Monday, November 18, 2013

Giving Ourselves Permission to Make Mistakes- and learn from them

On a post I wrote recently for Reality101 on the Council for Exceptional Children's blog I talked about the pressures of getting everything done for our kids, managing the curriculum and still trying to manage behaviors. One tiny piece of the post was about giving ourselves permission to try new things and being OK when they don't work out. It was a line toward the bottom of the piece and when someone commented on it I realized how it really should be a focus for an entire post itself. As teachers we rarely give ourselves the time and space to try new things, be OK with failure, and have time to reflect on what didn't work.

When we're talking about behavior and determining the best way to teach a child how to behave throughout the school day it is essential that we give ourselves permission to try ideas and concepts that might not work. There is no silver bullet for fixing behavior. There is no equation, formula, or perfect answer that tells us how to solve a behavior problem. There is frankly, nothing but trial and error.

So many times when we're thinking of behavior plans we forget this. We want to put something in place that will work immediately and solve everything. And it's not just us. Often we may be told by a co-teacher or administrator that a behavior plan needs to be put into place to "fix" a situation. When we're asked to "fix" a situation there suddenly becomes this pressure on us to come up with the perfect behavior plan that will erase all problem behaviors and turn a child into a model student. And yet, behavior plans that fix everything don't exist.

Behavior plans don't work like that because kids don't work like that. Human beings don't work like that. Behavior plans can make things better. They can help a child monitor their own behavior, teach a child how to navigate the school day, serve as structure for the child or provide the child with breaks and incentives. But they don't fix anything. Everyone has a good day and a bad day. Behavior plans will work most days, but not others. Some behavior plans are going to make behavior worse before it gets better. Some behavior plans are going to be a disastrous failure but what we learn from that will tell us so much more about the child and the child's needs than if we had done nothing for the child at all.

This is Humpty Dumpty coming back up the wall (drawn by a first grade student with autism years ago). Talk about coming back from failure...  
We have to give ourselves permission to try things with students that may not work right away (or at all) because no matter what we'll learn from what doesn't work. We have to be willing to have the conversation about what's not working so we can try something new that will build on what was implemented originally. Most importantly, we have to build a relationship with our co-teachers and co-workers where we are comfortable having conversations about what worked and what didn't. When we're scared to fail because of what others may think of our ability to handle students we've lost our ability to make kid-focused decisions in the classroom. Somehow failure, reflection, and trying again has to become a part of school culture- or at least the culture between co-teachers.


Anonymous said...

So true. Spending 6 hours every day in a classroom with 25 other children is, all by itself, a huge challenge for many children with behavior issues. I sometimes think that this experience should be scaffolded the way academic work is scaffolded; start the child in a classroom with just a few students, for less than 6 hours a day, and let her/him work her/his way along by stages to a regular classroom, all day, as s/he masters the skills needed.

organized chaos said...

It is crazy that we do so little to scaffold for kids with behavior issues. We break down how we teach academics but with behavior it can be such an all or nothing concept.