Sunday, February 14, 2016

Our Most Challenging Students

As an educator for over 40 years, I've seen my share of behaviorally-challenged students. Some were as young as kindergarten, and others were older. They are the ones who needed to be removed from the classroom because their behavior disrupted teaching and learning or who bolted from or left the classroom without permission, eliciting a sometimes-frantic "Code Nike."

Most students do comply with the rules of school. A reprimand and communication between the teacher and parent usually has its intended consequence, and students realize that we have rules because we want a safe and nurturing learning environment.

It's that small 1-2% of students who are the most challenging, who make up the bulk of our disciplinary referrals, and who often require a team effort to get that child to a frame of mind where he/she is ready to get back to learning.

As part of our Positive Behavior Intervention System, we do our best to ensure a classroom culture where students work and succeed together. A classroom teacher has challenges, and making sure that everyone is engaged and learning takes special skills. It can be especially difficult when one student takes up so much individualized attention because of his/her disruptive behavior.

I certainly don't have all the answers, but my experiences as a parent, grandparent, teacher, youth sports coach, and administrator have taught me a few things about working with our most difficult young children.
  • I believe that all children want to be loved. Unfortunately, some children come from backgrounds without the kind of love most of us knew growing up or they have been hurt or "abandoned" before and don't want to be hurt again. The result is that these children don't know how to accept love or to give love in return. Our job as educators is to not give up on these challenging children. If we can break through their tough exterior, we may help them realize that there are people who care and who want them to succeed. 
  • Children need boundaries and rules. Rules help us to feel safe. School is a great place for students to learn that there are rules to be followed, and that there are consequences when we don't follow those rules. Consequences don't have to be punitive; natural consequences work as well as or better than negative consequences in many situations.
  • Children know when someone likes them or not. As adults, we need to separate the child from his/her actions. We may not like what they did, but we still like them as a person. 
  • We recommend giving 6 positive comments to every negative comment. Sometimes, that can be difficult to implement, but our most challenging students are the ones who need the most positive affirmations. We should make a special effort to catch those students when they are doing what is expected and show them our appreciation.  
  • Examining and analyzing the data as a team can help us to figure out what might be triggers and create a plan to teach appropriate strategies to eventually extinguish negative behaviors. Being proactive rather than reactive can make a difference, not only for the student but for the sometimes-frustrated and exhausted staff as well.
  • Our counselors, behavioral therapists, resource teachers, grade level colleagues, and administrators should all be a part of a challenging child's safety net. We should know which children to check up on from the time they enter in the morning until the time the day is over. "Hey, how are you doing? How's it going?" from multiple staff members sends a message to the child that people care.
As a school with a highly transient student population, we don't necessarily know the child's history before they enroll at our school. Cumulative records don't always tell the whole story about a student. Often, a child with major behavioral challenges is also struggling academically. The question then is, "Which do we address first? Behavior or academics?" Our support team has come to the conclusion that we need to address both behavior and academics through targeted and focused interventions. Addressing behavioral challenges may mean that the student is more willing to put forth effort on academic tasks, and when the student is more successful academically, we may see fewer behavioral incidents.

In my 40+ years as an educator, we have had a few students who needed more intensive services than what we could provide at the school level. However, we have had many more stories of those who may have had challenging behaviors but through a system of support, were able to become more successful. Those are the students who taught me the most, I think, about working as a team, having perseverance and never giving up on a kid. 

1 comment:

  1. Excellent blog Mrs. Iwase. I really like the phrase/technique of separating the child from their behaviors. Another one I like was said by Maya Angelou and we've all probably heard it before...

    ..."“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

    Thanks Jan for such a poignant message.