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Beyond Functions of Behavior: Innovageous Suggestions for Compassionate Behavior Support

According to behavior science, there are 4 reasons for behavior: to escape or avoid something, to get attention, to gain access to an item or activity you like, or to fulfill a sensory need. In Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), these are called the 4 functions of behavior, and they are often used by behavior analysts and educators to understand and respond to challenging behaviors. However, creating a positive, person-centered learning environment requires going beyond the 4 functions of behavior. It requires taking a deeper look at the 6 Core Yearnings of human behavior in order to not just respond to challenging behavior, but also proactively put in place strategies that build skills and positive experiences for all learners. Based on the research of Dr. Steven Hayes, and grounded in the evidence-based practice of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), the 6 Core Yearnings are fundamental desires and psychological needs of all humans. By recognizing them in addition to the 4 functions, we can reframe behaviors in classrooms as means of communicating these wants and needs. Check out the Innovageous recommendations below for implementing compassionate behavior support aligned to each of the 6 Core Yearnings, and download the Innovageous Core Yearnings Poster for your classroom.

Coherence - the desire for things to make sense

  • Establish clear rules or expectations

  • Provide frameworks, categories, and/or graphic organizers

  • Learn about and build on students’ background knowledge

  • Implement culturally responsive teaching that aligns to students’ lived experiences and cultural worldview

  • Explicitly teach and use cognitive routines for students to make sense of new learning

Feeling - the desire to feel fully and authentically

  • Name and validate a wide variety emotions (not just the “good” ones)

  • Implement regular check-ins

  • Support learners in identifying their emotions and choosing healthy options to express them

  • Provide a space for reflecting and coping with strong emotions

  • Be accepting of all emotions

  • Take a look at our emotional regulation blog and resources related to this Core Yearning here

Orientation - the desire to be aware of our surroundings and present in the moment

  • Post and go over the schedule regularly

  • Set a timer so learners are aware of how much time is left

  • Hang up signs and labels in the environment that allow students to locate the doors, bathrooms, and other important spaces

  • Keep the space clean and organized

  • Provide time for reflection and mindfulness

Self-Directed Meaning - the desire to have agency, independence, and free will

  • Provide opportunities for learners to choose how they will engage in the learning

  • Allow students to share explanations of their work in their own words

  • Gather feedback from learners and share how you put that feedback into practice

  • Embrace and encourage growth mindset

Belonging - the desire to be connected to others and included

  • Affirm and welcome diversity of thought and experiences

  • Plan community-building activities

  • Implement anti-bullying and anti-harassment policies and programs

  • Allow time for learners to share about their families and lives outside of school

  • Incorporate collaborative or group activities

  • Invite families and caregivers to participate in the learning environment

  • Gather feedback from learners and share how you put that feedback into practice

  • Get to know your learners and their families and caregivers

Competence - the desire to be good at what we are doing and feel successful

  • Use high-quality and effective teaching strategies

  • Understand developmentally-appropriate expectations for learning

  • Provide prompting and scaffolds that allow students to experience small successes

  • Provide strengths-based feedback

Innovageous Co-Founder, Alicia Woolf, is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) and special education leader with 15 years of experience working with children in inclusive settings. Look out for more information about our Early Learning Behavior Support Series launching in June 2023, or email to learn more about how we can support your school with classroom management, compassionate behavior support, and more.


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