Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to teach at many different public schools as well as in a private school environment. I’ve taught numerous children that range in age from 3 to 14. This summer, I’ve been thinking a lot about one child.
- He had so many interesting ideas to share with the class.
- He was very social, and was always finding topics to discuss with others.
- He loved sports, and engaged in many organized sports as well as recess games with friends.
- He had a small group of close friends, but also numerous acquaintances.
- He was a strong student, but disliked reading and writing, and was very reluctant to complete any work in these areas. He could read and write at grade level though.
- He was very emotional, and for different reasons, would react with tears, screaming, kicking, hitting, and even throwing items in the classroom.
It’s these last two points that have been on my mind lately. At the time, I thought that I was doing everything I could to support this student.
- I let him write using a device.
- I gave him some choices of topics.
- I broke up reading and writing activities with more preferred activities (such as some iPad and computer activities).
- I always gave him opportunities to work in groups with peers, as he liked this better than working alone.
- I used a reward system.
- I was firm and consistent.
- I removed students from the room if there was a problem, and I kept talking to him to try and calm him down.
A couple of different times during the year, I needed to contact the office for some additional support. He was sent home. I supported this decision because of his behaviour, and I tried hard to make things better the next day … but now I wonder if I should have acted differently in the first place.
I taught this student before I read Stuart Shanker‘s Calm, Alert, and Learning, and before I took the Foundations courses. At the time, I really didn’t understand self-regulation, and what I interpreted as misbehaviour then, I question now if it was really stress behaviour. I also wonder if, inadvertently, I was at times to blame.
- While he was more willing to read and write on an iPad, did the regular use of a device, make him more up-regulated? Did this make it more challenging for him to get to “calm?”
- Did the preferred activities, which were also usually on a device, further up-regulate him and make it more of a challenge for him to focus on work afterwards?
- While he liked working with peers, sometimes the social interaction was also a challenge, as he found it hard when others had different ideas than him. He also struggled when other children knew something that he didn’t know and/or didn’t understand. Did this group work only increase this child’s stress?
- While he liked receiving a reward, he found it hard when he couldn’t get one, which only increased the problems. Did the reward system actually produce more stress and increase the behaviour that I was actually trying to decrease?
- While I think that there’s value to being consistent (and in this case, routine), I think that I was sometimes harder than I needed to be. When I saw that this child was struggling, did I actually need a gentler/calmer response? Would a softer tone and more space have worked better than my firmer response?
- While I may not have had a choice about removing students from the classroom (for everyone’s safety), I wonder if the changes that I discussed above would have reduced the severity of his responses. I also thought that talking to him was helping, but if he was this angry and upset, was he really hearing me? Maybe I needed to give him the time and space to calm down, so that we could later problem solve together.
I can’t go back now and change what I did back then, but with learning (and continuing to learn) about self-regulation, I can change what I do in the future. I’m sure that we’ve all taught children that stick with us as this child did for me. Think about this child of yours. How might you change things to make things different for the next child (with similar needs) that walks through your door? The summer is a great time for reflection, and I continue to reflect as I remember this child from many years ago.