Date of Award

Spring 5-23-2021

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Teaching and Leadership


Theoharis, George


Challenging Behavior, Classroom Community, Intersections of Identity

Subject Categories

Education | Special Education and Teaching


There is an established importance of classroom community, particularly for inclusive education (Kunc, 1992; Osterman, 2000; Sapon-Shevin, 2010). There is also a breadth of research around students who are most vulnerable to exclusion and othering in public schools and in classroom settings. Demographic factors such as race, socioeconomic status, native language, and disability status influence and impact who is seen as exhibiting challenging behavior and how specific behavior is responded to. (Connor et al., 2016; Shapiro, 2014; U.S. Department of Education, 2018) Schools are microcosms of the larger society and during the time in which this research took place, there was more police brutality against Black Americans, the inequities connected to COVID-19 have been highlighted further and brought to the forefront of people's lived experiences, and the 2020 presidential election has exposed the deep philosophical divide across (primarily White) America, making it even more imperative to look at how classroom community and challenging behavior are taken up by educators. This study is a critical qualitative inquiry aimed at better understanding how educators conceptualize and operationalize classroom community and challenging behavior including responses to said behavior, the connections they see between the two concepts, and how race and disability impact who is seen as being part of the community and as exhibiting challenging behavior.Classroom community and how behaviors perceived as challenging are responded to are both complex phenomena within a much larger institutional and structural context that also impact and interact with one another. As I worked to research the ways in which responses to challenging behavior and classroom community interact with and impact one another in classroom spaces for students, a Constructivist Grounded Theory for critical qualitative research approach was essential. To aid a critical analysis of multiple interviews from 15 current educators, I employed a DisCrit theoretical lens. The purpose of this study was to better understand how practicing educators conceptualize classroom community and challenging behavior, how educators are supported in supporting students, and how diversity is attended to across these conversations. What quickly emerged is that schools are microcosms of our society at large and that conceptualizations of classroom community and challenging behavior were riddled with racism, ableism, and a lack of consideration of identity and diversity. Among these educator's experiences, there was also a lack of systemic and structural emphasis and support for students with disabilities and students of color. Furthermore, it became clear across participants that work, productivity and contributing were essential to being seen as a member of the community and as being someone who exhibits "appropriate" behavior. Work was used as a gatekeeper of sorts to uphold white hegemonic notions of classroom community and eliminate students from teacher's responsibility and radars. This study starts a needed conversation around educator's conceptualizations of students, in particular student behavior and how adult's responses to challenging behavior are not currently seen as impacting student membership of the classroom community.


Open Access