Thursday, October 18, 2012

Teaching Kids - Part 2

My new role at school has me spending a fair amount of time working with students on behavior; positive and negative behaviors.  As with anything I am asked to help with, the teacher in me takes over and I start brainstorming, researching and discussing strategies and ideas to implement when working with students; both positive and negative.

There are a few things I have noticed in the eight weeks of teaching a variety of students regarding behavior.  First, parents love to hear when their child has done something positive and aren't too thrilled when they hear something negative.  Not groundbreaking research, I understand.  But communications (phone calls, e-mail, quick chats) about specific positive interactions or behaviors are seemingly unexpected and help to build a more positive rapport with the child, family and teacher.  Then, when the phone calls, e-mails or chats about negative behavior comes, it's not the only interaction you have with the family and child.  For most of our students (80% or more) behavior is an afterthought.  But for that 20% (or less) behavior impacts everything they do.  Behavior impacts learning in all classes and subjects.  It impacts friendships, social experiences, and the community.  So what do we do with those kids?  Here's an idea, we teach behavior.  It's not another thing to teach, it's what we teach.  All children need to learn about things, behavior should be no exception.  Some children struggle with reading or math while others struggle with behavior.  Just like I, as a teacher, would focus my instruction on the needs of a student with a specific math skill, I now focus my instruction on the needs of a student for a specific behavior or strategy.

When working with individuals on behavior I begin by listening.  It's a simple start but I've found it helps to let children speak their mind.  Then, I restate what I'm hearing so I can clarify the information and attempt to understand the situation from the point of the child.  It never fails that I will hear multiple sides to every story but I have to do my best to find commonalities in what I'm hearing.  After I more clearly understand what the problem behavior is I talk with the child about working together.  I can do something to help the situation if the child can do something, too.  I want them to hear that I am there to help but they must understand that ultimately they have a responsibility to help their self.  And I always end behavior focused teaching/sessions by emphasizing how much I care about the student.  The "ethic of care" is a term I've heard and read about at length.  Today, in my Twitter feed I found a video clip of Fred Rodgers petitioning members of a U.S. Senate subcommittee about the ethic of care and value of dialogue between adults when discussing feelings.

It is powerful when children see, hear, and participate in the way adults work through problems that arise from various behaviors.  It is also incredibly powerful for a child to hear that adults take time to work through things and express care for one another.  Sometimes, it just takes a little extra time and effort to teach behavior but it sends a direct message to children that you care about them as individuals, their
behavior, and their success: positive and negative.