Some of the most difficult student relationships to establish and maintain is with our challenging students. 

Truth be told, sometimes challenging students are difficult to like or connect with due to their attitude or the types of misbehaviors they are demonstrating. And if we could, we would probably avoid the student altogether. 


But let’s be real, total avoidance is usually not an option. 

This is where we put on our hero capes (I keep mine in my bag, lol) and lay aside our feelings (even if justified) for the good of the student, ourselves and the classroom environment as a whole. 

I am not saying that it’s easy, but there are a few strategies I have [which I will now share].


This never fails, I ask teachers to share the difficulties and weaknesses of their challenging student and the information just flows.  But if I ask for the strengths or positives of that same student, I get the long pause and blank looks. 

One thing that has helped me develop better relationships with students who challenge me is to find their strengths. Then, I acknowledge their strengths, encourage their strengths and allow students to demonstrate or use their strengths. 

The attention received for what they do well shows students that I see them as more than a problem or an issue that I have to deal with. 


    I truly believe that when a student misbehaves repeatedly and consistently, they are communicating an unmet need. So I intentionally take time to look at their behavior patterns to determine what emotional, social or academic need is not being met.

    I ask myself what is the  student trying to gain or avoid through their behavior?  Once I find the need, I feed the need by applying  strategies that help them get what they need with on-task behavior instead of the off-task behaviors they are used to using. 

    Feeding the needs of my challenging students showed them that I was invested in helping them succeed, thus cultivating a positive relationship.


      I started doing this as an effort to keep from pigeon-holing my students as negative students.  I wanted to change this narrative in my mind, so I created opportunities for us to engage or interact in a positive way. 

      I intentionally invited challenging students to play academic games with me or the small group, work on a student-friendly project or complete a preferred activity.

      Engaging in this way, gave both me and my challenging students a different perspective of each other.  We both grew to like each other outside of the conflict, which ended up decreasing our overall conflicts.




      Positive relationship with your challenging students is very possible. It will take you looking at the whole student and not just keeping them in a box based on their behaviors.  


      Article by Michele Holiday

      Hi, I’m Michele. a Behavior Strategist with over 16 years experience in education and working with students with behaviors. I am on assignment to help you with strategies and solutions so that you can focus on teaching instead of behaviors with confidence.

      I provide FREE classroom and behavior management resources through my website and Instagram page. Also I offer teacher guides and online courses for teachers and professional development workshops for schools so they can thrive, not just survive their school year. 

      Michele Holiday
      The Behavior Strategist for Teachers