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As a principal of an alternative school, I work with middle and high school students who have been caught with drugs, who have out-of-control behavior, or have mental health issues. I’m often asked how I “control” the students. I’m asked what consequences I use. I’m asked how we MAKE them behave.
Well, I do none of those things!
I take the time to get to know each student. I want to know favorite hobbies/sports/friends. We talk football, hunting, movies, (I cannot talk music…clueless) etc. I share stories about my family. We play games (designed to improve brain processing) and laugh and laugh.
Each student should be heard! S/he has something positive to offer. Adults just need to take time to listen or help the student find it. The other day one of my new students thanked the staff for what we do. He said, “You really do care about us!” You’ve heard the saying, “A student needs to know how much you care before he cares how much you know.” Once I establish a good relationship, the student is going to be receptive to my requests for improved behavior.
Below, Randy Sprick has a simple outline on how to positive interact with students:
Interact positively with students. This involves three different skills.
A. Interact in a welcoming manner with every student.
Say hello, use students’ names
Show an interest in students—listen, converse.
B. Provide age appropriate, non-embarrassing positive feedback.
C. Strive to interact more frequently with every student when s/he is engaged in positive behavior than when s/he is engaged in negative behavior.
- Some students are starved for attention.
- What you pay the most attention to is what will occur more frequently in the future.
- Strive for at least 3:1 positive to negative ratios.
Designing Positive School-Wide Discipline Plans
Randy Sprick, Ph.D.
One of the ways I pay attention to appropriate/positive behavior is by rewarding students with Positive Reinforcement Coupons. Even middle and high school students love the rewards. Here are few examples of the coupons:
I made coupons that can be printed in black and white (saves $$$).
The coupons can be printed or copied on colorful paper for middle and high school students. Yes, these are the same coupons above…just printed on colorful paper! This method lets the student write his name on the back in case it gets misplaced.
There are also some very cute coupons designed for elementary students. Students can take the coupon home to show their parents.
I also made colorful coupons that can be laminated and reused for middle and high school students. Although it does cost more initially, the long-term cost is minimal because the coupons are reused.
The most important thing is pay attention to the student when s/he is being good!
Dear Mrs. Davis,
You were my second grade teacher at Arapaho Elementary School in Richardson, Texas. The year, 1965. I really don’t remember much about what you taught me, outside of the Planets Song, but I remember how you made me feel…Loved. You were old, plump, and wore horn-rimmed glasses. Chances are, you have passed away, but as another school year looms on the horizon, I want to let you know how much you helped me through a difficult time with your simple kindnesses. I have never forgotten.
In April of 1966, when my daddy unexpectedly died of a heart attack, I missed two weeks of school. My mother and I travelled to Alabama to join the rest of my family to bury my daddy. When we returned home, I was nervous about returning to school. I felt like I had a big neon sign over my head that flashed “My daddy died! My daddy died!” and worried about how my classmates were going to treat me. Would they ask me questions? Would they avoid me like I had the plague? But you eased my fears by giving me a book, “Love is a Special Way of Feeling”, by Joan Walsh Anglund. Inside the cover, you wrote in most excellent print, “We love you, Pam.” Underneath your name were the printed signatures (after all, we hadn’t learned cursive yet) of my 24 classmates. Receiving this book before I returned to school let me know that I was welcome and I was loved. You have no idea how much that simple gesture made me feel. Even though my classmates may not have fully understood what was going on, having their signatures in the book under the comment “we love you” was, well, incredible.
The last month of school was good, but as a result of my daddy’s death, you knew I was moving to Alabama at the end of the school year. On the last day of school, as we all cleaned out our desks and said our goodbyes, you gave me my second gift, a going away present. Right before I left, you handed me a worn copy of “The Miracle Worker” by William Gibson. You told me that it was your son’s book but you wanted me to have it because I was moving to the state where this amazing woman and her teacher lived, where this beautiful story of strength and courage took place. It was several years before I was able to read the book but knowing that it meant a lot to you made me look forward to reading it.
I suspect you repeated this type of gesture numerous times throughout your career for a variety of reasons due to student needs. But that never entered my mind. What entered my mind is that I was loved by you at a time when I needed to feel loved. I have never forgotten, and I am still grateful.
