Teaching in today’s world requires a variety of skills my educator grandmother most likely never faced. Our students enter our classroom as they are and we must become experienced in how to positively affect children who may have childhood trauma, abuse, neglect, poor parenting, or a host of other issues. This can seem like an overwhelming task when we are there to teach, right?
Today’s educators have the ability to shape and change the next generation for better or for worse. What may have been up to the family, the neighborhood, the community in the past often rests on the shoulders of educators in today’s world. Because WE are human beings with our own challenges, issues, and biases; this makes our job seem monumental at times.
Every educator has one or two “types” of kids that they just are not their best with. All educators struggle with the behaviorally, emotionally, or socially challenged student. I had a student many years ago, that despite my true desire to love him and welcome him, I simply did not like him at first. Worse, he knew it! So, one day, I read an article that described how a teacher had put beans in her pocket. Every day, she made it her goal to compliment the student she was struggling with one time for each bean in her pocket. Once she gave the compliment, she moved it to her other pocket. Desperate, because I am normally a “I love ’em all” kind of teacher…I put 5 beans in my pocket. I found that at the beginning, I struggled profoundly to find anything to compliment this student with. The first few days…I would realize shortly before dismissal I still had 4 beans to go. Gradually, my compliments became more authentic and my dislike of this student began to be replaced by a true care for him and what he walked in my door with.
You see, I had forgotten, that every kid walks in your door carrying some stuff. For many kids, their load is pretty light. But for others, the most challenging ones usually, they are weighed down by so much “stuff” that they simply are unable to be a productive member of your classroom community because of it.
As an educator, I have watched colleagues who struggle with taking kids AS THEY ARE when they enter their classroom. There is frustration and anger that the parents have not done their job or the kid must love upsetting everyone or worse yet, is doing it ON PURPOSE! All of those things are probably true to some extent and NONE OF THEM MATTER IN WHAT YOU MUST DO.
You have 2 choices with a challenging kid that are really simple. (1) Keep the beans in your pocket, dislike them, battle them, and every single time YOU, THAT CHILD, and YOUR CLASS will lose. OR (2) Work the steps below to move those beans to the other pocket and find a way to love that kid AS THEY ARE while you help them learn WHAT THEY CAN BE!
The Steps –
- Before you even begin to think about an individual student’s needs and concerns – you need to make sure your classroom community, expectations, and procedures are working for everyone! I suggest you take a quick look back at the article here on the blog “You won’t get the WOW’s if you don’t know the HOW’s” to help with this. Challenging students more than any other need consistency, routine, kindness, and calm in order to begin learning new skills in your room. So make sure, you are truly reflective with yourself about the culture you have in your room before you try to impact a tough student.
- Let them know you care! It is without a doubt, the most important and essential part of making a difference with a challenging student. If they believe you care about them, you have already won half the battle.
- Look at the whole child! What do you know about this kid? Start building a picture in your mind of what you know about them and what things they are carrying into your classroom every day. Here is a great thinking sheet to help you start building a picture of the challenging student beyond their behavior. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1eesN5yavnKMJPB4LzWfnoXyq0C-3K3ZKITIHW12NBs8/edit?usp=sharing
- Identify their needs and growth areas! Once you have taken some time to really reflect on this, you will be able to plan your strategy of attack to help this student change and grow. Academic Learning for the challenging child will take a backseat until you begin systematically replacing poor behaviors that stop everyone from learning with positive behaviors. Here is a great thinking sheet to help you start determining where to begin. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1eesN5yavnKMJPB4LzWfnoXyq0C-3K3ZKITIHW12NBs8/edit?usp=sharing
- REPLACE, REPEAT, AND REWARD! Once you have identified the most significant behaviors in that student’s way, you need to pick a couple to start with and purposefully REPLACE that behavior with a better one. You need to explicitly teach this child the replacement behavior when they are NOT IN TROUBLE! Then, you need to REPEAT, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat (get the point) the replacement behavior with cues, re-teaching, conversations, and consistency. Generally after the “newness” of a replacement behavior wears off, the challenging student may exhibit worse behavior. This is when the repeating of the new behavior calmly and consistently is the most essential. This is typically the point most teachers give up and say “it’s not working”. No – its working really well and the kid is beginning to realize they are going to have to change which scares them. They need you to not give up. Finally, you need to reward when it is working and provide consequences when it is not. I DO NOT MEAN A PHYSICAL REWARD OR BRIBE (like candy, pencils, etc.) I mean reward them every single time they do they right thing with praise, an increased role/job, a positive mark on a behavior plan, or simply with a quick smile that lets them know you care. Be prepared to have a solid consequence that the student KNOWS in advance when it is not working. Here is a link to my favorite book for finding quality replacement behaviors/interventions you can use. https://www.amazon.com/Pre-Referral-Intervention-Manual-Stephen-McCarney/dp/B001NOHFD2/ref=pd_lpo_sbs_14_t_0?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=52PTJ7NV7CYVHMFZTZCJ Literally ANYTHING a child could do/not do in your classroom is in this book with anywhere from 20-150 possible ideas. Pick an idea that matches you, the child, and the way your classroom runs. Feel free to comment below for ideas from our Authentic Teaching community on replacement behaviors. Check out this link on my TPT page for a behavior intervention plan that can make a real difference! https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Student-Behavior-Intervention-Plan-4800875
- Go back to Step 4 and now that your student is improving – pick the next set of behaviors or skills you want to work on. Generally, this is the point at which things begin snowballing and you will start to see things falling into place.
- The last few tips….
- Make sure you are consistently, positively, and honestly communicating with the parents/guardians even if you are unsure of their response or do not get a response.
- Be prepared for setbacks – kids who live in trauma filled situations will have times that life throws them another curveball and their behavior will regress.
- Use the whole team! When I start a new “plan” with a student – I send an email to special area teachers, my team, admin, etc. Everybody should be aware and utilizing the same system as you!
- NEVER battle a student for control – because you are ALWAYS in control. Just because a student is exhibiting behaviors that disrupt and impact your classroom, does not mean you are not in control. Control your reaction while working your plan.
I hope these steps will help you on your journey to dealing with all students, not just the challenging ones. Look for upcoming information on a podcast series on different concerns with a student and ways you might handle it!
In the meantime, remember how pivotal your impact can be on a student that challenges you the most. You never know what seeds you are planting and when they will grow.