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How Teaching Assistants Can Effectively Manage Challenging Behaviour in School

Updated: Nov 13, 2023

Teaching assistants are an integral part of the education system, providing valuable support to teachers and students alike. They work with a diverse range of students, including those with special needs or challenging behaviour, to help them succeed academically and socially.

However, dealing with physically challenging behaviour can be a significant challenge for teaching assistants, especially those who are new to the role or new to working with students with SEND. Physically challenging behaviour can take many forms, from verbal outbursts and tantrums to physical aggression and violence. Therefore, it's essential that teaching assistants have effective strategies and interventions in place to manage physically challenging behaviour in the classroom. Here are some top tips on how teaching assistants can manage challenging behaviour in the class.


Challenging Behaviour in School


Challenging behaviour is a common issue in UK schools, with many teachers and teaching assistants reporting incidents of physical aggression, verbal abuse, and disruptive behaviour. According to a 2019 survey by the National Education Union, over 80% of teachers in the UK reported experiencing challenging behaviour from students, and over half reported that the behaviour had become more severe in the past two years. The survey also found that 43% of teachers reported experiencing physical violence from students, while 64% reported verbal abuse. These statistics highlight the need for effective strategies and interventions to manage challenging behaviour in UK schools.


In addition to the safety concerns that physically challenging behaviour can present, it can also have a negative impact on the student's learning and development. Students who display challenging behaviour may struggle to engage in classroom activities, form positive relationships with their peers, and reach their full academic potential.


Therefore, it's essential that teaching assistants have effective strategies and interventions in place to manage physically challenging behaviour in the classroom. By doing so, they can create a safe and supportive learning environment that promotes positive behaviour and academic success for all students.



Understand the Cause


Understanding the underlying causes of physically challenging behaviour is crucial for teaching assistants to effectively manage it. Challenging behaviour can arise from a range of factors, including physical or sensory issues, frustration, anxiety, trauma, and other emotional or developmental disorders such as ADHD, autism spectrum disorder, or oppositional defiant disorder.


Teaching assistants should take the time to understand the individual needs and triggers of each student, as these can vary widely. For example, some students may have sensory issues that cause them to react negatively to certain sounds or textures, while others may become frustrated or anxious when they are asked to complete tasks that they find difficult.


By identifying the underlying causes of challenging behaviour, teaching assistants can develop targeted interventions that address the root cause of the behaviour. For example, if a student is struggling with sensory issues, the teaching assistant can work with the classroom teacher to create a sensory-friendly environment that reduces sensory overload. If a student is struggling with anxiety, the teaching assistant can work with the student to develop coping strategies, such as deep breathing or mindfulness exercises.



In some cases, it may be necessary to involve other professionals, such as a school counsellor, occupational therapist, or behaviour specialist, to help identify the underlying causes of challenging behaviour and develop appropriate interventions.


By taking the time to understand the individual needs and triggers of each student, teaching assistants can create a supportive and positive environment that promotes positive behaviour and academic success.


Establish Clear Boundaries and Expectations


Establishing clear boundaries and expectations is an essential strategy for managing challenging behaviour in the classroom. When expectations are clearly defined, students know what is expected of them and what the consequences will be if they do not meet these expectations. This can reduce confusion and anxiety, and create a sense of structure and predictability that can be especially important for students with challenging behaviour.


Teaching assistants should work with the classroom teacher, and with students, to create a behaviour plan that outlines acceptable and unacceptable behaviour, as well as the consequences for breaking the rules. The plan should be communicated clearly to the class and reinforced consistently. It should be posted in the classroom and reviewed regularly to ensure that everyone is on the same page.


In addition to defining the expectations and consequences, it's also important to establish a positive and respectful tone. This can be done by using positive language, such as "I appreciate your cooperation" or "Thank you for following the rules." The use of negative language, such as "Stop doing that" or "Don't talk back to me," can escalate the situation and lead to further challenging behaviour. However, I personally have found that a firm tone and saying things like "No thank you" and "Stop. We are kind to our friends" or "That makes me sad" works well, especially when working with students with limited verbal understanding, autism or SLD.


It's important to note that expectations should be realistic and tailored to the individual needs of each student. For example, a student with ADHD may struggle to sit still for long periods, so expectations around sitting still should be adjusted accordingly. In addition, consequences should be appropriate and consistent, not overly harsh or punitive.


Develop Relationships with Students


Developing a positive relationship with students is a fundamental aspect of effectively managing physically challenging behaviour. When teaching assistants establish a strong and positive rapport with students, it can foster trust, mutual respect, and open lines of communication. This, in turn, creates an environment where students feel supported and valued, making it easier to address and manage challenging behaviour.


Here are some strategies for developing a positive relationship with students:


  1. Get to know the student: Take the time to understand each student's unique interests, strengths, and challenges. Engage in conversations with them about their hobbies, favorite subjects, or extracurricular activities. This demonstrates a genuine interest in their lives and helps build a connection beyond the classroom setting.

  2. Active listening: Practice active listening skills when engaging with students. Show genuine interest in what they have to say and respond empathetically. By actively listening, teaching assistants can gain insights into students' perspectives, emotions, and triggers, which can inform their approach in managing challenging behaviour.

  3. Offer praise and encouragement: Recognize and acknowledge the efforts and achievements of students, no matter how small. Regularly offer praise and encouragement for their progress, hard work, and positive behaviour. This boosts their self-esteem and reinforces positive behaviour patterns.

  4. Use positive reinforcement: Implement a system of positive reinforcement to motivate and encourage positive behaviour. This can include verbal praise, reward systems, or small incentives that align with the interests of individual students. Positive reinforcement emphasizes and reinforces desired behaviours, making them more likely to recur.

  5. Provide support and guidance: Be available to support and guide students through challenging situations. Offer assistance when they face academic or social difficulties, providing them with the tools and strategies needed to overcome obstacles. This support demonstrates that teaching assistants are invested in their success and well-being.

  6. Practice empathy and understanding: Seek to understand the emotions and experiences behind students' challenging behaviour. Empathy plays a vital role in building trust and fostering a supportive environment. By empathizing with students' struggles, teaching assistants can approach challenging behaviour with compassion and work collaboratively towards finding effective solutions.

Remember, building a positive relationship with students is an ongoing process that requires consistency, patience, and flexibility. Each student is unique, and it's important to adapt approaches and strategies to meet their specific needs. A positive relationship sets the foundation for effective behaviour management and creates an environment where students feel safe, respected, and motivated to succeed.


Use Appropriate Interventions


Implementing appropriate interventions is a critical aspect of effectively managing physically challenging behaviour in the classroom. It involves utilising strategies and techniques that address the immediate situation and help students regain control while maintaining their safety and the safety of others. Here are some key points to consider when implementing interventions:


  • Redirection and Distraction: One effective intervention technique is redirecting the student's attention to a different activity or task. This can help shift their focus away from the challenging behaviour and towards a more positive and engaging task. For example, if a student is becoming agitated during a group activity, the teaching assistant can redirect their attention by providing a calming sensory tool or involving them in a preferred activity.


  • De-escalation Techniques: When faced with physically challenging behaviour, it's essential to use de-escalation techniques to defuse the situation and prevent it from escalating further. These techniques can include maintaining a calm demeanor, using non-threatening body language, speaking in a calm and reassuring tone, and offering choices to empower the student. De-escalation strategies help create a more peaceful environment and allow for clearer communication.










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