Hover, Help, Halt, or How I Became Ok with the Flail

Before we get too far in this week’s blog post, we just want to thank Nicole Eredics of The Inclusive Class for hosting us this week with Adapting for Curriculum Demands. We appreciated the time she took to help get our messages out and the connections we have made with others since posting that live feed Hang Out. If you would like to comment or have a question, we are still are open to getting those. We will gladly answer them publicly to help everyone out.

It is sometimes off putting to go into the beginning of the school year and learn a student doesn’t want help. After all, helping is the main cause of the paraeducator.

But what about the student who always asks for help? The student who won’t even try to write from the board unless she can see exactly what you’re supposed to write? The student who comes to you for every little redirection or confirmation of direction? The student who freely chooses to sit next to you when they are clearly able to do the classwork?

Sometimes, there is some tolerance that needs to be built in, for both you and the student. At secondary, it’s too easy to believe that the student just may be insecure over a certain subject matter especially over Math and English. It may be all too easy to be swayed at any age level of “this student is new to this school”, “parents need this student to succeed”, or cultural biases that may exist in some families about school achievement.

But school, no matter what grade, is ultimately about learning. Learning about what worked and what did not work. Learning to be okay with being “wrong,” and growing from those experiences.

Even students who have a lot of anxiety have to learn these skills, perhaps in more controlled manners than others. Some students test limits of authority figures.

This is not going to be easy or pretty. Students who have had lots of help really do become uncomfortable with getting limited help. And you may need to readjust your expectations: some students are just not ready to have limited help.

So when it reaches that melting point, even when they are inconsolably crying in the halls, what is that next step?

  1. Find a safe place for them to actually cry. Some hallways may echo. You also do not want your student in the halls when students are passing through. You may have to use the nurse’s office or some quiet space to let the student have their time.
  2. Wait for them to be through crying before you actually speak to them. The goal wasn’t really to make them cry. Nor was the goal to make them hate the class, you, the teacher, or the topic. Life is overwhelming, crying is a natural response to overstimulation for some students. If you lost part of a day due to crying, it may be just time. It’s okay.
  3. Take inventory over all the things that were going on in class while they are crying. This would be a good time to take in some ABC data.
  4. Get a disinterested third party to come talk to the student. This can be the student’s case manager, the principal, or another paraeducator the student may just have found as “cool”.
  5. Assess the aftermath together with the student. Focus on the parts that the student did well, especially alone unaided.
  6. Talk with other people who work with that student. Sometimes it really may actually be you, though it may not be personal. It could be the pattern on your shirt, it could be the noise in class, it could be the fact you asked the student to work with their team, it could be you just represent authority and they don’t like that.
  7. Be logical about letting the student learn to see what happened. Let them complete the sentence, “When I need help I would like…” If the request is reasonable, try it for a week and see if it helps improve things for the class. If the request is not reasonable, be open to negotiation.

Flailing isn’t about creating misery for the student. It is not about getting joy from making a student cry. Sometimes it’s also about learning what a student can and cannot do for themselves. And especially, just because a student couldn’t do this specific skill last year, does not mean he or she cannot do it this year. We would also like to point out: the goal isn’t also to do this all year, but it is to try and work up to some slight independence in classwork. If it is just taking notes or staying on topic when with peers, maybe that’s just the goal to work on for the time being.

And one more thing: like students, some paraeducators flail too. And they learn and grow from this experience with their students. The best ones share with their co-workers what worked and what didn’t work in that situation. It isn’t quite the same, and may not result in tears, but it does happen from time to time. If you weren’t the one who flailed today, be there for someone who may be.

Do you have any comments about this week’s blog? Do you have a question for us? Find ParaEducate online hereherehere, here, and here. ParaEducate is company interested in providing materials, information, and strategies for people working in special education inclusion settings for grades K-12. ParaEducate, the blog, is published weekly during the academic school year on Thursdays, unless a holiday. ParaEducate shares their findings at conferences, through their books, and their academic adaptations.

About paraeducate

ParaEducate is a company run to help reach out to paraeducators or paraprofessionals in public K-12 schools, giving advice, talking about publications that ParaEducate produces, and other useful information regarding working in public school settings.
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