Archive for June, 2010

I recently had a class that I affectionately referred to as “The Jerry Springer Class”. The Jerry Springer Class could sometimes get a little out of hand. Classes like The Jerry Springer Class often have a few extra kids who are dealing with more than any kid should ever have to… however their behaviors are definitely affecting the class. It’s times likes these when I  pull out my plan to deal with the “out-of-hand” class.

Step One: Identify the 1-3 kids that are really making the difference in the class. We all know that it is often just a weird mix of kids that makes all the difference. So figure out what that mix is. I know I’ve found the right kid if he/she might fit the description of, “Boy, when <Billy Bob/Janie Sue> is gone, the class runs so much smoother and everything is so much quieter!”

Step Two: Divide and conquer. Find a way to talk with each kid. Choices, choices, choices:

  • The Locker Talker”: my personal least favorite. Everyone knows that the kid being talked to outside the classroom up against the lockers is clearly in trouble. It’s never a good posture and never a good conversation. It’s a lot of teacher talking, and the kid mumbling “mm-hmmm” or whatever while their eyes dart around, wondering who is watching this go down.
  • “Delayed gratification”: talking to them after class is a tough one for me. On the positive side, it might give them some privacy as the classroom empties out, and it’s nice to just have them there instead of the influence of their friends hanging over their shoulder. On the negative side, it often copies the posture and conversation of the locker. It also disrupts their schedule (how else are they going to meet up with their girlfriend in the hall if they’re not precisely at the corner 1.23 minutes after the bell rings?), so their mind is set on getting the conversation over as quickly as possible. I also have a hard time figuring out how to get them to stay after without “outing” them in front of the whole class.
  • “In-class en-couragement”: a quick conversation in class, whether it be me kneeling down and chatting quietly with them or having the reason of calling each kid up to me to discuss something (grades and incomplete work) and having the conversation there.
  • Walk-and-Talk“: this is my absolute favorite if/when the scheduling works out.I find that whenever I can take a quick walk with the student, the “walk-and-talk” opens up discussion possibilities much more than any other way of talking. I’ve had kids deep in the spectrum release their stress in a calm, logical way and I’ve had kids with anger problems be able to work things out themselves with this. It is head-and-shoulders above the stuck-against-the-locker talk… which is clearly a “I’m in trouble” posture to have to stand in. When walking together, we’re equals: trying to solve the problem as one.

Step Three: Conversational Oreo: I like to sandwich the bad between two goods. (This analogy might not work out for many of you who find the center of the Oreo to be the best… but I’m sure you get the picture.) I usually start off by telling them that they really are a very smart kid. I can tell. (And, no, this isn’t a lie.) So, I say, I think it’s crazy that their grade/behavior/whatever is not a true indicator of who they really are. I let them know quickly what, precisely, I’m seeing grade/behavior/whatever-wise, and then I move back to the good. Because, I say, I really enjoy having you in class and because you can do this, I need your help. I need you to just do these two things and then we’ll be on the right track again. (The two things depend on what the situation is, but I try to keep them bite-sized… not something like “be nice” but instead something like “help so-and-so because I see they are struggling”.) Give them a chance to be a positive leader. Tell them how. Sometimes they just don’t know how.

Often just getting that kid to know that you do really care about them and aren’t just interested in them “shutting up for the betterment of the class” makes all the difference.

“All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking.” -Friedrich Nietzsche

A practice I first learned about in my Master’s of Education program, the Walk and Talk is a fantastic way to think things through and work things out. As adults in the Master’s program, we did it to process information, get to know each other and brainstorm. Whenever I have the chance, I like to do this with students for precisely the same purposes.

From Walk and Talk: The new meeting room, there are a number of health benefits that strengthen the case for the Walk and Talk. Some are:

  • “Walking stimulates oxygen flow around the body to increase your brain function so you can be more creative and it also increases your ability to solve problems faster.
  • Being on the move allows the mind flexibility because you are looking around as you walk. This stimulates the right side of the brain and the visual sense gives a greater sense of perspective to a situation being discussed.
  • Breathing is improved (standing and walking – rather than slumped in a chair!), which again improves brain function and increases energy.”

“Walking is good for solving problems – it’s like the feet are little psychiatrists.” -Pepper Giardino

Although the Walk and Talk is beneficial for all students, I have found it especially helpful for the students who might be the hardest to reach. It has worked for kids who are having a breakdown, kids who seem to be having behavioral problems in class, and kids who don’t have the skills to deal with their emotions. When there is a behavioral problem or just a kid who is having a hard time being their best, it is so fantastic to take a minute and go for a quick walk together. So many things get figured out, kids calm down, and perspective is found by both of us. We also have that moment to share. Walking is a shared experience and I think it helps build the bond between two people.

During the last week of school, I saw one of my colleagues walking up and down the hall with one of her (perhaps toughest) students. Later she said that during the first couple minutes, they just walked in silence. Shortly thereafter they had the opportunity to have a calm discussion. This is precisely what I’ve seen work as well!

The problem? When she came back to her class, the remainder of the class had gotten a bit out of hand. I wish there was a way to have the walk-and-talk without forcing others to give some of their prep time to watch the class. Perhaps it needs to be a change in culture so the class knows that it is important to be especially good during that time (just as they might if the teacher were standing outside the door talking to the student by the locker), but in a world where one can’t even legally leave the classroom to go to the bathroom without having someone watch the class, I have a feeling that just “trusting the kids to be good” won’t be the answer.

“Don’t walk in front of me, I may not follow; Don’t walk behind me, I may not lead; Walk beside me, and just be my friend.” -Albert Camus