Naughty Kids Are The Greatest

Naughty kids are one of the greatest aspects of any class.

I genuinely believe this, so much so that I if I hear a certain kid is hard work, a trouble maker or ‘unteachable’ I’ll try to find a way to teach them.

Like Little Johnny who I had during my second and third year teaching. One of his favourite past-times was to punch his desk partner before purposefully falling off his chair, somersaulting across the room, standing up (with hands on hips) and yelling to everyone in the classroom,

“Everyone chillax, I’m still alive!”

Those students keep you on your toes every day. They consistently test your approaches and ways to engage them.

These students are also the ones you always remember. The key reasons we walk into our classrooms each and every day*.

Because, after all, one of our key missions as teachers is to build positive relationships to help every kid believe in themselves.

If you get a kid that believes they can learn, should learn and want to learn…behaviour management normally isn’t a problem. (Though, let’s be honest, some days things just go unexplainably crazy).

Great schools are focused on supporting students to have as many opportunities as possible. Great schools and teachers believe in helping every student better understand themselves now, while also assisting them to see their potential.

In order for students to reach their potential, establishing strong, positive relationships is critical.

How can we connect with those ‘naughty’ kids?

Start by not letting a student’s reputation preceded them. Or, should I say the relationship they had with someone else precede them.

Giving them a clean slate makes a huge difference.

I know. I was one of those “naughty” kids.

Not all the time, just during certain classes.

Those classes where you have no idea what is going on. Or your role is to sit at your desk and be lectured at. Or the classes raining with worksheets (which if you finished early you got…another worksheet).


Even after I finished EVERYTHING you asked, there’s still another worksheet?

Why would I sit down patiently for 40 minutes while a teacher speaks at me? I’ll never forget feeling bored, bursting with questions and excited energy, but never seeming to have the opportunity to have it channeled.

Instead, I remember being told to sit still and wait my turn.

Or those mornings when I was sitting there in a daze fretting over the terrible screaming match parents might have had that morning. During those times I couldn’t listen properly, which then led to a teacher yelling at me about the importance of listening.

This is usually when I would respond with a routine of cheeky, annoying and shifty behaviour.

Why? Because there was no reason to care how the teacher felt. If it seemed like they didn’t care about, or connect with, why would I pretend to care about them?

We need to remember the importance of connecting with our students.

When people feel connected and like they belong they are better able to learn and excel – academically, socially and emotionally.

So, how can we build those connections?

How to build connections with those ‘naughty’ students

Let’s go back to Little Johnny. 

Little Johnny’s potential was bubbling under the surface. His gymnastics and boxing skills aside, he was incredibly funny, quick with quips, puns and rhymes. He was also dealing with a sudden separation of his mum and dad.

He was desperate for attention in whatever form he could get. He needed to stand out.

The easiest way for him to do this was to turn up late and do the opposite of whatever everyone else was doing.

Kids seek out attention, positively or negatively. As the leaders of our classrooms it’s up to us to connect with them and develop a positive relationship if we want to truly assist them.

There is no silver bullet or set of “go to skills” that works for every single kid, every single time. Every new class of students brings new dynamics, attitudes, norms, beliefs and values.

Here’s three things you can start doing from tomorrow:

  1. Choose to invest the time to get to know your students and find out more about them.
  2. Watch and learn from teachers known for having “the best class” or held in high regard by the kids. Ask if you can head in and watch these teachers in action – think of one change you’re looking for in your room and observe your colleague doing this.
  3. Make the choice to give the class, individual students and yourself a fresh start every single day. This one makes a huge difference.

Building these positive relationships takes time. Chances are you don’t have kids out there planning ways to be naughty and push you. It is most likely they haven’t yet crossed that threshold of feeling connected or that they belong in the group yet. They will, just don’t give up on them.

Remember, you’re not in this alone, so speak out to colleagues to get support – no teacher can do it all on their own!

One final thing to help with building relationships with those ‘naughty’ kids

There is one final thing to do while you are investing time into these relationships. It is  to use the expectations of the whole class.

Kids will be rude, inconsiderate or disrespectful at some point. Unfortunately, no one is perfect and while we hold expectations, they will always be broken at one time or another.

Especially during the early stages of a relationship.

While we are building up individual rapport and relationships with our students (and the whole class) there is a huge amount of power, for all involved, in making and upholding clear, consistent and fair expectations as a class.

Involve the class in naming the expectations they believe will help them be successful. Ask them to state what those expectations might sound like, look like or feel like. As the classroom leader, your job isn’t to state the expectations – kids know what is usually expected. Your job is to move away from the “don’ts”  and get them to name the “dos”.

To make expectations clear, we all need to know what we have to do to achieve them. 

Don’t take other’s things’ can becomes ‘Ask before we borrow anything from someone‘. ‘Don’t be mean’ becomes ‘Say things to help or support others’.

Finally, our other job with these expectations is to make clear the impact on others when these expectations are upheld. They allow people to feel heard, valued, safe, like they can take positive risks and like they belong. These expectations allow anyone to learn and discover their potential.

As we get to know our students, and create these strong, positive relationships with them, the behaviour management issues dramatically decrease.

Furthermore, when we spend less time on these unwanted behaviours, we can invest more time on more students. This creates a positive spiral in our rooms as we create a positive classroom culture of belonging and respect.

Which frees us up to live out our purpose: helping every students reach out to achieve their full potential.

But, what about ‘naughty’ Little Johnny?

Ah, Little Johnny? I ended up teaching him for two years and laughed nearly every day (with one or two days of near tears too). He wrote me one of the greatest letters I have ever received in my whole life. The final words in it were “I’ll never forget you and what you did for me”.

After all, that’s why we’re all in this, right? To make a positive impact and help kids achieve their potential now and in the future. All of that started with me making tiny, tiny investments in Little Johnny every day (high fives work a treat!).


*They will also make you want to tear your hair out, scream out loud and need to take a looooooooong walk throughout the year. Focus on what has worked before, how it felt and keep the end goal in sight. Some days will be tough.




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5 Replies to “Naughty Kids Are The Greatest”

  1. Hey Dan, I have not read this one, or last weeks…. Sorry! I’m wondering where you gather the energy from come up with the blog…. Let alone the time and energy for me to read them… Haha Ill get to them……. Eventually grrr

    1. Christine, it’s fantastic to hear that they are meaning something to you! The energy comes from strange and unexpected places…a bit of basketball after work, a lesson going beautifully well, or simply enjoying some fish and chips with the family (which usually leads to many post ideas)! Thanks for being involved and sharing your thoughts!

  2. Ok, so now I’ve read it…

    I’m not an educator, or even an advanced educated person, but working in an environment of ‘educators’ I definitely see the difference in the connection between those who endorse this, and those who are too ignorant to acknowledge this. So much to be said about the adult learning from the student. Your students are lucky, and blessed to have such a motivated, inspirational leader, and I feel blessed to be witness to your teachings…

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