I love you,
Here is a free handout, TEN TIPS FOR TEACHERS: SUPPORTING A GRIEVING STUDENT, that is useful for classroom teachers, guidance counselors, and school psychologists.
When one door of happiness closes, another opens,
but often we look so long at the closed door that we
do not see the one that has been opened up for us.
When I was Behavior Consultant in my school district, one of my duties was to review the office referral data in all the schools. I noticed the administrators were overwhelmed with the number of students being sent to the office for disciplinary reasons. In one school, students were sent to the office for chewing gum or not having a pencil in class!
Goodness! I was amazed that the administrator had to deal will all kinds of behavior…chewing gum, having no pencil, horseplaying, name calling, bullying, cussing, fighting, etc. Because he had such high numbers of students to discipline, he spent approximately 2 minutes per student. He was simply reacting to the issues as he did not have time to effectively change behavior. This administrator had no time to help with curriculum or any other school issue. He managed student behavior ALL DAY! YUCK!
Following best practice and guidelines of Positive Behavior Instructional Support, Kentucky Center for Instructional Discipline and other proactive experts, I developed Levels of Behavior for our district.
Level 1 behaviors are minor behaviors that the teacher can handle in class. If a student is chewing gum, have him spit it out if it is against your school’s policy. Better yet, let him chew the gum. Chewing gum helps some students focus. If a student doesn’t have her materials, the teacher can loan her a pencil. Other minor Level 1 behaviors include: cheating, running in the hall, talking in class, off task, etc.
Let’s jump to Level III behaviors. They are severe behaviors. Level III behaviors are illegal acts, physically dangerous acts, or severe acts of defiance. Level III behaviors include: alcohol, drugs, vandalism, fighting, inciting violence, etc. The administrator is immediately involved. Often the School Resource Officer must also be involved. If the behavior is illegal, court involvement may follow.
Level II behaviors are the moderate behaviors. Office Referral paperwork is entered for future data analysis. The administrator talking directly with the child is optional. Whether or not the child sees the principal depends on the behavior. A third tardy may automatically have the consequence without the involvement of the principal. On the other hand, a student with an office referral for harassment/teasing/threatening should definitely speak to the principal.
By understanding the different levels of behavior, staff is better prepared to manage behavior. The administrator will now have the time to address Level II and Level III behaviors. The administrator can work with the student who has been disrespectful to a teacher and who may have underlying issues which are causing stress. The administrator will also have time to work on long range goals for school improvement.
My Levels of Behavior can be downloaded for free. Use it to develop your own levels. Stop by next month, I’ll show you how to turn the levels of behavior into an office referral form.
Does it seem like your student explodes instantly?
Actually there are many signs before an explosion. This handout, The Cycle of Anger, will help you and the student recognize these signs in order to avoid the explosion.
Step 1: High Risk Situations-this identifies what was going on and where the student was when the problem started. By analyzing this data, you may notice a student always has a problem in a specific activity (math, PE, free time, etc.) or in a certain location (bathroom, hallway, music class, etc.).
Step 2: The Trigger-what happened that triggered a student? What set him off? It could be as simple as the teacher giving a direction or another student making a face.
Step 3: How are you feeling? The student’s body is giving him signals. At first, it will be difficult for the student to recognize these signals. You need to pay attention and help him identify what his body is doing. It may be increased breathing, increased heart rate, tightening of the jaw, tapping fingers on desk, etc.
Step 4: EXIT-this the first opportunity to get off the cycle of anger. What can the student do to avoid blowing up? The de-escalation strategies listed here should be want works for this student. Don’t just make a generic list. What specifically will work for this one student?
Step 5: How are you feeling now? This is similar to step 3. It’s recognizing body signals. The signals may be huffing and puffing breaths, slumped body in chair or rigid body, grumbling, etc.
Step 6: EXIT-the student has another opportunity to get off the cycle of anger. Again, what can the student do to avoid blowing up? He may need to take a walk, take a time out, etc.
Step 7: Harmful Behavior. This is what happens when the student does not use an exit behavior and get off the cycle of anger. It’s an unacceptable behavior. It may be talking back, slamming a book, fighting or threatening others. The harmful behavior will following with discipline.
Step 8: How can you avoid the problem next time? This is the whole reason for processing behavior. Step 8 should connect to Step 1. You want to encourage the student to avoid high risk situations.
