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REMEMBER: When a student is escalating, our response will always impact the situation one way or another.
Of course, no educator or counselor or parent or person of any sort, for that matter, would ever want to intentionally escalate a student. In the heat of a tense situation, however, we often inadvertently say and do things that we “know” are wrong. Not because we want to. Not because we aren’t trained to do other more appropriate things. But because we are reacting without a lot of deliberate thought. Because we, too, are upset.
Following is a list of behaviors many of us accidentally do when a student is escalating:
- We raise our voice.
- We give an ultimatum. “Do this or else…”
- We use sarcasm.
- We get emotional, too…usually aggravated or frustrated at best, angry at worst.
- We get in the student’s personal space.
- We touch the student.
- We correct the student publicly, in front of his peers.
- We talk, talk, talk, trying to reason with the student.
We are only going to focus on one of these behaviors, talking. Why? Because often THE single best de-escalation strategy to use when a student is escalating is to be quiet. STOP TALKING to or about the student. Way too often, educators try to talk down an escalating student. We try to reason with someone who is so emotional that all reason is temporarily suspended. This, more often than not, backfires and has the completely opposite effect, escalating the student. Yet, we continue to talk. And talk. And talk.
So, please, STOP. STOP TALKING. Give the student time. Let his sympathetic nervous system, which has gotten aroused as he has escalated, calm down. This will result in the student getting into his rational mind instead of being in his emotional mind. His frontal lobes will begin to make decisions rather than his amygdala. Allowing a student time to calm down physiologically will result in the student calming down emotionally. Every time.
To accomplish this, calmly and quietly say something as simple as “Jason, I know you are upset. I am going to give you time to calm down before we make any decisions. I will check back with you in ___ minutes (anywhere between 5-10 minutes, depending on how escalated the student is) to see if you are ready.”
Then, for 5-10 minutes, don’t talk. Don’t hover over the student. Stay in the student’s presence visually but get busy doing something that doesn’t involve the student. Read something. Send an email. Maybe talk with another adult—but only if it is about something that has nothing to do with the current situation that has caused the student to escalate.
After 5-10 minutes, return back to the student and calmly ask “Are you ready to talk?” If the student is ready, proceed to the The Student Is Calmed Down paragraph. If the student indicates through words or lack thereof that he is still not ready to talk, again state “I will check back with you in ___ more minutes.” Then, for 5-10 more minutes, don’t talk. Return to doing something that allows you to disengage from the student.
After the additional 5-10 minutes, again calmly ask “Are you ready to talk?” The student will either say he is, will say he isn’t, or will show you through his nonverbal body language that he is isn’t. If the student is still not ready after two 5- or 10-minute periods, offer a third 5-10 minutes. “I will check back with you in ___ more minutes.” Repeat…
It is not unreasonable to give a student up to 20-30 minutes of calm-down time, but do so in 5- or 10-minute increments. This is a judgment call based on the student and the situation-at-hand.
Want to know if the student is truly calm and ready to return to the classroom environment? LuAnne, another Square Peg, uses a simple strategy to quickly gauge whether a student is ready to be cooperative. Once the student says he is ready to talk or return to a task, give him a few simple commands to see if he will be compliant. Don’t ask the student if he wants to do the task. Tell him then allow a few seconds for the student to comply with your request. Don’t expect instantaneous compliance. Typically, if a student is ready to be compliant, he will respond to your command within 5-10 seconds at most. Thank the student if he follows your request.
“Jason, bring me a piece of paper, please, and push the chair up under the desk.” (Do NOT ask “Jason, will you bring me a piece of paper please?”)
“Lauren, get out a pencil and write your name on the worksheet.”
“Bobby, put the book back on the shelf and sit down in your chair.”
Students who are unable to do these simple commands are telling you through their behavior that they are not ready to be compliant. Thankfully, this rarely happens. If a student is able to tell you he is ready, he most likely will comply with the simple commands. Once this happens, you are ready to proceed with getting the student reintegrated into the class’s activity.
