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Posted by on in What If?

There's bad news and there's good news about classroom discipline. The bad news is that sometimes we are the cause of the discipline problems in our classes. We cause them because we inaccurately assess our students’ needs, fail to plan adequately for emergencies and daily activities, misread our students’ reactions, or unknowingly commit any number of mistakes that challenging students are quick to capitalize on.Discipline problems that we do not cause ourselves are just not as easy to manage.

The good news about the mistakes we make in our classrooms is that we have control over them. in fact, most of the time, we can usually prevent the ones that we cause. In the following list of  teacher-made mistakes, you will find some of the reasons why you may have inadvertently caused the discipline issues you've had to manage. With each mistake listed here you will also find a way to avoid making it into a discipline problem.

Mistake 1: You refuse to answer or give a poor answer when students question you about why they should learn the material you want them to master.

Solution: We need to be careful to provide students at the start of a unit of study with the reasons why they need to learn the material in the unit. Start each class with a review of the purpose for learning the information in the day’s lesson. Also, make sure students are aware of the real-life applications for the learning you require of them.

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Posted by on in What If?

Whenever I conduct workshops to help teachers support challenging students, by far the most common concern that I hear is always about students who are defiant and disrespectful. For some, the defiance is overt and loud. For others, the defiant act is less obvious: eye rolling, heavy sighs, mumbling under the breath, extremely slow compliance, or significant glances to classmates that seem to signal "our teacher is being unreasonable again."

No matter the form of the defiant action, the toll that student defiance takes on teachers can be harsh. After all, few teachers go home at the end of a successful and productive school day worried about what will happen next class. Even the most stalwart of us find it hard to leave the emotional problems caused by defiant students at school. These tend to be the problems that cause us to sleep poorly and to contemplate changing careers.

Unfortunately, many of us do not handle defiance as successfully as we could. It's easy to just react out of anger and dismay instead of taking a systematic approach geared to actually resolve the problem and prevent it from happening again.

Instead of just reacting, take a few minutes to determine the cause of the problem instead of the general effect the disruption has on the class. When you take the time to do this, several positive effects happen at once.

You treat the defiant student with respect despite the bad behavior.

You send a message to the other students that you will not lose your cool.

You preserve the dignity of the misbehaving student.

You will be far closer to resolving the situation than if you just reacted to it.

The cause of defiance is usually something that the student has been seething about for a while. Given the nature of the modern classroom, there are plenty of opportunities for students to have wounded feelings or a sense of frustration. And it is often this frustration that causes students to react impulsively and to lash out.

To find the cause, first talk gently to the student who has been defiant. This is best done in private. If you both need a few moments to cool down, then be sure to allow that time. No one can hear even a reasonable explanation when they are stressed and upset.

As you talk, don't be accusatory. Keep your language as factual and dry as possible. Describe what you saw and heard. Then, tell the student that you want to listen carefully to what he or she has to say.

Listen carefully. Ask a tactful question or two. Figure out what caused the incident.

Try not to be preachy. Do not induce guilt. Your relationship with the student has no place in this discussion. Stick to the facts at hand. Determine the cause and act accordingly.

Once you have had this conversation with the student, then you can make the decision about how to proceed. Not every defiant act deserves a harsh consequence. Your innate teacher's judgement will allow you to make the best decision that you can make now that you are informed about the cause.

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Posted by on in What If?

depression in kids 800x400

This isn’t the kind of thing I typically write about – and it would certainly seem to have nothing to do with early childhood – but, like most of us, I’ve been thinking a lot about school shootings. I’ve found myself asking: What is it that incites such rage in these young people that they see killing as the only resort?

Immediately following all of these incidents, everybody talks about the need for better attention to mental health, in addition to gun control. I couldn’t agree more that that’s essential. But if you’re like me, you’re probably thinking about mental health as it relates to people old enough to purchase or acquire guns. People who have been bullied or ignored for so long that something finally snaps in them.

Upon reflection, however, I’ve realized we can probably assume that the kind of anger, frustration, and helplessness – the mental health issues – evident in school shooters doesn’t just suddenly crop up. It builds! And based on what I know to be happening in the education and lives of today’s young children, I’m firmly convinced that it often begins in early childhood.

Let’s think about it. According to a 2013 report, depression affects approximately 4% of preschoolers in the United States today, with the number diagnosed increasing by 23% every year. And here’s a depressing graphic from 2013:

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Posted by on in What If?

shhh

If you are ever going to have classes that are too noisy, you can bet that the time for this particular teacher nightmare is right now near end of the school term. Even those timid students who were too shy to speak above a whisper at the start of the year now appear to be completely comfortable shouting across the room. The classroom noise level this time of year isn't just stressful; it's a sure indicator of unproductive behavior.   

Although could be dozens of approaches to consider when your students talk excessively and loudly, using just a few effective strategies may help you begin to solve this problem for yourself and for your students. Examine the following approaches in view of your own experience and adapt the ones you find useful to make the remaining time you have with your students productive, peaceful, and quiet.

Be emphatic and explicit when you speak with your students about this problem. You should make it very clear when it is okay for them to talk and when you want them to work silently. If you are clear in communicating your expectations to your students, they will be less likely to repeatedly test your tolerance for noise.

Avoid the sound-wave effect of a loud class time followed by a quiet one followed by a loud one again. Be consistent in the way you enforce the rules in your class about excessive talking. Teachers who aren’t consistent spend their time getting a class quiet, allowing the noise level to build to an intolerable level, and then getting the class quiet again in an endless and ineffective cycle.

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Posted by on in What If?

Every year, during the final few weeks of the school term, grim articles about how to hang on until the last day of school without losing your sanity abound. Loads of stern advice about topics such as the importance of managing stress and the misery of standardized testing and unpleasant conferences about failing grades seem to dominate teacher forums. What if, instead of just hanging on, you took a different approach to the time you have left with your students? An approach that includes some joy and fun and learning and all the other good things that school can be and should be every day.

One of the easiest ways to ensure that your students (and you) have a positive ending to the school year is to involve them in some of the many decisions that regulate classrooms instead of just trying to impose your will on a crowd of students who are distracted by warm weather and the promise of summer vacation. Brief class meetings now and then will not take up too much instructional time and can make an enormous difference in your classroom climate. Sometimes just raising student awareness about a problem and asking for their help is enough to solve it. 

The first few minutes of class after your students settle in and complete their warm up activities are an ideal time to hold a class meeting. Tell students that you are going to set a timer for a few minutes (the length of the meeting will vary according to the age and maturity of students as well as the topic under discussion) so that you can brainstorm together.

Have students move to form a circle so that you can see everyone and everyone can see you.

Establish quick ground rules for the meeting. The two most important ones are that students should listen courteously and respectfully and no one should talk unless they have permission to do so. Many teachers have found that giving students a token to serve as a “talking stick” sets a positive tone for a class meeting because it limits the number of students who want to speak to just the person with the token.

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