Once I had a 4th grader who would yell, knock over chairs and desks. In the heat of the moment, I could only hope to contain the student to keep everyone safe. After he calmed, we reviewed what happened. We used the Cycle of Anger to help process what happened. We discovered his body was giving him signals…he squinted his eyes and squeezed his lips tightly when getting angry. We finished the worksheet and he had a consequence for his outburst. Days later, he started to get angry…his eyes squinted, his lips squeezed in a line. Because we had analyzed his behavior and body signals earlier, I was able to point out what his body was telling him. I let him know that this is the time to make good decisions (take 10 deep breaths, etc). He was surprised and was able to stop his explosion. This was a wonderful breakthrough; it was the first time he changed his behavior! We praised him and he was happy. Several days later, he again was getting angry. When he squinted his eyes and squeezed his lips, he gasped when he recognized what his body was telling him! He was able to change his behavior on his own!!! He had very few disruptions after understanding his outbursts and being able to control them.
Just the other day, a young lady in high school used the Cycle of Anger after just one introduction to it. It was her first day our program. I reviewed the Cycle of Anger and explained part of the program is understanding behavior in order to control it. Later that day, she was irritated by a boy in class. She told me she remembered the Cycle of Anger and instead of “going off”, she closed her eyes and took slow calming breaths. Now THAT’S excellent control!
IMPORTANT: In order for time out to work, you must first understand the function of the student’s behavior. If his behavior is to avoid work, then time out is giving him what he wants. Make sure he has the skill to perform the task and try to motivate the student.
- The location of your time out should be in an area you can easily supervise and is not in view of other students. Some students are embarrassed and need privacy to recover. Some will enjoy disrupting others and try to create a power and control battle with you. I always made my time out spot with a sturdy shelf (would not turn over) against a wall with room for a beanbag, or file cabinet and beanbag, or 3-sided wall partition and a bean bag. This is NOT an isolated time out room. There are specific laws about isolation rooms and, frankly, I don’t believe they belong in school.
- My rules were:
- I don’t hear you.
- I don’t see you (means student stays in time out spot).
- Time out is 2 minutes.
These rules are unusual in that they are negative and go against the “dead man rule” (if a dead man can do it, it’s not a good rule). However, I did not care if the student was rolling on the floor, hiding under the beanbag (happened often), was trying to stand on his head, or was lying on his back with feet in the air. I did not want to engage in a power struggle on how to sit in time out. I just want him to stay in the time out spot and to be quiet in order to not disrupt the rest of the class. That’s all. The general rule for minutes in time out is 1 minute per age of the child. I found two minutes was usually enough. If a child was calm and compliant in two minutes, why wait another 6 minutes just because he was 8 years old? If a child was not compliant in two minutes, I waited until he was compliant. Sometimes that would take several minutes, but I would check on him every two minutes. It sounds time consuming but it is not. Takes seconds.
- On a desk or shelf outside the time out spot is a basket with Time Out Notes and pencils.
- When the child is ready to follow directions, he steps out to get one Time Out Note and a pencil. He goes back into the time out area to fill out the note. The first line, “I chose time out when,” helps the child understand he had a choice and it was his behavior that led to time out. The next line, “next time I will,” helps him choose a replacement behavior. The next line, “I need to apologize to,” helps the child understand his behavior affected someone else and he needs to correct that. Some adults feel a child should only apologize if the apology is sincere. I think it is good practice to apologize whether it’s sincere or not. When a student is still agitated, he may yell out for help or complain he doesn’t understand the Time Out Note. This is another sign he is not yet compliant. Calmly tell him you will help when he is in time out quietly for 2 minutes.
- The student does not choose when to come out of time out. The teacher invites the student to return by giving the student a request, “Sam, come talk to me, please.” DO NOT ASK “Are you ready to follow directions?” or “Are you ready to come out of time out?” Some of your toughest kids will be ready to come out of time out but are not ready to be compliant. When I request a student to come talk to me, I am observing if he is being resistant or compliant. I often will also give a quick request as he is walking towards me (“Please push in that chair”, “Please bring me that book,” “Please throw that paper in the garbage”). This is to give the student practice following my directions. I can immediately assess if he is going to be complaint by doing that. If he is not compliant, I simply tell him it seems he is not ready and send him back to time out. Sometimes you will have a student who refuses to come out of time out. That’s ok. He’s just trying to get in a power struggle. Don’t play. Just tell him you will check on him in a couple of minutes…then ignore him. He eventually will get tired of being in time out and will be willing to be compliant.
