Saturday, November 28, 2009

What I could have done- and where I can get answers from

Now that I finally have a few days off to catch my breath I've had time to dive into my other new Responsive Classroom book, Solving Thorny Behavior Problems: How Teachers and Students Can Work Together by Caltha Crowe. I received this book the same day I got Energizers! As you can see from above, Energizers has been well-loved and well-sticky-noted by me and my partner-in-crime. Our kinders have become quite the energetic singing troupe.

Solving Thorny Behavior Problems is one of those books I feel like I just can't read fast enough. Each page delivers information I realize I desperately want to apply in the classroom as soon as possible- ideas I really could have used last week if only I'd read it sooner. It discusses real behavior problems (throwing, spitting, disrespect to the teacher, biting- the problems that we really struggle with) and how to use what you know about education theory, child development, the child himself, and your own teacher observations in order to handle these problems- all giving you examples of RC language to use when talking with the child.

I'm eating it up.

In a way the book mirrors exactly what we do when we are writing IEP goals- taking in the big picture and looking at how to narrow it down to smaller steps in order to help the child be successful. It encourages you to develop measurable, observable replacement behaviors with the child in order to make the child successful (I'm inserting the sped language into the RC themes).

It gives examples of children's books to use in role plays, how to foster roll plays, encourage sincere apologies, all while giving you examples of real behavior problems. The type of behavior problems that just reading about make your heart rate go up because you know exactly when that has happened to you. You know how angry that behavior makes you- and how frustrating it is when you don't know what to do about it.

I really could have used this book on Wednesday. My first graders had a sub in the room, the schedule was changed for the early release, and the kids were just a little antsy with excitement and upcoming holiday (For a few of them it was literally their first Thanksgiving- their first year in our country).

An aid had come to get me because a few of my children with special needs had asked her to go get me- they wanted to have guided reading and they wanted it now. It was during my lunch break, but I'd finished lunch and I'm a sucker for any child who demands to read. We'd settled in with our new reading books when an ear-piercing scream came from the back of the classroom. The type of scream that makes you assume that someone has a gun or some one's security is being threatened. The classroom fell silent and I looked up from my group to observe one of my friends with special needs with her head down on the table, hair covering her face, shoulders shaking from silent sobs. Another girl stood over her, whispering into her ear. While it didn't look threatening, something had to be very wrong to cause that sort of primal scream.

I hauled both girls out into the hallway, along with another one who has standing nearby apparently encouraging the whisperer.

Apparently, the girl standing over the other one had been whispering in her ear "everyone hates you, nobody likes you, nobody wants to be your friend" over and over again.

I lost it. I absolutely lost it. All RC language/theories/philosophy went out the window. How dare you hurt another student's feelings like that?

The crier and I went on a long walk to calm her (and me) down and when we returned I had a meeting with the girls responsible for the bully-like treatment.

Can you tell from my description that I'm taking sides? I know I am. I know I wasn't thinking clearly when I disciplined the girls. I was too angry for that.

I did my own in-the-moment version of a teacher/student behavior conference, but looking back in no way was it successful. Perhaps that is ok. I was too angry at the time to make anything meaningful. Perhaps what I should have done was to honestly say, "I am too upset to talk about this right now. Let's talk on Monday and see how we can make sure this never happens again"

And perhaps the girls and I should meet on Monday, now that I'm working my way through my new RC book. Now that I have time to plan the student/teacher conference, I have time to try to determine why these little girls are so determined to be mean to the other girls in the class. Try to see beyond my own anger at their behavior and understand why they ganged up on my little one. I know both girls who were a part of the 'bullying' are going through pretty intense issues at home. Issues that involve spending significant parts of their time after school in the hospital visiting families. Issues that must be making them feel insecure and unsure of life itself right now.

Perhaps Monday I need to work on using a matter-of-fact tone as the book suggests instead of my pure-anger Viola Swamp voice I used Wednesday. Monday I'll be specific, direct, and use language like "I've noticed that you..." and "I'm wondering if it is because..."

On Wednesday, in the midst of my anger, we brainstormed what they could do when things were going on in the classroom they were not a part of and we made each of them a sign that said, "I will be the boss of myself" with a picture of them doing their work and minding their own business. Even though we talked about exactly what that would look like (walking away when someone is bothering you, staying in your seat even when you want to know if someone else is doing the wrong thing) I'm not exactly sure that will work. The anger and frustration that was a part of our conference on Wednesday in no way empowered those girls to be good bosses of themselves. Instead the outcomes of the conference will serve as a reminder of what they did wrong instead of what they can do right.

I have 2 more days to reflect on how I can empower these girls to be successful with their social behaviors instead of shaming them. Because shaming them will only keep it out of my eye-sight- it will happen on the playground, on the bus, in the park on Saturdays when I'm not around to see it. Empowering them will give them successful strategies to use every day in social situations.

I have a lot to think about. A lot of my own frustration to get over. 150 pages left to read. Back to reading... Wish me luck and lots of ideas


Angela Watson said...

I wouldn't beat myself up if I were you about that response. I think it's good for kids to occasionally see their beloved teachers moved with emotion, even anger, when outrageous injustices occur. Your little friend will remember how you reacted, and that's a good thing. A "we'll talk about this on Monday when I'm calm" wouldn't have had shown her how insidious her behavior was.

Anonymous said...

Well, the angry feelings are certainly understandable, but I'm with the writer on this one. The girls who are doing the bullying need support and understanding too if they are to find ways to stop it and behave more positively. The best way to stop that kind of mean behavior is to find ways to help the kids do better, not to shame them.