A question that routinely comes up when I discuss challenging behavior with educators is whether the needs of one disruptive student outweigh the needs of the rest of the students in the classroom. Friends, this is simply the wrong question to be asking. And it’s not just a matter of people not asking in the right way.

When it comes to problem students, I often hear educators say, “they are manipulative,” “they want what they want,” or “they know exactly what they are doing!” When we frame a student’s problem behavior like this, we are missing that there is an unresolved issue that they are trying to reconcile the only way they know how.

This question also assumes that the student exhibiting problem behavior needs something significantly different than the rest of the class. Only some minor tweaks to what you are already doing may be what is required.

So, what are those small changes that you can make that will benefit not only the disruptive student who has challenging behavior but the whole class? Here are some suggestions for special education teachers to try.

Declutter your classroom.

If I could send Marie Kondo to your room and help you assess which items spark joy, I would. My family “tidied up” our house a few years ago, and it was an unbelievably freeing experience. I was the kind of teacher that never wanted to throw anything away for fear that I might regret not using it with my students.

A cluttered classroom makes most adults uneasy; it is the same reality for your students—and especially for disruptive students. It wasn’t until I went through every piece of furniture, resource book, hands-on experiment, and classroom decoration and made some hard decisions about what I kept that my room looked and felt like a place I wanted to be.