- After you and the child quickly review the Time Out Note together, politely tell the child what he needs to do to get back engaged in class. For example, “Joe, after you apologize to Bob, join the blue group for this science project.” You want to make sure you help the student be successful.
- Some students need time out often. That’s ok. Four 2-minute time outs are better learning experiences than one 20-minute time out. I remember when I sent a student to time out for the fifth time, he yelled, “I’m sick of time out!” I calmly responded, “Then simply follow directions.” That was his last visit to time out.
- There is absolutely no justification for a teacher to be angry when putting a student in time out. Nor should a teacher feel like she “got him”. Time out is not a matter of the teacher winning and the student losing. If you have these feelings, you are misusing time out. Time out is an absence of reinforcement. It is an opportunity for the student to recover and change his behavior. So, when a student returns to the class, he has a clean slate.
- File the Time Out Note. This data can be graphed for analysis.
I heard that a number of times when students were lining up in my classroom. One of the worst possible crimes in elementary school is when a student cuts in line! Oh my! Other crimes while lining up were pushing, crowding, elbowing, complaining, name calling, etc.
It is tough to get 25 young children to line up quickly and peacefully. Soooo I developed the Stand-On Footprints to help students line up.
The footprints give a specific spot to put feet. While standing, there are many math skills available for incidental learning. The top left corner has the numeral and the number word in English. The top right corner has the numeral and the number word in Spanish. Between the feet are the ordinal number and ordinal number word in English. Below the ordinal number word is the number in Roman Numerals. At the bottom of the page is the number represented in dots. The Stand-On Footprints also have a color pattern: blue, green, blue, green…. Whew, this one piece of paper is full of math concepts!
I taught ordinal numbers using the stand-on prints. “Bob, stand in 4th place. Sue, stand in 8th place, etc.” While waiting in line, my students kept busy looking at the numerals below, number words, and counting dots. It simplified lining up AND my students learned additional math skills in the process.
If you have a class that needs high structure, give each student an assigned number. Students will not have to jostle around to find a spot. You can spend less time directing and correcting students and spend more time reinforcing positive behavior and teaching math concepts.
Simply print out Stand-On Footprints on a color printer, laminate, and tape to the floor. There are many different types of decorative duct tape available at your local home store. I find sticking the tape to your clothing before sticking to the floor lets you remove the tape without leaving residue. Decorate your floor, improve your students’ math skills and reduce conflicts in line with Stand-On Footprints!
Weeelll…I’m going to cause a stir…I’m just going to say it…I do not think the flip card (color card) system for classroom management works! There! I said it! Classroom teachers, stay with me…
Here are the systems I’ve seen: Each student has 5 colors in order (often blue, green, yellow, orange, and red) in a pouch with his name. When he misbehaves, the teacher tells the student to flip a card. When the card gets to red, it’s a trip to the principal and a call home. Another system I heard about had rainbows, sun, raindrops, storm clouds, and even lightning bolts. Whew! Some teachers attach rewards/consequences to the various colors…trip to the treasure box if you stay on blue, walk at recess if you are on orange, etc.
Now for the huge majority of students, the flip card system works. However…and here is the problem…it does not work for the student with chronic misbehavior. You can add the whole range of ROY G BIV and it still won’t work. I know. I’ve tried it. I have tried multiple ways to make the teacher’s current flip card system work for the student with chronic misbehavior. It was frustrating, and a huge waste of time. Also, for the majority of students, a simple redirection is all that needed. The leveled system, such as the flip cards, is not necessary. So why use a system that doesn’t work with students that have the toughest behaviors and the other students don’t need?
Let me introduce you to Thomas Phelan’s 1,2,3 Magic! I absolutely love it! It is a behavior management system designed for children 2-12 years of age. By the way, I am NOT affiliated with this company. I get nothing from them. I just absolutely think it is the best system I have ever used, and I want to share it with you!
