As educators we often talk about differentiating instruction for our students – we know for them to have the best chance at success we need to meet them where they are. Teachers work very hard at this, and most would say it is something that they are continually working on and refining. They know how important it is for kids to be on the edge of improvement and how overwhelming it can be if the work is too far beyond their grasp.
We do this for academics, but not as much in the social-emotional or behaviour domains.
I often think about a student who came part way through the year at one of my former schools. This student had real struggles with behaviour. She had a very difficult time reading body language and understanding social cues….needless to say break times were always a struggle. There was some kind of conflict to deal with at the end of almost every break. As we were talking, I began to understand why she struggled.
“In my old school I wasn’t allowed outside. I got into too much trouble and I wasn’t allowed to play with the other kids.”
I don’t want to oversimplify or pass judgement on another school. I’m sure it was a matter of safety and not a decision the school took lightly. However, I am left wondering:
…how do you learn appropriate social interaction if you never get a chance to practice?
We have kids who struggle with their behaviour at our school, but I am really proud of how our teachers deal with it. They understand that some kids can behave in a way that is expected and acceptable and others cannot. Rather than punishing students for things they are incapable of doing, they find solutions and supports for the kids. They modify or adapt the settings so that kids have the best chance to be successful.
At lunch and recess every day, our teacher librarian opens up her space for kids. They can draw, play leggo, board games. We have another CEA who chooses to open up the gym for our grade 5 students. Some of our students struggle to get along with others. They are fixed thinkers, so they don’t share well or problem solve all that well. We want kids to learn these skills, but they often need the support to do so.
We have created an adapted program for our kids that “struggle” – they “choose” an area where for break times. Their options were in small group settings where there was a skilled professional there to intervene, teach and model for them. They learn in context, they learn in small group settings – they learn at the place they are at. I see the benefits for these kids. They are more settled, more comfortable and they are having a more successful year. Further, I see them developing skills that are necessary to navigate the complicated world of social dynamics.
Some of these kids are now choosing to go outside – they are more comfortable, have relationships, and more importantly they have developed some skills and are having success in a larger setting with more kids (and therefore stimulus) to figure out.
It’s not a magical fix that happens overnight. These kids still have a long way to go and will require continued support, but rather than being punitive with their inappropriate behaviour we are figuring out what is getting in their way and meeting them where they are at.