At the beginning of the year, no matter how many school years I clock, new students’ behaviors or new challenging behaviors for former students’ can come as quite a surprise. I realized the other day as an electronic device went whooshing past my head, propelled by a student in the middle of a meltdown, that sometimes at the beginning of the year we miss the little behaviors, and our chance to intervene, and find ourselves in the middle of a meltdown. New classrooms, new people, new expectations, this can be stressful for all of us, but especially for our students for whom communication, especially with new partners, is challenging.
Even though we find ourselves supporting new students or in new environments it is important to remember that we come to school each day with a toolkit of strategies for supporting students in the classroom both academically and emotionally. When a student is first starting to demonstrate a new behavior, whether it is silently picking at skin or pulling hair, or loudly exclaiming an emotion, try a tool from your toolbox and see what happens. Here are a few of the favorites I’m currently using while I learn about and develop relationships with my new students:
1) Visual schedule: some of my students benefit from having the entire day’s schedule on the board, while other students need mini schedules for smaller chunks of time. When students (and staff) are learning a new routine, this schedule helps them anticipate what is coming next and plan for when they can take a break. If a student uses an assistive technology device, see if it is possible to plug-in the schedule into the device so the student can reference it and have it spoken aloud if necessary. If not, a mini white board and the power to check off the boxes when finished, is quite powerful too.
2) Fidgets: Offer students a collection of stress balls or stretchy balls to help them sit at their desk and work. These can be found at dollar stores or made from everyday items like straws, yarn, or ribbon.
3) Go for a walk. If a student seems to be antsy in his chair or has been sitting for an extended period of time, he might really like to take a break from academic demands (and likely you will too) and go for a walk. If this is a new campus to the student, this is a perfect time to use the walk to also help the student orient himself and find important school locations such as the bathroom, library, computer lab, or office.
4) Talk less. Use visuals more. Imagine going from summer independence to sitting all day and listening to grown ups talk, talk, talk, all day long. I bet before I even finished that sentence you started to hear the teacher from Charlie Brown speak “blah blah, blah, blah, blah”. Write messages to your students, provide 2 written choices for an activity, draw stick figures to help a student make sense of a lecture, or use a picture or gesture to communicate.
5) Take time to find out what students like. Ask students about their favorite movie, band, or book. For students who aren’t able to communicate with you yet, ask their parents about their interests. For younger students a sticker of their favorite thing might be just the motivation needed, while for older students being able to talk about their interests or have time to earn at the end of an activity to listen to music or play a game, might help relieve stress and allow them to engage in the curriculum. (If you’d like more info on this: Paula Kluth has some terrific resources for using student interests during the school day.)
After the chaos, and the dust settles on the new year, it’s a good idea to start thinking about collecting data on the behaviors you’re observing. Data collection is so important to us, we’ve devoted an entire post to it. Stay tuned for next week…
What’s in your behavior toolbox?