I have used 1,2,3 Magic with my self-contained elementary students with severe behavior. I’ve used it with my resource students who have learning disabilities. I’ve help regular elementary teachers implement it in their classrooms very successfully. I’ve used it with my three children! I even used it with a 14 year old with the maturity level of a 12 year old to teach him to stop talking back—it worked!
I was watching the 1,2,3 Magic video to refresh my memory with my teenage daughter. She said, “I hate that!” I was shocked and asked why. She replied, “Because when you said ‘That’s one’, I knew you meant it and I HAD to follow directions.” She was correct. When I followed the guidelines of 1,2,3 Magic, I did mean it.
The system sounds simple, but you must fully understand the potential pitfalls in order to implement it well. When the child is doing something you want him to stop, look at him and calmly say, “That’s one.” You continue teaching/washing dishes. You are giving the child the opportunity to comply. If you stare at him, the child may perceive that as a challenge and misbehave more. If he stops, you may thank him. If he continues to act out, calmly say, “That’s two.” Again, give him the opportunity to comply. If he continues, say, “That’s three. Time out.” Dr. Phelan says, “That’s three. Take five (minutes of time out).”
The absolutely hardest part of this system is getting the ADULT to STOP TALKING! You cannot say, “See I told you if you continued, I’d count” or “I’ll count again if you don’t stop running around” or “2 and a half, 2 and three quarters….” When I found myself too emotional or too talkative, I stopped immediately and tried to remember the rules Dr. Phelan outlined.
One time, I was talking with a contractor in my house and my 9 year old daughter was being a bit of a nuisance. After one minor disruption from her, I quickly looked at her and calmly said, “That’s one” and continued talking with the contractor. My daughter quieted immediately and after a few minutes wandered off to play. The contractor asked what that was. He knew something happened but could not figure it out. That is what I like about it. I did not embarrass my daughter. I did not engage her in a power struggle. I simply gave her an opportunity to behave. She did. My daughter is now working in day care and guess what system she is using? 1,2,3 Magic! Love it!
When I taught in the classroom, I had a designated spot for time out. It was often a beanbag on the floor behind a file cabinet or a 3-sided wall partition in the corner of the room. It was always where I could easily supervise but not visible to other students and away from distractions (manipulatives, window, doorway, etc). Outside the time out spot, I had Time Out Notes. This was a way to keep data on who was in time out, when and how long. It was also a learning tool for the child. When the child felt he was ready to follow directions, he stepped out to get the Time Out Note and a pencil (of course, I noticed when he did this). I would request the student to come talk to me. The Time Out Note was the basis for our 2 minute conversation on the misbehavior. I filed the note for future data use.
When people say time out doesn’t work, it’s usually adult misuse that causes its failure. Check out 1,2,3 Magic (I now give it as a baby shower gift!) and Time Out Note.
My daughter called the other day to lament on her difficult day in her day care class with 2 ½ year olds. It seemed like she had a day of “NOs” and “don’t do that” and “keep your hands to yourself”. You know that kind of day…we’ve all had them. After a day like that I feel grumpy; the kids feel grumpy…no one is having fun. Soooo what to do…
Have you heard the saying, “The behavior you give the most attention to is the behavior most often repeated.” Think about that…. If you are having a day when you are disciplining or redirecting all day, you could possibly be reinforcing the inappropriate behavior! YIKES!
Research shows we are to give 6 positive interactions for every single negative interaction. Are you doing that? When I was a behavior consultant observing teacher/student interactions, I rarely saw a 6:1 ratio of positive to negative interactions. Think of your most challenging student. How many times do you redirect her? If you are redirecting her, you are paying attention to inappropriate behavior. Now don’t get frustrated with me yet. Yes, you must redirect her. Absolutely! NOW are you making sure you are giving her 6 INTERACTIONS WHEN SHE IS DOING SOMETHING APPROPRIATELY? That’s the trick!
How do you get that many more positive interactions? LOOK FOR THEM! When she enters the room, greet her warmly. If she puts her backpack away, praise her. Get others in the school to notice her appropriate behaviors. Once I had a 5th grade student who was a behavior challenge so I developed a plan where 5 different people greeted him and chatted with him every morning BEFORE BREAKFAST. We were loading up for the day. It helped!
As my daughter and I talked, I recommended she get a “magic wand”. You know, the kind you buy with the Halloween costumes or in the toy section. Every time a child does something appropriately “ching” him on the head. Yes, you have to say, “ching”.
