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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.