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Essential Behavioral Skills for Students

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Essential Behavioral Skills for Students

Educators are making a renewed commitment to defining a viable academic curriculum within a grade level or course that all students will master. In some respects, next-generation standards in states and provinces are providing the motivation and opportunity for these endeavors. Depth is favored over breadth; quality over quality, mastery over coverage. Educators are prioritizing standards, ensuring that adequate time and attention is devoted to the most critical learning that students must possess. Teams are ever-more clearly defining what mastery of prioritized content and skills looks like and sounds like. When articulated horizontally and vertically, this collaboration allows for collective professional preparation and ensures that all students are optimally prepared for the next grade level or course. These processes are not new. From Understanding by Design (Wiggins, McTighe, Kiernan, & Frost, 1998) to Curriculum Mapping (Hayes Jacobs, 2004) to Rigorous Curriculum Design, (Ainsworth, 2010), schools have long recognized that a Guaranteed, Viable Curriculum (Marzano, 2001) is one of the most critical factors contributing to high levels of student learning; in light of next-generation standards, the collaborative staff process of scoping and sequencing prioritized learning outcomes is more important than ever.

Student engagement through problem solving and critical thinking, within academic and behavioral domains, is further enhanced through instructional strategies. According to Hattie (2009), a teacher's ability to: identify essential representations of the subject; guide learning through classroom interactions; monitor learning and provide feedback; attend to affective attributes; and influence student outcomes; each had an effect size of 1.00. Educators are utilizing a range of instructional strategies that require critical thinking, serving as a model learner, offering constructive assistance, and employing strategies, materials, and technological tools to maximize learning. 

This section is simple: We must apply this very same thinking, and complete this very same work, for the pro-social and pro-functional behaviors that we want all students to exhibit. These behaviors are critical to the establishment of physically and emotionally safe learning environments. We must collaboratively identify, describe and define, and scope and sequence these behaviors in our teams and with all staff across the school. In fact, defining and teaching behaviors will require more consistency and collaboration than even defining and teaching academics; expectations for student behavior apply no matter the student’s grade, no matter the staff member with which the student is working, and no matter the environment within the school.

A simple process is provided below for identifying key behaviors that staff believes are most critical and relevant. We also provide tools for defining and describing what these behaviors look like and sound like. First, we offer a suggestion for behavioral skills that schools may prioritize. 

The suggestion for behavioral priorities that follow is a suggestion only; we strongly recommend that staffs analyze their students’ needs and the essential behaviors that they feel will best prepare students for the next year of schooling and for life. 

We have categorized behavioral priorities into pro-social and pro-functional behaviors. Pro-social behaviors are those expectations that have historically been the focus of schoolwide behavioral plans. We introduce a second category, pro-functional behaviors, to distinguish “learning behaviors” that have less often been a priority of plans from the more common pro-social behaviors. We certainly recognize that there is much in common between these two behavioral categories. We use pro-functional to represent the skills that encompass behaviors variously known as self-regulation, executive functioning, social-emotional learning, 21st century skills, soft skills, non-cognitive skills, or academic behaviors. Like pro-social behaviors, pro-functional behaviors are critical across all grade levels and content areas; student success at learning and applying these behaviors will be greatly enhanced by consistency across all staff members. Pro-functional behaviors focus on those skills that more directly relate to the tools students must employ to monitor and regulate their learning. This hidden curriculum is critical to success in K-12, at university, and in life, and yet it’s been too often missing from our schools. 


Pro-Social Behaviors


Behavioral Priority

Misbehavior Associated with the Priority

Brief Description







Interacting within learning environments and with others positively; collaborating responsibly with others in diverse teams



Social respect




Complying with expectations; managing relationships; guiding and leading others awareness of emotions



Physical respect




Demonstrating care and concern for the physical being and space of others



Verbal respect


Inappropriate language


Using kind, positive and supportive words; communicating clearly and persuasively







Ability to control oneself physically and verbally; responsible decision making







Physical, cognitive, and emotional presence at school





Lying/ cheating/ stealing


Truthfulness in relationships and learning





Emotional fragility


Techniques for regulating responses to situations; reflecting upon reasons of success or failure and seeking help; adapting to change; flexibility





Harassment/ bullying


Consideration of others’ situations; conscientiousness; awareness of social situations


Pro-Functional Behaviors


Behavioral Priority

Misbehavior Associated with the Priority

Brief Description



Metacognitive practices





Knowledge and beliefs about thinking; problem solving; thinking creatively and critically;; self-awareness



Growth mindset and positive self-concept


Fixed mindset and negative self-talk


Viewing learning as continuous and intelligence as malleable; optimism; belief in oneself



Self-monitoring/ internal locus of control

External loci of control

Ability to plan, prepare, and proceed; analyzing and evaluating findings and viewpoints; monitoring progress and confirming the precision of work



Engagement/ motivation


Ability to maintain interest and drive; setting short-term and long-term goals; focusing on an interest or career pathway or major



Strategy creation

and use

Passive learning

Employing techniques for construction, organization, and memorization of knowledge; utilizing memorization techniques, study skills, technology skills, and problem-solving strategies



Volition & perseverance




Efforts needed to stay motivated; managing progress toward goals, projects, effort, and time; self-directed learning; working independently







Ability to focus, even when presented with distractors



The behavioral priorities that teams select are not as important as the selection of a viable quantity of priorities and the commitment of staff, students, and stakeholders fully and purposefully define, model, teach, and track them.

© 2016. Chris Weber Education. Design by Cleverbirds.