Today I had my first “breakdown” at my new school. Good news though, it was only a small one. Let’s just say that testing days are not ideal for students with Aspergers and severe ADHD. The poor kids have to sit still and concentrate for hours on end, so when they get to the big open music room and are given permission to move around and make noise, they go a little crazy. So, why did I get all agitated and start raising my voice to these children? Easy. I have so many exciting things to teach these little guys, that sometimes I forget that they are people, too. Sounds kinda silly, but sometimes we as teachers get so wrapped up in WHAT we are teaching that we forget WHO we are teaching.
After this particularly challenging class, I asked another teacher, who knows these kids well, for some advice. Positive reinforcement and empathy were her answers. In fact, she told me that one of her goals this year is to use only positive reinforcement. When one (or a few) students are distracting the class, just praise one who is doing the right thing. It keeps us sane, because we realize that even though it seems like the entire class has gone mad, there are students who are a calm in the storm. Also, many kids act out in class to get attention, and giving them what they want is just adding fuel to the fire. Instead, ignore the behavior you don’t approve of, and give attention to the students who are following directions. My colleague has taken this one step further and created cards to give out for positive reinforcement. For example, she has a few “good listener” cards that are handed to students she feels are listening well. Her approach sounds challenging, but it just might be worth a try. Won’t you join me in the “Positive Reinforcement Challenge”? Please share if this works for you, and what challenges you are facing, and let’s see if we can make this work.
We all know that our students are people too, and deserve to be treated with respect and empathy, even when they do things we don’t approve of. With a classroom full of 20 (or 30!) children, we don’t always have the time to get to know our students as well as we’d like, but we should still always show them that we care.