Monday, June 22, 2009

acting out cycle part 2 (occasions of pulling my hair out)

I went into so much detail about the acting out cycle yesterday because I feel like understanding it has made my job 100 times easier. Some of it goes against my initial instinct- which is why I think it's good for me to refresh my memory every once and awhile. When a child is in the acceleration cycle and is begging to be engaged through behavior that makes us want to pull our hair out- our initial instinct is to fix the problem, engage with the student, and make everything look perfect. Sometimes this has the opposite effect.

One of my little ones this year threw incredible tantrums. If we were paying close attention we were able to catch her in the agitation state and distract her. We had a basket of notes that sat on my desk. When we noticed she'd start spinning on the carpet, looking like she was going to lay down and start kicking her feet, we'd ask her to take a note to one of our principals. She and a friend would grab a pre-written note and go for a walk to give her a break and a chance away from the stimulation. At other times we'd "accidentally" knock over a basket of books and ask her to pick it up to distract her. Of course, we did this knowing if you walked into our classroom, saw a little girl not sitting perfectly on the carpet and then notice that we say, "Oh, little one, go for a walk" you'd think we were idiots. The natural reaction is to tell her to sit criss cross apple sauce like everyone else or she's in big trouble. But if we did that (which of course, sometimes we did, because frustration gets the best of everyone), we were in for a lot of fun...

if we didn't catch her in the agitation stage, or tried to tell her to shape up and be good, she'd begin kicking her feet, spread her body out over the carpet to engage other students, bury her head under her arms, and begin a low moaning sound. And if we tried to engage her- get her to stop, get angry with her, give her consequences, "get up RIGHT now!"- it would only get worse. The low moans would become louder and instead of just kicking the air she'd choose a noisier item to kick (the oven door in the house keeping center worked fabulously for this- it's loud slap echoed all over the room). Eventually we learned to move her into the hallway and put up a sign above her head that read, "Hi, I'm working on pulling myself back together right now. My teachers know I am out here. If I am bothering your class please go get my teachers. They know my shoes might not be on and that is ok. Please don't give me the attention I want so much right now!" In the midst of a quiet tantrum she wouldn't notice we put the sign up, but without it other teachers would walk by and decide to do what comes natural- tell her to put her shoes back on, tell her to stop screaming, sit up, etc. For many kids this works. For her- it only made her scream louder, or in one incident, throw a shoe at the teacher's head.

We also came up with the sign of putting our pinky in the air to tell each other we knew about the behavior and had chosen to ignore it (the American sign language sign for the letter I- i for ignore). This also helped so we could silently communicate to each other and our two aides that it was not a time to engage her.

For some kids I've worked with it was easy to figure out what the trigger for their behavior was. For others, (like this little girl) I felt like I could recognize the signs in the agitation stage, but never really figured out what sent her there. It seemed to happen around unexpected changes in routine, but then also if we sat on the rug too long (too much auditory input?) With her I never felt I was good at stopping her behavior and preventing the trigger.

I think my biggest challenge with the acting out cycle is communicating to the rest of my coworkers what's working and what's not with certain students. I don't want to put out a staff news email that says, "When you notice this kid in the hallway, please just walk past" because it feels wrong, but sometimes, when I watch a well meaning co-worker engage a student in the acceleration stage, and then watch the tantrum unfold in fury before us- I wish I could go back and write that email. Maybe next year I'll share my little pinky symbol of "ignore" with the everyone...
Reflections, reflections, reflections...

3 comments:

Snippety Gibbet said...

I get so much out of these posts. I feel that the biggest hole in my teaching skills lies with how to work with students whose behavior issues fall outside the norm.

While you might not want to post tips to the entire school concerning particular students, it might be helpful to your neighbors. As a "specials" teacher, if I worked with your students, I would find all this information on particular students immensely helpful. Sometimes we try reinventing the wheel...in the dark.

Teresa said...

I love your posts too! I have learned so much from things you've posted! My question is, what do you do with regard to administration's cooperation? I encountered some very interesting kidlets this year and my solutions were NOT that which my administrators or more senior teachers would have chosen. It wasn't that the solutions were disruptive to other students or to the rest of my class necessarily, but rather it wasn't what THEY'D have done. I'd end up with an earful from them after the fact, which made me doubt myself significantly. Do you run your solutions by them before you implement them?

organized chaos said...

We're so blessed to have an AP who was a talented special ed teacher for years at our school before she became an AP. I go to her with almost everything and get her take on how to handle different situations. Truthfully, I've learned so much from her.

I also try to go to my principal after she's helped with a situation and ask for advice and feedback on what I could have done better. If she and I don't see eye to eye that helps me understand what she would have expected so that next time I can combine what I think is right with what she wants to see. She's wonderful too though, so all in all, I wish I could offer you better advice.
With kids who act out EVERYONE has an opinion about what they would have done- and it's always easy to tell anyone who will listen the "right" answer. Sometimes I think you just have to listen to it all, file it away in the "this is an option" category, and then use your best judgment the next time. Wish I had better advice! let me keep thinking, but there is a lot to say on this...

A think tank focused on creative solutions for future problem solvers -tree