My daughter bought the magic wand and fancied it up with some ribbon (that’s her with her magic wand in the picture). The first day she tried it, the kids responded wonderfully! When a child asked to be “chinged on the head” (one child tapped her head and said, “head, head”), my daughter would tell them to do something nice like _____. The whole atmosphere in the room was now a positive fun place to be…for everyone!
Now, don’t make the mistake I made when I first used the magic wand. I had a group of kindergarten students sitting in the circle ready for math. One little guy was rolling on the floor. I said, “Oh magic wand, please help little guy sit nicely on his spot” and I chinged him. IT WORKED! He sat up instantly…but ALL MY OTHER STUDENTS FELL OVER AND STARTED ROLLING SO THEY COULD GET CHINGED! AAAAHHHHHH! Well, I quickly learned that magic wand only recognized students who were doing well.
There it is…a fun way to get a 6:1 ratio of positive interactions! Pay attention to the behavior you want repeated! HAVE FUN! CHINNNGGGG!
So often when a student does not act the way we think s/he should act, we immediately discipline the child. Sometimes that works. Other times it just frustrates us. When I was in graduate school at University of Kentucky working on a master’s degree in Emotional Behavioral Disorders, my professor, C. Michael Nelson shared a flow chart with us. It was an AH-HA moment for me. I’d like to share it with you.
Look at the chart below or print out a copy as I explain it here…. The teacher gives the student a direction/task/etc. If the students complies, praise the student (Easy, right?!)
If the teacher gives a direction but the student does not comply, figure out if you know with absolute certainty the student has the ability to complete the direction/task/etc. Often we assume the student knows or should know and we get frustrated when the child does not. If the child has the ability to complete the task, motivate him. Elementary teachers do a great job motivating students. As students get older, less emphasis is placed on motivation. I’m not sure why that is…I know I work much better when I am motivated. Motivation in middle and high school doesn’t mean pass out stickers. It may be a simple as a pat on the back, or extra social time at the end of class, etc. If the child does NOT know how to do the task or if you are not sure if the child has the skill, TEACH the skill/expectation.
If the child does NOT complete the task after you have tried motivating or teaching the skill, then you discipline.
Once there was a high school student who had the opportunity to earn extra credit by writing a paragraph about the daily political cartoon in the daily newspaper but failed to make any effort to do so. The teacher was frustrated that she “wasn’t even trying to pass the class”. I wondered if the student even knew what a political cartoon was and if she had access to a newspaper. Remember she had never demonstrated she had the ability to do this. So I took her into the school library. The librarian showed her where day old newspapers were kept so she could cut out the cartoon. I showed her where the political cartoon was in the newspaper. She was thankful. After learning this new skill, she never missed a day of cutting out the cartoon and writing a paragraph!
So think about this flow chart the next time you get frustrated when a student doesn’t comply.
There’s a reason for every student’s behavior! Jack has not “lost his mind”. Jill is not “trying to drive you crazy”. He or she is trying to get something or avoid something. Now you have to be the detective and figure out what it is. Many teachers overlook this detective step and skip to a quick fix.
Imagine if you went to the doctor and complained of pain in your arm and the doctor just said to take some ibuprofen. Well, if your arm is broken, that ibuprofen will not work. This is the same thing for student behavior. If a student is not doing his school work, you may send him to time out. If he is avoiding doing school work because he doesn’t understand it, your discipline will not fix the problem. It is actually helping the student avoid work.
I call this a Quick & Easy Functional Behavior Assessment because it just takes a few minutes to do. This is not a formal assessment many specialists prefer. It’s for the classroom teacher who has to deal with tough behaviors all the time.
One of my favorite encounters with a 3rd grade teacher was when she stopped me in the hallway and explained a problem she was having with a student. Before I could say a thing, she went on to quickly analyze his behavior. She specifically described his behavior, said he acted out at specific times, she thought he was doing it because ____, and thought she could take care of the problem by ____. She then thanked me for the help! I said, “You’re welcome!” and smiled all the way to my classroom. She did a Quick & Easy Functional Behavior Assessment right there in the hallway in less than 5 minutes!
In the next few days, I will show you how to use this Quick & Easy Functional Behavior Assessment and turn it into a behavior intervention plan.
See you soon, LuAnne