Behavior. Say that word to any teacher this school year and you will get a multitude of responses and emotions including hands thrown up in the air, eye rolls, shaken heads, and sighs of frustration, disappointment, and discouragement.
How many of us are feeling the effects of Covid in our classrooms? Every. Single. One of us. And it isn't their fault - it seems we pressed the "pause" button on child development in March of 2020. You have probably seen the meme about the last time our fourth graders had a normal school year - they were in FIRST grade. Our second graders have NEVER had a normal school year. Once back from Remote Learning students came back into schools that tried to make them sit in desks, work in groups, walk in lines, be present, focused, on task, be around other children, with or without masks, and expect no differences. Our students have been impacted by all of this in ways we cannot possibly understand. We can understand what we understand, but we need to understand we will never truly understand. We are not children who have been through what our children have been through.
Students who have never been in a school before. Students who don't know how to lock the door on the bathrooms because they have never been in a public restroom. Students who don't know how to line up, even after 3 months of being in school. Students who don't know how to be around other children or in large groups, or work in a small group. We have probably all seen or know someone who has seen students tearing things off walls, throwing chairs, running out of classrooms, screaming, arguing, or just falling apart.
They are trying to tell us something. Maybe we need to
That means we have more opportunities to show consistent and positive kindness and love, to set consistent and positive boundaries, to figure out how to love on those "prickly" kids, and to help our students be their best selves.
It also means to expect the unexpected.
With the winter break it is now time for a Behavior Reboot in 2022.
With each class:
- Before the class even comes in - are YOU ready? Are your materials close at hand, do you have a backup plan in case the lesson goes sideways? Do you have some pocket songs or books nearby you can sing or read in case that is what the class needs?
- Are YOU centered and focused? I find that closing the door before the children come in the room and taking a 30 second inventory - closing my eyes, taking 3 deep breaths, setting an intention of positivity, care, and kindness, helps me enormously to feel grounded.
- Are YOU prepared to meet the children where they are? If they come in hyped up on sugar are you ready to do the Seven Jumps dance (my next post will be on how I use this dance - it's not the traditional one) or something else to get the wiggles out? This helps in leading them down the path to where we need for them to be. Doing so is purposeful yet playful, and encourages relational teaching and builds community.
Enforcing immediate compliance without time to transition into your class is similar to a prison guard trying to re-establish control during a prison riot and can lead to you and the students being at odds.
- Set clear expectations and boundaries. Then set them again. And again. KEEP those lines drawn. What I say is what I mean and what I mean is what I say. The consequence may be different for different children and that is OK- fair and equal are not the same. Part of this is knowing your students and being relational. A child who is trying to get away with behavior is not the same as a child who is acting out of anger or frustration. A child with mental health challenges is not the same as a child who is sneaky and manipulative.
- What is your lesson flow or structure? Children, like adults, thrive with routine and structure. That doesn't mean there is rigidity and inflexibility. Here are some ideas for the first 5 minutes of class. Here are some ideas for the last 5 minutes of class or for when you need an additional quick activity.
- When difficult behaviors happen, don't get in a power struggle. Just don't. It doesn't work for you OR the child.
- Be the investigator - what does this student need? Do they need a chance to feel successful? Do they need to be a helper and turn lights on or off or get things for you in the classroom? Do they need a time out or a time in? Are they overstimulated - Do they need a quick trip to get a drink of water/go to the bathroom? Do they need a side hug or just to be told they are not in trouble or that you care about them?
- Remember we teach children. Say it with me. I teach children. I teach tiny humans. Then say, "I teach tiny humans music." When teachers say, "I teach music" it takes out the human element. We teach music to children, but we teach children first.
- If what you are doing isn't working, put on the investigator/experimenter hat and try something different. Talk to classroom teachers to find out what is working for the class or specific children and try, try again.
- Also, it's important to say we as teachers are going through a lot. A LOT. A LOT A LOT A LOT. Take your mental health as important as you would a serious physical illness. Take a walk, do yoga, get a massage, cry, play piano, sing, journal, see a counselor, talk to someone, ask for a hug. DO the things you need to and don't feel you have fall on your sword as a teacher - you matter, your life matters, your health matters. Teaching is not more important than you. Prioritize your health and well being.