The Student Is Calmed Down—Once the student indicates that he is ready, compliment the student for being calm and proceed to talk with the student. WHAT you talk about depends on why the student escalated. If someone said or did something unkind to the student, it may require problem-solving or conflict resolution. If the student was frustrated because work was too hard, it may be necessary to reteach content or skills and offer support. If the student was simply trying to avoid doing work, preparing the student to return to the unfinished task is important. There are a few ways to do this. The most direct is to tell the student it is time to return to whatever he was doing before he got agitated, offering support as needed. The second option is to offer a choice. This may be the better option if the student is likely to re-escalate if he is told he has to immediately do the avoided task. Give the student some control by saying “When do you want to do [whatever the assignment is], now with my help or [another time]?” “When do you want to finish your personal narrative story, now with my help or during recess? For homework?” The key is to get the work done at some point that day so the student isn’t reinforced for the escalation. Otherwise, you know what will likely happen again…!
One last tip–It is very helpful to remember that it is NOT about you. An escalated student may say all sorts of mean, hurtful, disrespectful things to and about you when escalated. This is often the student’s way of trying to draw you in, to get you emotionally involved in the situation. The words a student speaks while escalated need to be ignored during that time. Threats of self and other harm or other serious comments made while escalated are best addressed after the student has completely deescalated. A formal threat assessment may be required at that time.
When a student’s behavior is escalating, there’s not time to review an article on de-escalation strategies. For this reason, you may benefit from a “cheat sheet” posted in a place where you can quickly refer to the sheet for simple visual reminders. The 3 sheets found at “Quiet Please: De-Escalation in Progress!” have varying degrees of information on them, depending on your need. Remember, our behavior always impacts the situation. What we do matters. Use one of these visuals as your own reminder of what to do so that your actions and words help de-escalate the student quickly and effectively.
- Each student and situation is different.
- It is important to have a staff member trained in safe crisis management present when a student is escalating. This person can assist in gauging the most appropriate de-escalation strategies to use.
- Depending on the situation, a formal threat assessment may be required following the event.
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.
rip·ple ef·fect (n.): The continuing and spreading results of an event or action. www.oxforddictionaries.com
A simple technique I frequently use with students is the “Ripple Effect” strategy. Often, I work with students who are impulsive in their decisions, resistant to authority, quick to anger, or easily baited by peers to say or do something inappropriate. The “Ripple Effect” strategy helps students systematically and visually dissect what happened and readily shows them where in the unfolding of the situation they could have said or done something differently, resulting in a more favorable outcome. While it’s too late to undo what has already happened, this strategy shows students how their behavior affects others and how others’ behavior affects them, causing the ripples to grow wider and wider, like ripples that spread outward when a rock is thrown in water. The hope is that by processing a conflict that has already occurred, a future conflict can be avoided or, at the least, minimized. Additionally, this strategy helps the student identify her role in the conflict, thereby assuming responsibility for her actions/words and recognizing how they contributed to the conflict.
Here’s how it works.
I begin by listening to what happened. Oftentimes, the student shares the story from what she perceives is the beginning but what, in reality, is several steps into the event. It usually requires some questioning to get to the actual “beginning” of the story. Once the story is shared, I ask the student if she has ever thrown a rock into a pond, and if so, what happened. This leads to a short conversation about the ripples the rock creates in the water. I explain that we are going to use the idea of ripples in water to discuss what happened to her, and we plug the situation into the “Ripple Effect” worksheet.
