On Defiant Behaviour


Defiant behaviour – we’ve all had to deal with it as teachers. I want to offer one humble insight here, building upon a few experiences i’ve had over the past few years. To do this, I’ve amalgamated a few stories into the one I’m going to share…

A critical moment…

Mr Blake takes his rambunctious 7 year old bundles of energy outside for the last hour of the day for P.E. His learning objective is to develop an understanding of map reading as an introduction to Orienteering. He has set out all of his carefully planned resources across the school grounds and everything is ready to go. He has done a quick Warm Up and has delivered a short explanation of the core aims of the lesson. All is going well.

Until Mr Blake assigns the groupings for the activity:

“James, please go work with Group 4.” Mr Blake instructs.

“No chance sir, John has nits,” James retorts with the ear of the rest of the class.

John doesn’t have nits, has never had nits and I hope he never will. However, he has felt the full force of a two-pronged painful and unkind act of defiance and unkindness – and so has Mr. Blake – with the rest of the class listening in; a critical moment.


What should Mr. Blake do?


Rebuke James with a stern word? Calmly repeat the instructions? Ask which group he would like to be part of instead of one with nit haired James? Mr. Blake has several options but little time to assert his authority and involve James fully in the lesson without too many issues.

I’ll add an extra nuance to this case study: this is the fourth time James has been defiant that day in a way that undermines Mr. Blake. James is a clever lad and knows exactly what he’s doing when he refuses to follow instructions.

Since we’re adding nuance here, let me add even more: James is defiant with everybody in school and it so happens that he’s the leastdefiant with Mr. Blake, that’s why he’s ended up in his class this year. He’s also come from a home that has never known a father and he has three younger brothers. He runs rings around his Mum and she has to pick her battles with James just to keep him from storming off out into the streets late at night. She wishes she could do more with him but she’s just so tired from looking after James’ little brothers and working full time that she just lets him do what he wants. She feels so guilty about this every time she gets called in to school to discuss James’ bad behaviour. James’ mum, Mr. Blake thinks, is doing the best she can with what she’s got. Mr. Blake actually thinks she’s a very brave woman who the world has been unkind to. Mr. Blake sees this in James’ eyes every time James says he won’t do what he says.

My one humble thought on defiant behaviour

Does this ‘knowing our pupils’ change our expectations as teachers? I don’t think it should. Does it change the relationship we have with them? I think it always should. Before I offer some of the strategies that have worked for me with pupils like James, let me put something down in writing that I feel very strongly about:

As teachers, when it comes to classroom management, I don’t think we should expect any less of our pupils than the most exemplary behaviour possible. Our pupils should be polite, kind, courteous, speak up eloquently and show respect to all, since they ought to want respect from others. This is absolutely essential for strong, effective classroom management that reaps academic benefits.

However, the relationships we have with our pupils must be differentiated according to their needs. Remaining within our professional role as teachers (not as a parents), we must do everything we can to form strong bonds with our pupils. We must do what we say we will do, we must laugh with them, associate ourselves with them and care about their lives in a way that for some, no one else will. Pupils don’t really care how much you can teach them until they know how much you care about their lives.

For me, I feel that our relationships with our students must differ, while our expectations of their behaviour must remain the same.

More like this

Dealing with defiant behaviour: the languuage of choice.

The Power of Warm/Strict: Classroom Relationships

Working with children who hurt inside


Original image source: https://www.kidspot.com.au/health/ask-the-expert/ask-dr-justin/how-do-i-cure-my-preschooler-of-rude-defiant-behaviour/news-story/35d8e7544c8c05c6b3805118d3e8df4e

5 thoughts on “On Defiant Behaviour”

    1. Hi Natalie, great question and one I am in the process of writing about…Teacher Tapp sold this post as a ‘what to do with defiant behaviour’ sort of post…it certainly isn’t! Keep tabs on my blog for more in the next few weeks.

      While you’re here, what would you do with James? I’d love to hear your thoughts.




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