The staff in my school do an excellent job of identifying students who will benefit from behavior supports. We have extensive training and experience getting to the root cause of unproductive behaviors. We devote a lot of time to helping children build skills to function more successfully in the classroom. We want students to be successful and have the tools to help them get there. We believe kids want to do well, and will do well, if they have the appropriate skill sets.
During the past few months I worked with a couple young boys who struggled to control their impulses and maintain focus on their school work. Their behaviors were making it difficult for them and others in their classroom to learn. Our team came up with a plan of action to support these students’ behavior needs. I began working with them in a small group setting to lessen their distractions. Their classroom teacher and I provided them with tools and incentives to develop self-control and focus. We worked with their families and medical providers to get them the supports they needed outside of school. Our plan worked! We began to see more self-control and focus in these two young boys and everyone started functioning better in their classroom.
However, all this growth came at a cost. Recently, both boys began using a lot of negative self-talk. I began to hear, “I’m bad; I’m stupid; my friends don’t like me.” Their self-esteem decreased. In spite of the gains these students made in terms of their behavior, they felt defective. After reflecting, I realized many of the teacher-student interactions with these boys were focused around changing their behaviors. We used a deficit model, as opposed to an asset model, to help them.
Unfortunately, this happens a lot in education. When we’re building intervention groups, we look for students who can’t perform certain tasks. We identify the kids who don’t know all their letter sounds, can’t understand what they read, haven’t memorized all their multiplication facts, or are unable to sit still. They are then placed in groups to build those skills. Both the teachers and the children see the child as deficient, behind, or not ready. We don’t feel good about the child’s development and the child doesn’t feel good about him or herself.
I’ve been brainstorming lately about ways to serve the child and provide them with the tools to be successful while, at the same time, helping them feel good about who they are. Here’s a list of some ideas I’d like to implement moving forward:
- We all need to take a few deep breaths. Children develop at different rates. Some children might need more time to play, more time for movement and more hands on activities. Sitting still and learning abstract content requires a certain level of maturity. Some kids aren’t there yet. And that’s okay.
- We can intentionally remind ourselves about the child’s gifts. We can even take it a step further by allowing them to use their gifts to learn difficult content. If they love crafts but struggle to spell, can they use pom poms and stickers to build their sight words? If they are musical but struggle with math, can we find a song to help them memorize their multiplication facts?
- We can offer the child daily opportunities to demonstrate their gifts. Teaching younger students often provides opportunities to shine.
- We can make the skill building sessions fun. If they struggle to sit still, how can we change our teaching to embrace their energy? Can we go outside and practice our phonics by writing letters in the snow? Can we practice our numbers by counting our steps on a walk around the building? How about a ‘walk and talk’ as opposed to a ‘turn and talk?’
Most of all, we can love them for who they are. Developing skills to focus and control our bodies is important. Developing skills to comprehend and decode is important. But it’s equally important to help our young children feel good about who they are, love learning and figure out how they learn best.