When we are thinking about ‘function drives behaviour’ and how it applies to human beings, we are thinking about it from the perspective of the Nurture Principles, number five being:

All Behaviour is Communication.

So the question is, what are they communicating? Or in other words, what is the function of that behaviour? What need isn’t being met in that moment?

Behaviour is communication. When it’s ‘bad’ behaviour, we don’t want to see it framed as a bad choice. When it’s ‘good’ behaviour, we recognise and reward but we don’t consider that the reason they are able to behave in that way is because their needs are being met and the boundaries are consistent

Take the chair swinger extraordinaire, we all know one, that student who just can’t seem to help themselves. Why is it that they are swinging? Could it be a sensory need? Is it that the rocking motion is soothing? Does the student struggle with proprioception and being in motion helps them feel connected to their body? Are they distracted and absentmindedly exploring another plane of existence?

The solution to this problem could be as simple as moving the student to a desk with a wall close behind them, they can rock on their chair without the risk of crashing backwards into a desk. Maybe they need a wobble cushion? Would doing the session standing up provide an outlet for their energy? Perhaps they feel more grounded working on the floor? We have the luxury of being able to find creative and personalised solutions for our students because we work with them in small numbers or even one to one.

The least aversive correction coupled with an understanding of what our students are trying to communicate with us through their behaviour adds up to, in my opinion, a restorative practice. 

If the behaviour has reached crisis point, this kind of thinking might not help you in the moment, but it may help you unpack what happened and how you can slow down and/or prevent escalation in your session.

Sometimes, just reframing behaviour in this way can help us react more rationally to a developing situation. As an observer we don’t need to take what the student is saying or doing personally, it isn’t about us anymore, it’s an answer to a question. What are you communicating? What do you need?


For anybody who has had even the smallest interaction with me via the Qualified Tutor Community, you will have probably gleaned two things.

  1. Mary Myatt’s Ted Talk is my favourite. I think she’s fabulous, because she approaches learning from a research based perspective, is willing to have challenging conversations and backs it all up with science
  2. Reading Paul Dix’s book, When the Adults Change, Everything Changes, was a watershed moment for me in terms of behaviour management

If you haven’t read it, I thoroughly recommend it as an essential read, followed swiftly by his second book which I am currently midway through. 

“Behaviour management” has the potential to be a divisive topic because our experiences of it can end up being intertwined with our own emotions. Consistent, calm adult behaviour is something that Paul Dix advocates for. That doesn’t mean that adults are centres of zen 24/7, it means that when a child crosses a boundary the response is appropriate and proportionate.

Paul Dix and others advocate for alternative solutions to detentions/isolations/thumbscrews et al. with pathways and consequences that are restorative. Instead of shutting a student out, the suggestion is to bring them in, usually by providing a restorative opportunity that helps strengthen or rebuild an unstable or under-developed relationship.