Classroom Behavior: Root Causes & Drivers

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A student’s behavior is not random but is determined by one or more root causes or behavioral drivers, the most common of which include:

Social attention (adult or peer)

A student may call out sarcastic comments in class because she gets peer attention for doing so.

Escape or avoidance of tasks, settings, or situations

A student who is a poor reader may become defiant toward the teacher whenever she is asked to read aloud in front of the class. When sent to the principal’s office, the student has successfully avoided the situation or activity.

Access to tangibles or rewards or privileges (‘pay-offs’)

When misbehavior is rewarded by access to a preferred object a young student may engage in physical tantrums until allowed to play with a particular toy.

Similar misbehavior often stems from different root causes.

Two students in the same situation may both refuse to comply with a teacher’s request and be sent to the principal’s office. However:

  • Student A may be non-compliant because he gets positive peer attention as a pay-off.
  • Student B may refuse to comply because she can escape having to do schoolwork, which she does not like.

When it’s possible to identify the correct cause or function of a problem behavior, there is a much better chance of selecting an intervention that will effectively address the root cause, resulting in improved behavior.

From Professional Learning Board’s online continuing education course for teachers: Positive Behavior Intervention Strategies

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