Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Help students with challenging behaviors without 'fixing'

I am often tempted to want to fix a situation, or worse yet an individual, when I am suffering the consequences of reckless behaviors, irresponsible actions, or disrespectful attitudes. As educators we work with many students each day and want them all to be successful. Moreover, we need them to be successful. We cannot succeed in our teaching mission if our students are not cooperative learners.

But too often students are dealing with issues in their lives that complicate their efforts to learn. It's been said, hurt people hurt people. So as students enter the classroom, so do all of the imperfections we share as humans. Students aren't always going to be kind, cooperative, and focused. Sometimes they will act in ways that completely contradict what the teacher needs for a successful classroom.

As a young teacher, all too often I would become terribly frustrated by negative student behaviors and fail to see the unmet needs, buried under the surface, that were triggering the harmful actions. I would focus my attention on addressing the undesirable behavior with 'increasing consequences' and protect at all costs my 'authority' in the classroom. The result of course was torn relationships and even greater feelings of hurt and rejection on the part of both teacher and student. Not good!

So it's never productive to try to 'fix' our student's behavior. It is our job to address non-learning behaviors by simply stating our observation of the behavior and how it is impacting the classroom. Sometimes, we must take further actions to protect the learning climate. But when we create a classroom of acceptance and caring, students are more likely to feel safe enough to actually address their own issues. This ownership is actually the only way to achieve lasting change.

Here are a few ideas for being a helper and not a fixer:
1. Care more about who your students are becoming than how they are acting in the moment.
2. Know when to put aside a conversation and pick it up later.
3. Believe the best of your students (most people are doing the best they know how).
4. Teach positive behaviors.
5. Approach a difficult conversation side-by-side and not from behind a desk or nose-to-nose.
6. Listen to your students.
7. Don't try to prove you're in charge. You have a teaching contract that establishes that.
8. Worry more about acting with character than losing face in front of your students.
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