What is Behavior? A Look at School-Based Behavior

For many years, behavior has been given labels and titles which inaccurately describes what it is. Within the context of student behavior, many have described behavior by making the following comments “he is lazy”, “she is slow”, “my student is rebellious”, etc. None of these actually have to do with behavior. Rather, they are assumptions based on perception. One can also say they are based upon a line of thinking called mentalism. The counterpart to mentalism, behaviorism, focuses on the observable, tangible and measurable events which occur within a space of time.




The following is an accurate label or description of behavior:

- John is using his pencil to hit the table with a force so hard that it disturbs the girl sitting next to him.

- Mary walks across the corridor with her arms stretched out so wide that it touches other children in her vicinity.

- David talks out of turn 3 times every 5 minutes for 25 minutes.


According to B.F Skinner, the father of behaviorism, behavior happens due to a trigger or antecedent within the environment, and is reinforced or maintained by a proceeding event known as its consequence.


Within the school setting, we can find many examples of this. Talking out of turn may be maintained by teacher or peer attention, and the onset of being asked to read in front of the class may cause a shy student to laugh hysterically or utter an expletive and be sent to the dean’s office to escape the activity.


Of great value to teachers and school personnel, is the behavior principle of reinforcement. In times past, it was believed that the only way to maintain acceptable behavior within the classroom was to use corporal punishment and instill fear in children. Since then, science has shown that praise and reinforcement are the appropriate tactics to use to maintain desired student behavior. Take for example, the act of promptly attending classes which require transition from homerooms to other rooms. Instead of threatening to put a demerit on the students file for late arrival, instead giving an early 5 minute recess from the class to each student who arrives early or on time is much more effective.


There are also other tools available to teachers and other school personnel to manage student behavior. These include token economies, behavior contracts, shaping and fading, positive behavior support systems and function-based behavior assessments. While some behaviors within the school context can be controlled by teachers, deans and guidance counsellors, others may need the assistance of shadows and behaviorists. These situations usually involve special needs children who may be suffering from a wide range of emotional, behavioral and neuro-developmental disorders. Additionally, many students who are dealing with grief, abuse and other negative life circumstances may benefit greatly from the services of these professionals.


The practice of behaviorism based interventions is a fairly new and often costly venture. As a result, many countries are yet to see wide implementations of the above principles in their schools and societies. We therefore advocate for greater campaigning, exposure and promotion of positive behavior support systems for students to ensure the stop of abuse and the start of a holistic approach to behavior management.


Thanks for reading!



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