It is the night before the first day back from Winter Break and my mind is already wondering what I am going to encounter this week. Besides it being the first week back, it is also a short week and the beginning of a new semester. 

During this weekend, I have received some emails from others who are concerned about student’s behaviors, and their transition back to school. Even though there were plans in place before Winter Break, that does not mean that the plan and incentives that worked before the break will work now. 

In order to have a smooth transition back to school, it is important that we understand that students are motivated by different factors. They also learn from their environments, so if you come back from break relaxed and ease into things that are not going to help your student’s self-regulation. 

Self-regulation is so important. It allows students to have the ability to set, monitor and reflect upon their actions and how it impacts them and others. In order for a student to do this, we as educators need to be efficient and effective. I am not saying that we have to be drill sergeants, but we need to explicitly teach the skill to our students. 

There are several ways to improve behaviour-related problems during the first week back and going forward, but we first need to understand some basic facts about students who challenge us every day. 

    • Students do not misbehave because they are mean or obstinate. All behaviour is communication and serves a purpose. The purpose may be to communicate their wants and needs. This is particularly true for students who are autistic or have cognitive delays. 
    • All students can learn. Learning may take longer, and you may have to repeat the concept and use different teaching strategies and be more explicit and direct, but they do learn. 
    • Students have three major areas of concern: communication, socialization, and interest/activities. They may interact very differently from their grade-level peers and developmentally ability, but they are making connections with others. As one of my peer-mentors told me before break “Johnny is my inspiration, he is persistent and keeps on trying even though he gets an answer wrong. I want to be like him when I grow up”. 
    • Students with behaviour problems such as aggression, tantrums and noncompliance should be included with their peers. Students with these problems, tend to communicate this way because they are communicating frustration or a need. They understand if they respond this way attention will be on them, and their needs will be met. 

In order to help students who challenge us every day, we as educators need to create learning environments for the behaviour that we want to occur. The following are 12 tips that will help you during the first week back after Winter break and going forward. 

1: Do not set expectations low for your students. Regardless of where your student is at academically expect progress and growth. 

2: Do not set expectations too high for your students. Set goals that are realistic. Have them included in the conversation about what they want to achieve? Break realistic tasks down into steps.

3:Change activities often and end with success. Just as you are setting reasonable expectations, it is important to know when and how to end a lesson and change activities. Always end a lesson on a positive note, even when a student is destroying your classroom. “ I love how Johnie is redecorating the classroom and showing school spirit” For my student’s who have behavioural issues I change activities every 5 minutes.

4: Use manipulatives and other teaching tools that your students enjoy as reinforcement. Students, who challenge us every day take pleasure in some things that others would not like. What is important is that they see that they are getting a reward as a reinforcement for what they have done. At times I am not even looking if the task was correct, but if they followed directions and they are able to express themselves appropriately and with a calm body. 

5: Allow choices. If a student does not feel that they have control over their environment, they will become easily frustrated and act out. As educators, we should provide an illusion that they are in control by giving them choices without decreasing the task. For example, do you want to sit in the brown chair or blue chair? Both choices are getting them to sit down. 

6: Include structure and routine into their environment. Students who challenge us do not pick up on settle and vague clues. If you build predictability through structure and routine encourages appropriate responses and increases the chances that the student is going to have a good day and the likelihood of frustration and inappropriate behaviours are going to decrease. 

7: Plan ahead for all transitions, even school emergencies. Some children that challenge us have difficulty transitioning around the school environment, because of the noise level in the hallways and the number of students running from class to class. This is especially true at the middle and high school level. You need to give these students ample time to get ready for a transition, so they know a change is about to occur. You might need to use specific core vocabulary, prompts and visuals that communicate a change is about to happen. You might also need to write the plan into the student’s IEP so that everyone is aware of it. 

8: Make eye contact. Some of the students who challenge us do not pick up on verbal cues, even though they understand. Looking directly at them, achieving eye contact when you are giving them a choice will increase the change you will get their attention.

9: Be as concrete as possible. If you use abstract ideas, analogies, exaggerations, you might confuse the student. Some of the students take what you are saying literally. Keep communication simple, clear and concise. Encourage them to understand what they are about to do, by repeating back if needed what they are about to do. I do this with some of my students, so they understand that they can’t get that tangible item until A, B and C are complete. For example “Bob turn off your computer, then come work with the group.” This is more effective than “Bob why are you on the computer, what are you supposed to be doing?” By doing the latter, you are leaving it open for discussion. 

10: Use more than verbal instruction. Teach in more than one way. Use multisensory learning, that allows more than one way to make a connection to learning. Use a combination of verbal, visual, models and physical prompts to get the lesson objective across. 

11: Be consistent. Be consistent. Students are more successful when the learning environment is predictable in regards to structure, routines and expectations. 

12: Use prompts to teach new skills. Students who challenge us do better using specific teaching methods for learning a new skill. This can be a verbal prompt, gestural prompt or physical prompt. In order to do this effectively, you need to get to know your students and build a trusting relationship. 

If you use these ideas and pointers during the first week of school, you will be setting the learning environment up for a successful semester and encouraging appropriate behaviour. 

All of this takes planning and a change in mindset, but it is an important step to helping a student self-regulate themselves so they will become more prepared for employment, further education and independent living. 

Does your student’s IEP need a quick review? Are you making sure that what is written in their plan addresses all that they need to be successful? Sign up for a free consultation where we will put together an action plan of your top 3 concerns and the next steps going forward. 

If you do not have time to sign up for a consultation, but you still want your student’s IEP reviewed and your top 3 concerns addressed. Send me an email at with IEP Review Request in the subject line, and I will get back to you. 


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