Early Educators’ Perceptions of Behavior

Courtney E. O’Grady, Michaelene M. Ostrosky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We explored how teachers perceived challenging behavior in contrast to behaviors that exemplify social-emotional competence, and how descriptions of behavior varied based on child demographics such as gender, race/ethnicity, and disability status. Using a DisCrit lens, we conducted this study under the assumption that perceptions of behavior may be informed by teachers’ implicit biases. Fourteen preschool teachers shared their perspectives on behaviors they saw in the classroom, as exemplified by descriptions of the two children they considered the most socially-emotionally successful, A/Z, and the two they considered the most challenging, C/E. Children in the A/Z group were 54% female, 46% male, 54% White, 29% Black, and 82% did not receive special education services or need screening. Children in the C/E group were 86% male, 14% female, 46% Black, 36% White, and 75% were either receiving special education services or identified by teachers as needing a referral for screening. Positive A/Z behaviors included being a model, leader, or helper; having good play skills, manners, and verbal skills; and loving to learn. The challenging behaviors for C/E students included being hard to connect with; engaging in physical aggression and defiance; and having communication difficulties and poor self-regulation skills. These findings help us understand the role of implicit bias, systems issues, and the importance of culturally responsive practices in early childhood settings.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalTopics in Early Childhood Special education
StateAccepted/In press - 2023


  • behavior
  • perceptions
  • preschool

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


Dive into the research topics of 'Early Educators’ Perceptions of Behavior'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this