This year our school has done a book study on Ross Greene’s Lost at School. It has been an eye-opening experience for me. After the book our teachers have continued to meet and talk and discuss celebrations and frustrations in trying the collaborative problem solving approach with students. This is one of our teachers reflections on the year to date.
My initial response:
When a staff member asked if I wanted to participate in the book club surrounding this topic, I jumped at the chance because it resonated with my situation intensely. I am teaching a student for the second year in a row and have tried many previous recommended methods such as: rewards, sticker programs, behaviour checklists etc. None of them worked and the relationship with my student was that of frustration and exhaustion on both ends.
As I began to read, with a bit of skepticism, what grabbed my attention were the exact descriptions from the book that matched my student’s behaviours:
- Throwing things, hitting things, running out of the classroom, everything is black and white, “not fair”, “it’s stupid, you always blame me”, constant hands on.
Then I thought to myself, if Mr. Greene could describe my student’s behaviours so explicitly, he must know a thing or two.
Key Quotes or Ideas:
As I was reading there were key ideas that made an impactful change in my thinking:
- “Kids do well if they can” – they already know how we want them to behave thus rewards and punishments have the opposite effects.
- These kids are misunderstood and over punished
- A kid shouldn’t need a diagnosis to access help
- They often cry or withdraw when they don’t have the skills to communicate
- “Shelving emotions so they can think rationally is a difficult skill”
- They are functioning at a much younger developmental level
- It is hard to teach flexibility if they are inflexible themselves
Greene states throughout the book that these kids would do well if they could but for some reason they are “lagging skills” to be able to do so. I never really thought about that before. The fact that they are behaviourally at a two-year old age level – I was consistently complaining that my student seemed to be at that age level, not even considering the fact that this actually was the case and he needed to learn those behaviour skills. That made sense to me. We help many kids with learning difficulties or otherwise, why couldn’t we treat behavioural difficulties with the same insight.
Another facet that changed my thinking drastically from Greene’s book was the parental side of things. It is so easy for us to just blame the parents or environmental influences. The old saying of “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree; that is why the way they are.” The stories in the book really made me reflect on that idea. None of us are perfect parents and many of these kids are born with innate personalities that are extremely hard for anyone to deal with. Sure we can try our best to parent around these personalities but there is not a lot of information or training for parents out there on how to do so.
I called my student’s dad and told him exactly this. I said I understood his frustration and that it must be hard to try to understand his son’s behaviour day in and day out. He said, “Do you think I didn’t wish to have a ‘normal’ kid? I love my son but it is extremely hard and I need some answers, do you have any answers?” I told him about the book and how it talks about the key of collaboration amongst all sides (home and school) and explained that his son is lagging certain behaviour skills. I said that together, with his son, we can try to work on some of them. Up to this point, the principal had been an integral part in working with my student on solutions for dealing with one or two of his specific lagging skills.
Note: At the beginning of the year, this father did not even attend his son’s IEP meeting and was afraid of school professionals pushing medicine as the answer to his son’s issues.
After this talk with the student’s father, he asked to meet with the principal, psychologist, his son, mom, and I. For once, I think he finally knew we truly wanted success for his son. There was a genuine understanding between both of us, as to what we each of us were dealing with behaviourally each day. What progress!!
On the Lagging Skills checklist, this student had check marks on almost every one. We began small, specifically with transitions. The principal and I met with my student to talk about ways to help him self- regulate when confronted with transitions. This student was very receptive to it. Ironically, even though he is one of my most difficult behaviour students, he is also one of my keenest; therefore I knew he truly cared to succeed. The consistent conversations with this student and collaboration of different methods to self regulate were mostly accomplished by the administration. They took the time to have these important discussions when my student was calm enough to do so.
This year has had its ups and downs. Every time I hit my ultimate frustration point, I would go back and reread certain parts of the book and remember that “kids do well if they can”. It has made me reflect a great deal on how I handle my student instead of always putting the blame on him. I know I can definitely be ‘Plan A’ as Mr. Greene puts it, or cause events to escalate more than they need to. Anticipation and empathy are words I repeat in my head over and over. Without that reflection and understanding of ‘Plan B’, the student’s important participatory role in it, and the collaboration between all facets at home and school, we would not have seen the success we have.
It is still very much a constant work in progress, but there is progress. This keeps me hopeful each day that maybe this student will function at his age level socially and behaviourally, or at least be able to consistently self regulate by the time he reaches Middle School.
Powerful stuff indeed. This student has gone from 8 – 10 office visits a week down to one over the last 3 weeks. It is to the point now where we can focus on academic issues. There is still lots of work to be done, but the clear and steady progress is exciting. The student, his family and the school all are feeling much more positive about this student’s success..