I then point out how the ripple grew from one to two to three to however many ripples because there was an INTERACTION going on between the student and someone else. Typically with every other “ripple”, the student had a choice in causing the ripples to grow (the conflict escalates) or stopping the ripples from increasing (the conflict stops). As we process each ripple, we write out what was said or done at that point. Once all the ripples are created based on the conflict being processed, I ask the student, “During which of the ripples were you saying or doing something?” We circle all of the instances that were student’s actions or words. I then systematically ask the student what she could have said or done differently at each of these circled points which may have stopped the ripple from growing. In other words, what could she have said or done that would have been more appropriate? Students typically are very good at identifying more appropriate choices once they are calm and removed from the conflict.
Another key point to make when using this strategy is to help the student realize that she only has control of some of the ripples (typically, but not always, every other ripple). Most conflicts fall into an action/reaction category. The first ripple is the action, the second ripple is a reaction to the first, and the third ripple is a reaction to the second, and so forth. Although she only creates the first and third ripples, her actions are fueling the reactions from others. IF she says or does something that reduces the chance of the problem escalating, the other person may still add a ripple (i.e., say or do something to make the situation worse), but it is less likely.
When we are finished filling out the worksheet, the student is able to keep the worksheet as a visual reminder of the process as well as share it with her parents or teacher.
If you are interested in using the “Ripple Effect” strategy and would like clear instructions, several user-friendly worksheets, and a few scenarios illustrating its implementation, wait no longer! I have, for years, drawn concentric circles on scrap paper, which works in an informal way, and truthfully, it would for you. But, if you want a more comprehensive, sequential way to use this strategy that includes all the “bells and whistles” my scrap paper circles lacked, here it is: The Ripple Effect Strategy—A Strategy for Analyzing Conflicts.
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.
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.
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
Emails frequently come in, asking for assistance regarding students who are, for a whole host of reasons, not learning. Inattentive. Defiant. Disrupting the learning of others. Not doing her work. Out of his seat. Blurting out. Hitting others. Tantruming. Anxious. The list goes on and on…
This is not an elementary issue. This is not a middle school issue. This is not a high school issue. This is not a public school issue. This is not a private school issue. This is an “equal opportunity” issue. In a given year, I typically assist students in grades preschool through the senior year of high school. And, since I often indirectly help the student, she may never meet me. She may not ever know my name. But, in order for me to help the student, the REAL target of my help is not the student. The REAL target of my help is the teacher, the one who wants the student to change somehow for the better. More attentive. More compliant. More cooperative. More in control. More school work completed.
As educators, we must be skilled experts in our areas of teaching. We must know what to teach and how to teach. But, equally important is the frequently minimized craft of managing students in the classroom. I’m sure you will agree with me when I say that to effectively teach any content whatsoever, we must first be able to manage the students whom we are teaching.
When a teacher asks for help in managing a troubling behavior of a specific student, the first question I ask the teacher is “What are YOU willing to do differently in order to have your student behave differently?” This is a crucial question. The student has absolutely NO incentive to change if status quo continues. When you begin to change how you respond to the undesired behavior, whether you start reinforcing desirable behaviors or you start punishing undesirable behaviors, the student’s behavior has a high probability of changing, as well. Ironically, this concept is true in any relationship between two people. Parent-child. Husband-wife. Siblings. Good friends. If you want the other person to change in some way behaviorally, your best chance of having this happen is by changing how you respond to that person when he or she is doing the undesired behavior.
Teachers are some of the busiest people in the world (you know it’s bad when you can’t find time in your day to use the restroom, and “lunch” is a 5-minute binge). It is not always possible to determine how much time a particular student’s behavior takes away from instruction, but if a student’s behavior IS depleting instructional time, the time it takes to implement a behavior plan for that student is usually well worth it.
Sometimes the best approach is to ask the teacher “What time of day—what hour, what class period, what subject—is THE ONE that you want to tackle first?” I’d rather a teacher fully commit to a simple strategy for 30 minutes or 1 hour and do it well (consistently and with integrity) than to attempt the strategy or plan for the whole day and not maintain consistency and integrity of the plan.
So, when you want to change a student’s misbehavior, be ready. You must first commit to changing YOUR behavior.