Randy Sprick's Safe & Civil Schools – Practical Solutions, Positive Results!

Spring 2010

The Tough Kid, Contained

Let me introduce you to the Tough Kid. He or she is the student in your classroom who consistently refuses to comply with a direction you've given, openly defies you, picks fights with other students, and continually disrupts your class in some way. He or she causes you inordinate amounts of frustration and stress, perhaps even anger. You have little time for teaching the other students in your class because you spend so much of your class time trying to get this kid to behave. You sometimes feel you've lost control of your classroom, which leads to a sense of powerlessness, a loss of confidence, and feelings of failure. The situation is untenable. You've got to do something—but what?

Enter The Tough Kid series by William Jenson, Ginger Rhode, and associates. These books and materials will help school administrators, teachers, parents, and anyone else manage a Tough Kid.

The Tough Kid, Defined

In the Positive Behavior Supports (PBS) methodology, roughly 80 percent of students in any given student body pose few behavioral problems and respond well to the school's basic discipline policies and procedures. These are the students in the base of the triangle.

The second layer of the triangle represents about 15 percent of the student body. These students are often characterized as at risk. They display some problematic behavior—absenteeism, tardiness, occasional behavioral outbursts—but not to the same extent or degree as that displayed by the remaining 5 to 7 percent of the student body.

Those students, at the tertiary, intensive tier—the tip of the triangle—are the students who have had many discipline referrals and are usually failing both academically and socially. These are "The Tough Kids."

According to the authors of The Tough Kid series, a Tough Kid is a student with both behavioral excesses and deficits.

Behavioral excesses are those behaviors that first focus a teacher or administrator's attention on the student—noncompliance, arguing, making excuses, throwing tantrums, and aggression—and the heightened frequency with which they occur.

Deficits are deficiencies in basic academic, social, rule-following, and self-management skills.

The Tough Kid, Controlled

Research is clear that Tough Kids usually have ongoing problems throughout their school years (see The Tough Kid Bully Blockers Book, pg. 10). But it is possible to manage Tough Kids. If executed correctly, management can help Tough Kids experience success in school and help you reconnect with the satisfaction that teaching can bring.

The evidenced-based strategies promulgated in The Tough Kid series (see sidebar) can help teachers effectively manage the Tough Kid.

Like many PBS models, the Tough Kid approach emphasizes positive and preventive strategies for behavior management. Positive intervention strategies (such as Mystery Motivators, Dots for Motivation, and Reward Spinners) reward Tough Kids and keep them motivated both academically and socially.

These techniques were designed for Tough Kids, but they also work well with the 15 percent at-risk students to help them adjust, be successful, and perform academically.

Besides being evidence-based, the techniques presented in all of the books in The Tough Kid series can be implemented without great cost in materials, time, or money. According to educators we interviewed, the strategies and techniques outlined in all of the books are teacher friendly and easy to put into practice. And best of all, they work!

Read what educators have to say about using The Tough Kid materials in their classrooms and schools.



A word about reductive techniques...

In addition to emphasizing positive strategies, teachers who work with Tough Kids need reductive strategies—techniques that will effectively stop or suppress a behavior.

Rather than using only traditional techniques such as timeout and suspension, it is important to include a menu of consequences that progress from least to most reductive. For example, techniques could proceed from a verbal warning to a name written in the Consequence Book to a lunch period spent in the classroom before progressing to more intrusive consequences.

A word of caution—reductive techniques do not change behavior permanently. To effectively change behavior, teachers can use reductive techniques to stop behavioral excesses while they work on helping the student build appropriate replacement skills.