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There’s No Such Thing As “Proper” Behavior

This week, I had to answer a series of questions about my philosophies about childhood behavior. I’m going through them in order write my teaching philosophy for a behavior classroom I’ll be teaching in the fall.

And while I like to *think* I always have my opinions on childhood behavior nailed down to a science, it was still enlightening to have to really grind out my own thoughts throughout this process.

One of the best conclusions I came to is that there’s no such thing as “proper” behavior. You can read why below because I’m going to share the questions and my answers with you.

So, in case you ever sit around wondering what a behavioral teacher/interventionist/parent theorizes about all day long (hahahaha), here it is.


Do you think students should be molded to behave properly?

There’s no such thing as behaving “properly.” It’s possible to behave in a way that most people find to be acceptable, but this only indicates that an individual’s behavior is meant to please others, which is unhealthy and untrue. My job as an educator is to teach students that there are multiple ways to respond to a given circumstance, to help them think through the advantages and disadvantages of their behaviors, and to provide them with a variety of tools in their emotional toolboxes.

Do you think students should be disciplined?

I think students should be taught that for every action, there is a reaction. Occasionally, that “reaction” will have to be a consequence given by me to maintain classroom safety, but the majority of the time, I would like for my students to learn through natural consequences.

The truest understanding of what “right versus wrong” means comes from a direct, experiential learning process. I want my students to be able to make healthy choices, even when all of their boundaries are removed.

Do you believe students should be self-regulated, or do you think students can be taught self-control?

It’s absurd to think that a child could be entirely self-regulated without any instruction on how to be so. Self-regulation is most often taught by the modeling of our parents and teachers, but there are a variety of internal and external factors that have a massive impact on how able a student actually is to reach complete self-regulation. These factors include biological processes, environmental influences, and whether or not their basic needs have been met (see Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs).

Do you view students as equal, or do you think they shouldn’t get a say?

Education can’t just happen to kids. It’s a cooperative process where their involvement is crucial. In order to increase their involvement and, therefore, the amount of learning they can accomplish, we must recognize that their desires matter. We must also remember that it’s our responsibility to teach kids how to think, rather than what to think.

This means not only allowing students to have a say in what’s happening to them, but actively encouraging it. If we don’t teach young people how to critically think, why it’s important to use their voice, and how to communicate their opinions in clear ways, we’ll unintentionally raise up a generation of stunted adults who know how to follow yet never to lead.

Do you believe in giving students responsibilities, or do think that will give them too much control?

Why would I worry about my students having too much control? It’s not my job to control them, nor is it a permanent way to manage a classroom. It’s my job to help my students see all sides of a coin (there are more than two!), and then to help them make their own choices out of that knowledge. Controlling kids will only steal their opportunity to learn self-management. Giving students responsibilities is an effective way to teach them about following through, about putting in a good effort, and about being a part of a team.

Do you see yourself as a boss or more as a guide? Or are you more of a facilitator or a delegator?

I am absolutely a guide who facilitates the learning of young people.

What is your view on creating rules? Should the teacher make them all or should it be a negotiation with the students?

I don’t think “negotiation” is the correct word here. I would rather use the term “collaboration” because it removes the power struggle. When students get to be a part of the decision-making process regarding rules, they’re more likely to buy into the reasoning behind the rules and play an active part in upholding the standards they’ve created. In my experience, when students have been allowed to make their own rules about how they want their classroom to run, they’ve been far more strict than I would’ve been. It has also increased their willingness to hold their peers accountable because they made those rules as a team, and they want to maintain them. It becomes less about what an adult is forcing them to do and more about creating the environment they wish to have for themselves.

Are you more of an assertive educator, or do you think teachers should be more laid back?

I’m sure I look laid back from the outsider’s perspective, but I think my educational method simply looks different than others. If I’m not participating in a student disagreement, or not intervening with a misbehavior, it’s because I’ve evaluated the situation and chosen not to get involved, yet. It isn’t a lack of effort at all, but rather, a very deliberate effort.

I prefer to ask students a lot of questions, encourage them to come up with their own ideas, and see how they’ll behave if left to their own devices. Not hands off… just hands quiet!

Is the teacher the leader, or do you think the students should have a say in what or how they learn?

I think I’ve basically answered this already, but students should always have a say in their educational processes. It has to be a give-and-take process because knowledge cannot be imposed against a student’s will. It won’t stick. This doesn’t mean allowing students to do whatever they want. It simply means asking them to participate and then helping them see why participation would be so beneficial to them.

Trying to forcefully funnel students through a series of tiny avenues might produce information retention, but it won’t produce lasting knowledge. Teachers should be leaders, but never bosses. We are educators, not employers. They are students, not slaves.

What is your belief on discipline? Should the student have a say?

Okay, yeah, I’ve answered this like ninety times at this point.

Do you believe in establishing an authoritarian, permissive, or democratic atmosphere?

Democratic, without a doubt. Authoritarian environments teach obedience over understanding, and permissive environments refuse to actively engage the learning process. In a democratic environment, students are allowed to have a say in what their days look like, which increases their desire to be involved in it. It also gives them an opportunity to be a part of a peer culture within their classrooms. This meets their basic need to feel a sense of belonging (again, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs), which expands their ability to learn. Actively creating their own classroom culture also forces them to take a certain amount of ownership over what’s happening.

Do you believe in a more student-centered classroom, or a more traditional classroom?

Student-centered, for sure.

What is your view on disruptive behavior?

I think teachers too often view their student’s behavior as a disruption instead of an opportunity to shift their teaching. Sure, we might have to pause our lesson on long division, but we can pick up with a lesson on effective coping skills. Social, emotional, and behavioral skills are essential learning topics, even if the educational system in America hasn’t recognized them yet. It doesn’t matter how intelligent we’ve raised children up to be if they don’t know how to get upset without throwing things. Or, on the flip side, if they don’t know how to be kind to people who are upset and struggling. When a student exhibits “disruptive” behavior, we can utilize that opportunity to teach the entire class how to show gentleness to someone who isn’t making great choices. We can also teach them about healthy coping skills, how to ask for help when overwhelmed, and how to look for the humanity in others.

What is your belief on rewarding students for good behavior?

Studies done by behavior analysts have consistently found that children need four times as much praise as they do corrective feedback, in order for their behavior to change in positive ways. With less affirmation than that, their behavior is unlikely to improve. And those statistics reflect the needs of typical children. Students who have emotional and behavioral disorders often need a much higher amount of positive reinforcement to change their behavior. In my classroom, I’ll offer positive reinforcement in the form of verbal praise, tokens, tangible rewards, and social motivators, and I’ll use them as often as I possibly can.

Are you OK with using the school system’s behavior management plan, or do you want to adopt your own because you have a different perspective?

If I worked for a school that wanted me to implement a behavior plan I didn’t agree with, I would go through the appropriate channels to voice my concerns. That being said, as the teacher of a behavior classroom, it’s important for me to make sure kids learn how to function within their general education settings. Obviously, I will work with classroom teachers to understand when they need to provide accommodations for students with behavioral concerns, but I also want my students to be able to function outside of my classroom. If I’ve only taught them how to be successful in my class, then I haven’t taught them anything worthwhile at all.

There’s No Such Thing As “Proper” Behavior

W. R. Cummings

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APA Reference
Cummings, W. (2020). There’s No Such Thing As “Proper” Behavior. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 4, 2020, from


Last updated: 24 Apr 2020
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