Teaching children with complex issues is a significant challenge that teachers face, with a number of behavioural challenges presenting in any given classroom.

Most schools nowadays have the ability to define behavioural expectations through their own policies and guidelines. Accordingly, these might differ slightly between schools but, for the most part, we can agree there are certain behaviours that teachers grapple with in today’s classrooms and across varying age groups.

As noted by the Education and Training Department of Victoria, challenging behaviour “can generally be understood as something that either interferes with the safety or learning of and other students, or interferes with the safety of school staff.”

Examples of challenging behaviours are extensive and most teachers will have encountered many across their careers.

At the extreme end of the behavioural challenge spectrum would be violent and unsafe behaviour like fighting, kicking and punching. At the other end of the scale is students leaving their seats, calling out in class, swearing, shouting, refusing to follow instructions and so forth. Then there is also withdrawn behaviour such as anxiety, phobias and truancy.

All of these aforementioned behaviours, regardless of how extreme they may be deemed, have a significant negative impact on the attention levels and abilities to learn of all students in the classroom, and can unnecessarily complicate the learning process for teachers.

How can teachers handle a classroom that may present a number of challenges?

Attention vulnerabilities are often among some of the key contributing factors to a challenging student and/or classroom. Teaching attention skills is a good baseline skill for all students, and one of the most important steps to take in reducing the impact of kids who have complex issues, which leads to challenging behaviour.

Attention training is at the core of the learning process. Teaching students essential skills in the areas of selecting, sustaining and controlling attention are the fundamentals that enable students to filter out distractions, stay quiet, sit still and effectively absorb what they’re being taught.

While attention skills have a key role in ensuring students thrive in a classroom environment, it’s still not a one-size-fits-all magic solution. It’s important for teachers to understand the complex issues that may be contributing to their students’ disruptive behaviour and that may be preventing their students from making progress with any attention training. 

Aside from attention skills, there are a number of ways to handle a challenging classroom and the vast majority of them rely on communication of one form or another.

“Children who display challenging behaviour don’t usually do so ‘just because they want to’”, writes Ellie Collier from High Speed Training in the UK. “There’s often a reason behind their behaviour, or it might be their only way of telling you something’s wrong.”

She suggests doing as much investigative work as possible to find out if something behind the scenes is being manifested in the classroom. For example…

* Could there be some kind of illness at the root of their behaviour?

As Collier writes, if a child is experiencing pain, “they may be acting out to express this, especially if they have a problem communicating [it].”

* Is the student exhibiting signs of autism or ADHD that may have gone undetected before now?

These kinds of neurological conditions make it hard for students to understand and express their feelings. Being ignored or left out by the other students because of their behavioural traits can also exacerbate their behaviour.

* Are there factors at home that may be contributing to their behaviour?

If a child is rewarded when they throw a tantrum at the supermarket, or the path of least resistance is taken when it comes to poor behaviour at home, students will believe that exhibiting these kinds of behaviours is ‘normal’ and/or can lead to them getting what they want.

If the parents of a student are constantly arguing or bickering – or worse – it is much more likely a student will exhibit challenging behaviour as an outlet to cope with what’s happening at home, or even think that those kinds of interactions are completely normal.  

* Is the student bored?

“Challenging behaviour may arise if the student feels bored in class and with their work,” notes Collier. “An unrecognised talent may also result in the behaviour, as students struggle to stay on track with something they already know how to do.”

Apart from boredom, the reality is, some of these contributing factors may be well beyond your control as a teacher. And, while there’s some impressive technology developing to help improve student behaviour, this education technology may not work for all children, particularly those with complex issues.

Dealing with challenging behaviour and complex issues in the classroom takes patience, and it also requires teachers to remember the importance of finding the root cause of the behaviours and attitudes that students display in the classroom.

Teaching attention skills and attention training can go a long way to helping those without complex behavioural profiles develop a strong baseline for future learning, and even filter out the distractions others may inflict on them at school.

Attention is a skill that needs to be taught. Use TALi DETECT to flag attention vulnerabilities and TALi TRAIN to strengthen attention skills in your students.