Reclaiming the "Miracle" Through Strength-Based Behavior Management

by Denyse Doerries, Ph.D., and Butler Knight, Ed.S.

Finally, you are entering the last nine weeks of school. You breathe a sigh of relief. It is so gratifying to enjoy the fruits of your labor and, even more so, to reap the greater rewards of summer vacation looming gloriously before you.

But, what is this? Johnny refuses to remain in his seat and his antics are entertaining even your most motivated students! Carol is doodling, her papers are scattered around her desk, and for the third day this week she cannot find her agenda. Her parents depend upon the daily correspondence in the agenda to monitor her behavior and homework completion. The pressures begin to mount.

Before your blood pressure reaches new levels, sit down, take a deep breath, and imagine that during the course of the night a "miracle" happened (O'Hanlon & Beadle, 1997). When you entered your classroom this morning, something was palpably different. A calmness and predictable momentum permeate your classroom. Johnny is seated and completing the "morning math challenge." In disbelief you glance in the direction of Carol's desk and are elated to see the neat stack of books tucked beneath her desk and her agenda lying open on her desk.

Suddenly you realize that this vision is not the "miracle" you initially thought, but a recollection of how your students performed earlier in the school year. You remember Johnny's enthusiasm for math brain teasers and the special status he held for his genius in unlocking the code. Other strengths come to mind as you recall the many ways he helped his classmates use mathematic principles in everyday activities. Curiously you begin to consider that the more current behaviors may not be as problematic after all. You begin to wonder if there is some way to reclaim these assets and stretch this "miracle" into the next nine weeks.

To reclaim or re-establish what was working earlier in the school year, think back to what you were doing differently. You undoubtedly had established three to five simply defined classroom expectations, such as be respectful, be responsible, and be cooperative. You and your students had clearly defined what these expectations looked and sounded like. You provided opportunities to practice these behaviors and recognized students for successfully demonstrating them.

Refocus your students on these behaviors and select some strategies for "catching them being good." The following strategies highlight student strengths and set the stage for everyone to experience the miracle.

  • Teach, re-teach, and reinforce classroom expectations using the Teacher-Student Learning Game (Nelson, Benner, & Mooney, 2008) (see insert).

  • Increase positive, specific praise statements (four positive to one negative). For every negative statement a teacher makes, a student is owed four positive statements (Nelson et al., 2008; Sprick, Garrison, & Howard, 1998).

  • Write the names of the students who are demonstrating the expectations on the board.

  • Use nonverbal praise such as a sticky note or special doodle on the student's paper to prompt or recognize expected behavior.

  • Institute Raffle ticket systems:

    • Students recognized through the above examples are eligible for a raffle drawing.

      • Hand out tickets or pieces of paper to students who are demonstrating an expected behavior.

      • Students write their names on the tickets.

      • At the end of class, tickets are placed in the lottery container.

      • At the end of class or the end of the week, two or more winners are drawn. The winner draws a card to determine which prize she or he won. Each card has a number between 1 and 7 (inclusive), representing the numbers of the 7 prizes. However, one card has all 7 numbers, which allows a pupil to win all 7 prizes. Additionally, the person with the highest number of tickets earned in a week automatically gets to pick a card. Examples of prizes include homework passes, NFL pencils, a selection of CDs on loan during free time, fast food restaurant coupons, early dismissal for lunch, and options that are negotiated.


Nelson, J. R., Benner, G. J., & Mooney, P. (2008). Instructional practices for students with behavioral disorders. New York: Guilford.

O'Hanlon, B., & Beadle, S. (1997). A field guide to possibility land: Possibility therapy methods. New York: Norton.

Sprick, R. S., Garrison, M., & Howard, L. (1998). CHAMPS: A proactive and positiveapproach to classroom management. Longmont, CO: Sopris West.

Date: May/June 2008