we’d want someone to do for us.

To set you up for success with the practice of restorying challenging behavior,
we’ve provided a few simple questions we’d like you to follow. We will continue to
use Song as an example for the process.

What is the challenging behavior? (Be as specific as possible.) Song is
disruptive (e.g., she interrupts, curses, or refuses to participate) during reading
activities in English class. This often results in her leaving class to visit the principal’s
office or cool down.

What do we know about the student that might inform the challenging
behavior? Song has a specific learning disability in reading. She was identified
as an English language learner when she arrived from South Korea three years
ago. She excels in math but utilizes text-to-speech applications to help her work
through word problems and new math vocabulary.

How can we restory this behavior as communication?

• Song doesn’t feel confident in her reading skills.
• Song doesn’t yet know how to ask for or doesn’t have the opportunity to access

her accommodations such as text-to-speech applications or audio text during
her English class.

15436-01_Intro, Ch01-02-4thPgs.indd 2115436-01_Intro, Ch01-02-4thPgs.indd 21 6/11/20 10:44 AM6/11/20 10:44 AM

Causton, Julie, and Kate MacLeod. From Behaving to Belonging : The Inclusive Art of Supporting Students Who Challenge Us, Association for
Supervision & Curriculum Development, 2020. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/uneedu/detail.action?docID=6263859.
Created from uneedu on 2020-09-22 18:08:35.

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F R O M B E H AV I N G TO B E LO N G I N G22

• Song doesn’t feel like she can succeed in English class.
• Song feels like she doesn’t belong in English class.

You can see that when we restoried Song ’s behavior as communication,
we didn’t include stories like “Song is unmotivated in English” or “Song is
manipulative and relies on behavior to get out of English work and class.”
Instead, we restoried her behavior as communication from a place where she
is only seeking success, connection, and belonging. Use Figure  1.3 to see how
you can begin restorying your students’ experiences.

Figure 1.3: Using Restorying Questions

1. What is the challenging behavior? (Be as specific as possible.)
2. What do we know about the student that might inform the challenging behavior?
3. How can we restory this behavior as communication?

Learn from Student Behavior
A critical and integrated step is to move from restorying the behavior to learning …

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