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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!
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
Over the years, one thing I’ve learned is that a friendly chat, a few words of encouragement, or a five-minute “touching base with” conversation can go a LONG way with students. It is rewarding to see the appreciation in students’ faces when you take a little time to intentionally talk with them individually, genuinely asking how they’ve been.
In counseling, we are taught that our counseling sessions with students should be a minimum of 30 minutes, perhaps longer for teens. In a school setting, this creates multiple issues… missed instruction for students and a reduction in the amount of students a counselor is able to help in a given day. While there are certainly situations when students need significant time to meet with the counselor, the use of “counseling chats” is a strategy I find beneficial, and they’re fun!
Sometimes my “chats” are planned—I set aside an hour or two to run anywhere from 5-10 students through my office (or perhaps we stand outside their classroom or sit outside on a bench on a pretty day). If the chat has been fairly benign and problem-free (always a good thing!), I give the student a chance to bring up a potential issue towards the end by saying “It’s been great catching up with you. Before you go back to class, is there anything bothering you that you want to talk with me about?” Sometimes this results in our “chat” turning into a counseling session. Most often this is not the case, but either way, it clearly sends the message to the student that I continue to be available as a resource if something were to arise.
I find that counseling chats:
- show students you continue to care and are genuinely interested in them,
- allow you to follow-up with many more students,
- give you time to work with new students in crisis while still keeping up with previous student-clients,
- allow students to continue receiving tidbits of counseling information,
- remind students that there is at least one adult who cares about them in a meaningful way,
- remind students that I am always available.
Personally, I find that counseling chats fire me up. They are motivational as a counselor because they give me a chance to interact with students who were previously in distress under more favorable circumstances. We get to “debrief” and celebrate success and improvement. CHATS are prevention and an excellent way to stay connected with students, even after problems have been resolved. If you are interested in being more intentional in having CHATS with your students this year, here is a free handout that reviews the basic components and a mini-poster that serves as a visual reminder to do CHATS throughout the year.
One School Nurse + One Behavior Specialist + One School Psychologist =
The Untested ESSENTIALS of Learning
A square peg in a round hole is an idiomatic expression which describes the unusual individualist who could not fit into a niche of his or her society. ^ Wallace, Irving. (1957) The Square Pegs: Some Americans Who Dared to be Different, p. 10.
Above found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Square_peg_in_a_round_hole
Most employees of school districts are… [insert a drum roll here]…teachers. And the customers of their expertise are the wonderful students who walk through the doors of their respective schools each day, ready to learn all the fascinating things teachers have prepared to teach.
[Insert the sound of screeching brakes] Hold on a minute!
What happens if a student walks through the doors of the school and is not 100% ready to learn? What if the student is not even 50% ready to learn? What if the student is hungry? Sleep deprived? Scared because yesterday another student threatened to beat him up? Worried because her mother’s boyfriend threw her mother around the kitchen last night? Angry because her family’s electricity was turned off the night before? Sad because his grandfather is dying? What if the student, himself, is sick? Or has a learning disability? Or has attention span issues? Or…well, you get the point. The list of hypotheticals is endless.
In an average day in a classroom of 25 students, there are probably at least 5-6 students who have some sort of barrier that interferes with his or her ability to learn academics optimally. That’s where we come in…The 3 Square Pegs. Our jobs are to provide support services to students, their families, and the teaching staff so that teachers are able to teach, and more importantly, students are able to maximize learning.
What can you expect from our blog? Our focus will be on the multitude of untested essentials that are required for learning to occur. Head lice? Check. Classroom design? Check. Bully Prevention? Check. De-escalation strategies? Check. And on and on the list goes. These essentials will be in the form of a host of practices at the district, school, classroom, and individual student levels. With our 60+ years of collective experience in helping teachers teach and students learn, we think we have something to offer.
We are blessed to work in a school district that has vision. To be a small, rural school district with approximately 2,600 students, having a Nurse Practitioner designated as the district’s Director of the Coordinated School Health Program, a School Psychologist functioning as a district-wide counselor to support our excellent guidance counselors, and a Behavior Consultant who is currently the Director of our Alternative Education Program, we consider ourselves rather unique.
Per the meaning of “A square peg in a round hole”, we are unusual individualists who do not fit into a niche of our society (aka, schools). Don’t confuse our “not fitting neatly into our educational society” as meaning that we are not wanted there or that we don’t want to be there! We are welcomed and appreciated by the educators with whom we have the privilege of working. We just happen to think differently in some respects. While we all want the best for our students, our focus is on the many foundational essentials required for learning to even be an option. Teachers teach. They are under tremendous pressure to improve achievement and adhere to new national standards. The three of us provide support services, direct and indirect, to our district’s excellent teachers and awesome students. The result? Students who, for the most part, come to school happy, healthy, and ready to learn. Not BECAUSE of us, but with our help, these students achieve more academic, behavioral, and social/emotional success.
What can you expect in the days and weeks to come? The format of our blog, while it has the common thread of addressing barriers to learning, will shift as each of us take on the responsibility of writing one or two blog entries per week.
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.