Many educators believe that students misbehave to achieve self-serving goals. These usually include: getting attention, seeking power, taking revenge and avoiding failure. When we look carefully at the misbehavior we can usually find that the reason lies in one of these four goals. Dr. Rudolf Dreikurs, renowned educator, developed these four behavioral goals in the 1930s. He was a student and colleague of Alfred Adler, who believed that “all behavior has a purpose.” Dreikurs has written many articles and books on student behavior and much of his work can be purchased on the internet.
His theories on behavior have had an enormous impact on the raising of children and classroom management models. A summary of Dreikurs’ four behavioral goals follow:
Some students strive to be the center of attention. They do almost anything to be noticed from being argumentative to being funny. There is a lack of concern about following accepted procedure to gain recognition. Teachers and classmates find behavior by this student annoying and at times rude and unacceptable.
The attention seekers may be disciplined for: disrespect, teasing, disturbing the class, being uncooperative, swearing, talking, being out of his seat, and making fun of others. Dreikurs said most students start misbehaving by seeking attention, and when this fails, they move on to more problematic goal-seeking behaviors, such as power. This is why it is important to find a thoughtful intervention in the first phase of misbehavior: attention seeking. Dreikurs believed that over 90% of all misbehavior is for attention. At the Interventions Central website, you can read some thoughts about how to break out of the attention cycle by using “random positive attention” with students.
Wanting to be in charge or in control provides the motivation for some student misbehavior. Students with this agenda simply want their way. They don’t hesitate to take a stand on matters important to them and are often disruptive and confrontational in reaching their goal. The teacher may feel provoked, threatened or challenged by this student. The following reasons may be the basis for a referral to the office for a student who struggles for power: disobeying, disrespect, not cooperating, talking back and disturbing the class. Often power-seeking students don’t act out until they’re assured of an audience. And from the teacher’s perspective, this is probably the worst possible time.
Lashing out or getting even is how some students compensate for real or imagined hurt feelings. The target of the revenge may be the teacher, other students, or both. Revenge may come in the form of a physical and/or psychological attack. Bullies often use revenge as their excuse for shoving or pushing, teasing, causing embarrassment and excluding others. The Teaching Help website has an interesting discussion of how revenge, defined in terms of “escalating student misbehaviors” must be dealt with by a systematic approach.
Wanting to avoid repeated failure, some students appear to be discouraged and helpless. They falsely believe that they can’t live up to expectations, either their own or those of others. To compensate for this belief, they don’t attempt anything that might result in failure. They hope that others will forget about them and not hold them responsible for anything. These students may be disciplined for: not paying attention, not being prepared, being dishonest and wasting time. This phenomenon, decribed as “learned helplessness” by psychologists, is characteristic of students who fail needlessly because they do not invest their best efforts.
No matter what the reason is for a student’s misbehavior, we are forced to respond. Some responses produce better results than others. Below is a list of both positive and negative responses by educators. Responses that usually get negative results include:
Responses that tend to get positive results include:
Dreikurs believes the best way to correct misbehavior is with logical consequences. For example, if a student doesn’t finish his homework, he stays after school to complete it. This helps the student make an association between the misbehavior and the consequences.