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Addressing Challenging Behavior — Tips from My Favorite Book!

classroom behavior management

Applying 'Never Split the Difference' Techniques to Manage Challenging Student Behavior

Discover actionable strategies to manage challenging student behavior with insights from the book “Never Split the Difference.” Written by a former FBI negotiator, these proven techniques can transform your classroom management skills and foster a more positive learning environment. Ideal for special education teachers, classroom teachers, and school counselors looking for effective behavior management solutions.

I discovered this book on accident a couple years ago. I've read TONS of behavior books, but this is my favorite! It's a quick and easy read, and while it's not targeted to teaching, per say, the tips I read in here were PERFECT for working with students with oppositional disorder or any challenging behavior. Just wanted to share some of my favorite takeaways from the book!

Lesson 1: Mastering the Art of Vocal Tone in Addressing Challenging Behavior

Be intentional with your voice tone. The tone of your voice and your demeanor can make or break a tense situation. Be thoughtful if you feel a rise in your blood pressure! Be playful and fun when it's appropriate. It makes a big difference! 

  1. Calm and slow. “You’ve got it covered.” State fact with calmness and assurance. Use when you want to encourage independence or tell what is expected of them.
    AKA Mr. Rogers
  2. Positive and playful. “Let’s have fun!” Easygoing, good-natured, light attitude, encouraging. Use when student is in a ready-state-to-learn and is calm.
    AKA Joy from Inside out
  3. Direct and assertive. “This is what is required of you.” Low-tone, clear, use as few words as possible to get expectation across. Use sparingly! and be ready to follow through.
    AKA Jean Luc Picard

Lesson 2: Mirroring and Labeling: Building Trust and Emotional Intelligence

Mirroring: A great method for helping a student feel validated a heard. Especially good when delivering trauma-informed care! How to do it? Repeat the last three-ish words of your student, imitate speech patterns, body language, and vocabulary. This helps establish rapport and leads to trust. And we all know that many students today need to feel they have a safe place to express themselves and to learn to trust adults!

Labeling: A way of validating someone’s emotions by acknowledging them. The author says it's a “shortcut to intimacy, a time-saving emotional hack.”

Use phrases like:

  • It seems like
  • It sounds like
  • It looks like

Phrasing a label as a neutral statement of understanding, it encourages the other to be responsive. Try it on your partner tonight!

“There is food stuck to the ceiling!”

“It sounds like you are frustrated about the spaghetti I threw on the ceiling.”

Some behavior IEP goals supports!...

Lesson 3: The Power of 'No': Enhancing Communication through Contrarian Tactics

The strategy of aiming for a “no” rather than a “yes” flips traditional communication tactics on their head. When you intentionally mislabel an emotion or ask a question designed to elicit a “no,” you're actually opening the door for more authentic communication. A “no” response often empowers the other person, making them feel more in control and thus more willing to engage in meaningful dialogue. This can be especially impactful in a classroom setting, where better communication and understanding between teacher and student can foster a more supportive and effective learning environment.

Getting someone to say “no” can be better than “yes” if the “yes” is just to get us to leave them alone. Intentionally mislabeling one of their emotions or desires by asking a ridiculous question can get a “no” with more buy in for better communication and understanding.

I love to use this techniques when a student is still in the “ramping up” stage of a crisis, so before they are in full shut down mode. For example, one of my littles didn't want to come sit in their little cube chair at circle time. I said, “That's OK, I'll go sit in the chair” and start to meander my bottom into their tiny chair. “No! It's my chair! I'm gonna sit it in!” Very cute.

Creating unconditional positive regard opens the door to changing thoughts and behaviors. Humans have an innate urge toward socially constructive behavior. The more a person feels understood, and positively affirmed in that understanding, the more likely that urge for constructive behavior will take hold

The techniques from “Never Split the Difference” offer valuable, actionable strategies for managing challenging student behavior. From mastering the art of vocal tone to building emotional intelligence through mirroring and labeling, these insights are particularly useful for teachers, school counselors, and special education professionals. Employing these techniques can lead to a more harmonious classroom environment, foster deeper relationships with your students, and enhance the overall educational experience. Make sure to leverage the power of “no” to open doors to more genuine communication and student engagement. Happy teaching!

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