Sunday, April 29, 2018

Relationship Building with Tough Kids

I am asked constantly what the best "trick" or "hack" is in working with children with significant behaviors. And what I really hear, and know, when someone says this, is: kids that are HARD to like. It can be difficult to admit as a teacher, but there are always going to be kids that are harder to like. Often times they have found it easier to get their needs met if they push and push. But quite honestly, sometimes us teachers have that mentality, too!

Have you ever learned how, back in the day, people in South India trapped monkeys? (Ok, bear with me, this WILL have something to do with relationship building.) The trap includes a hollowed-out coconut that is chained to a tree. The coconut also has sweet rice inside, to entice the monkey to the trap. The hole is the perfect size for the monkey to fit its opened hand inside, but when the monkey clenches its fist around the sweet rice, it cannot remove its fist from the coconut. The monkey is trapped - but not really! Its trapped by the idea of the rice, that it wants really badly, and cannot seem to wrap its mind around letting the rice go, so he can be free. And now, because of an expectation or idea, the monkey is literally trapped. (Ok, so this is probably a fable, but a good one, nonetheless!)

This story could be used in so many situations in our lives, but I find it to be perfectly suited when discussing challenging kids and relationship building. Often times, us teachers have an idea of what our classrooms should look like and how our students should respond to our carefully planned classroom management strategies (the sweet rice). And it makes sense - most teachers have gone through extensive teacher training programs and many have taught for decades with strategies that usually work. It's hard to "let the rice go" and release the fist to be free - accept a plot twist, and try something new. But I promise - with time and consistency - some of these relationship building ideas can help create trust, bonds, and safety which will in turn slowly begin a new set of behaviors. 

Why relationship building?
Dr. Charles Basch has studied positive teacher-student relationships and found them associated with increasing a feeling of student safety at school, reduces absenteeism, decreases risk taking behaviors, increases test scores, and development of resilience.

A lot of our students who are showing these disruptive and difficult behaviors (back talking, work refusal, tantruming, eloping from the classroom, verbal and physical aggression, etc.) also have experienced trauma and now have unhealthy attachment to others. 

What can you do?
My first piece of advice is while it's harder to build a relationship later in the year, it's never too late. Start tomorrow! Here's a few simple ideas for building relationships.

Spend 3 minutes daily getting to know the student. Only 3 minutes! Ask them a few questions. Who do you spend the most time with outside of school? What do you like to eat for dinner? Are you watching any TV shows? What's your favorite sports team? 

Then, follow up. Watch an episode of the TV show, start checking the stats on their favorite team. This will help you with conversations, as well as letting them know you're listening and paying attention. Add some of these interests into your lessons!

Praise in public, correct in private. Praising (some) students publicly can already be a huge bridge. Sometimes it's hard, if your student appears to be rarely doing what they're supposed to. If that is the case, change your focus. Is the student sitting? Praise them. Did they raise their hand, even for a millisecond, before talking out? Praise that. Are they wearing their uniform shirt? Praise! ARE THEY IN ATTENDANCE? Praise! Find small things to start off with praise. BUT - this is also where knowing your student is important. There are some students who are wildly embarrassed and uncomfortable with outward displays of praise. Be careful and deliberate in how you execute this to ensure you're really meeting your student's need. You could differentiate this by giving a note to them or even a smile/thumbs up with a whisper of praise.

Correcting in private is a real necessity. If you must correct in public, begin by being discreet or attempting to use humor to diffuse the challenging behavior. Students may continue displaying challenging behavior because they've been embarrassed and shamed by outward, public corrections. 

Create an engaging behavior plan. And make sure it's one YOU CAN FOLLOW. There is one sure-fire way to hurt a relationship, and that's to not follow through with something of importance. If a behavior plan is too complicated or time consuming to execute - say something! Speak up with your team. Make it simple and meaningful, and get student input to ensure that it stays exciting and motivating.

Restore your relationship when something happens. School is busy, and complicated, and has rules. Just because you're working on a positive relationship doesn't mean that events won't happen that don't go so well. This doesn't have to start you back at step one, but it will require some restorative conversations. If something comes up that strains your relationship, don't ignore it. Talk about it! A relationship is a two-way street, and it's okay that you share with the student how their behavior made you feel, but do so carefully. Acknowledge feelings, listen, and be honest about consequences and how the event affected everyone involved. Once the conversation is over - move on! Treat the next moment as a clean slate, and move forward.

Good luck, make it happen :)


Thursday, April 5, 2018

News 2 You in a High Incidence Classroom

Do you use News2You in your special education classroom? News2You is an adapted digital newspaper that allows students to make connections to current events each week. I have used it for years, and I love it! When I switched to teaching in a high-incidence classroom, I quickly learned that this would STILL be a super effective resource in this type of classroom environment. 

Also - I was able to secure News 2 You in my classroom from a request! Check out my funded project here

Typically, this resource is used in classrooms of students with disabilities like autism and intellectual disabilities. While my students have behavior disorders, many of them also have autism (on the higher end of the spectrum), learning disabilities, mild intellectual disabilities, speech/language impairments, and delays from interruptions in service due to their often occurring challenging behaviors. I have found News 2 You to be incredibly motivating - my students love the weekly repeated routine, they tend to like being "in the know" of current events, and I'm able to tie in TONS of related resources with the content that's given. I'll show you my 2 favorite features of News 2 You that helps make it extra successful in my classroom. 

Here's the main screen you'll see after you log-in to your N2Y account:
1.) Differentiated levels of resources
Across the top of the screen you'll see the 5 levels of text you can choose from. In our classrooms our ability levels range so hugely that it can almost feel impossible to do any type of whole group lesson. I love News2You because they understand this - my lower level readers can use the regular or simplified newspapers, while my students reading at a higher level usually use the "higher" newspaper. The level of symbol support changes as well as the complexity of the words and length of the paper. Below is an example of a printed version of the "higher" newspaper:

2.) Extension Activity
One thing is for certain with my students - they overall have a lack of exposure to many experiences and information. It's the nature of their disability and one of the many negative results of their traumatic backgrounds. Expecting them to read a newspaper article about King Tut and be able to connect to it and have a meaningful experience with it is truly ridiculous - without background knowledge. This is why I LOVE the Extension Activities that News2You offers.

I would create these slideshows myself if they weren't already available with the program, and it's insanely helpful that the team there has already created these. I have talked to many teachers using N2Y that did not even know about the glory that is the Extension Activities! They are background building slides that discuss more about the underlying theme of that week's newspaper. Facts, discussion questions, primary-sourced pictures, and videos are embedded to help build the knowledge of the students so they can better connect to the newspaper and the information. So many of our students are visual, experiential learners that really respond to multiple examples of new material. This week as we learned about King Tut, my students originally had no idea who he was, or what this newspaper would be about. As we browsed through the Extension Activity slideshow, I saw so many lightbulbs go off - they DID know about Egypt, they just did not have the vocabulary (like Sphinx and pyramid) to really share the information that they already had been exposed to.

So tell me - what's your favorite News 2 You feature? How do your students best access this resource?