4 Student Behaviors That Matter

By Community Manager posted 01-13-2022 11:30 AM


In a positive classroom environment, students will thrive academically, socially, and emotionally. To explore the foundations of such an environment, I surveyed over 100 practicing teachers and gave them a list of both 10 student behaviors that promote a productive learning environment and 10 student behaviors that hinder one (Qvarnstrom, 2018)..

In the survey results, teachers identified the two most important student behaviors to cultivate and the two most significant behaviors that undermine a positive classroom environment. By considering these findings, we can put greater emphasis on creating the positive classroom that  contributes to the foundation for a more democratic society.

Positive Student Behaviors to Cultivate

  1. Teachers who were surveyed rated “responding respectfully to the opinions of others” as most important. In the classroom, mutual respect is the foundation for all interactions. Respectful relationships are essential (Borba, 2018).
  2. Teachers rated “successfully managing conflict” as the second most important behavior. Irvine (2018) recommends that “teachers use discussions of controversial issues to help their students understand various points of view” (p. 105). She concludes that “these skills and predispositions are fundamental for a responsible, thoughtful, and active citizenry” (Irvine, 2018, p. 105).

Negative Student Behaviors to Address

  1. Teachers rated “sarcasm” as the most negative and prevalent behavior they observed in the classrooms. When students practice verbal aggression, it undermines the victim’s self-esteem, sense of well-being, and productivity.
  2. Teachers rated “inability to take personal responsibility” as the second most negative and prevalent behavior. Unless students become aware of their own responsibility for their actions, they will not hold themselves accountable for their actions.

In the survey, I also asked teachers to identify strategies they used to promote the positive behaviors and minimize the negative behaviors. Their answers varied from simulations to role playing to social justice projects to videos and movies. Many of them also identified the value of incorporating literature. In the article “Learning Character From Characters,” Boyles (2018) agrees that books can be a valuable resource for addressing questions about the ways in which we interact with one another in the classroom. Consider the books below to discuss these key behaviors.

Be Kind, by Pat Zietlow Miller
Key Question: How can we show others that we respect and care for them?
Grades: K–3
Behavior: Respect

Some Places More Than Others, by Renée Watson
Key Question: How can family conflicts be resolved?
Grades: 4–6
Behavior: Conflict resolution

The Undefeated, by Kwame Alexander
Key Question: How do you take personal responsibility for your life?
Grades: 4–6
Behavior: Personal responsibility

Concluding Thoughts

The classroom environment must provide all students with an equal opportunity for success. Literature opens a lens on positive behaviors that support success.  A class reading of The Undefeated, for example, gives students insights into respect and understanding of how others deal with conflict.  Author Kwame Alexander describes overcoming conflict beautifully: “This is for the undeniable.  The ones who scored with chains on one hand and faith in the other” (Alexander, 2019).

Rich literature in the classroom exposes students to values that promote a positive classroom and ultimately a more democratic society. By attending to these key behaviors, identified by seasoned teachers, students can learn how to live and work productively with one another.

By Jeanne Qvarnstrom

Dr. Qvarnstrom is an Associate  Professor of Education at Sul Ross State University in Alpine, Texas. Her research and teaching focus on new teacher training and positive classroom and campus environments.


Alexander, K. (2019). The Undefeated. Boston:  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Boyles, N. (2018). Learning character from characters. Educational Leadership, 76(2), 70–74.

Borba, M. (2018). Nine competencies for teaching empathy. Educational Leadership, 76(2), 22–28.

Irvine Jordan, J. (2018). Teaching in an increasingly polarized society. Kappa Delta Pi Record, 54(3), 103–105. Qvarnstrom, J. (2018). Civility survey. Sul Ross State University.