special needs

What if anti-bullying curriculum was the ticket to a kinder world?

I saw this video and it literally made me cry. Five 5th grade boys decide to befriend a much-bullied boy with special needs and it changes all of their lives. As a teacher, this is the goal! I want my students to see each other as individuals, with different strengths that make them special, and to look out for each other, protect each other, create community together. Through sharing personal stories, books, role-play, and language empowerment, children can all develop empathy. 

What if, instead of disciplining children, we helped them find the root of the problem?

I've been a big fan of Dr. Ross Greene for years. He teaches parents and teachers to talk with children about their feelings and experiences to solve problems collaboratively, eventually leading to self-regulation. This is instead of punishment and consequence that we see in many schools and homes, which address behavior but don't get to the root of the problem, and often make children feel bad about not being in control of their behavior. Instead, as Dr. Greene says, let's teach children to recognize their emotions and control their behavior. Habit begets habit, you know? What if adults could also do this? Wouldn't that be something? I know too many adults who have difficulty controlling their emotions and consequently act poorly.

What if we all had emotional self-intelligence? 


This article explains the effectiveness of Dr. Greene's approach with regard to teacher training, prison recidivism rates, and behaviorally-struggling children. The following are the highlights:

University of Rochester psychologist Ed Deci, for example, found that teachers who aim to control students' behavior—rather than helping them control it themselves—undermine the very elements that are essential for motivation: autonomy, a sense of competence, and a capacity to relate to others. This, in turn, means they have a harder time learning self-control, an essential skill for long-term success. 

Stanford University's Carol Dweck, a developmental and social psychologist, has demonstrated that even rewards—gold stars and the like—can erode children's motivation and performance by shifting the focus to what the teacher thinks, rather than the intrinsic rewards of learning.

You'd talk with the kid to figure out the reasons for the outburst (was he worried he would forget what he wanted to say?), then brainstorm alternative strategies for the next time he felt that way. The goal is to get to the root of the problem, not to discipline a kid for the way his brain is wired.

If Greene's approach is correct, then the educators who continue to argue over the appropriate balance of incentives and consequences may be debating the wrong thing entirely. After all, what good does it do to punish a child who literally hasn't yet acquired the brain functions required to control his behavior?

The CPS (Collaborative and Proactive Solutions) method hinges on training school (or prison or psych clinic) staff to nurture strong relationships—especially with the most disruptive kids—and to give kids a central role in solving their own problems. For instance, a teacher might see a challenging child dawdling on a worksheet and assume he's being defiant, when in fact the kid is just hungry. A snack solves the problem.

The teachers and the student would come up with a plan to slowly get him more involved.

From Greene's perspective, that's the big win—not just to fix kids' behavior problems, but to set them up for success on their own. Too many educators, he believes, fixate on a child's problems outside of school walls—a turbulent home, a violent neighborhood—rather than focus on the difference the school can make. "Whatever he's going home to, you can do the kid a heck of a lot of good six hours a day, five days a week, nine months a year," Greene says. "We tie our hands behind our backs when we focus primarily on things about which we can do nothing."

Dr. Ross Greene's website: http://www.livesinthebalance.org/
Great books by Dr. Greene: The Explosive Child, Lost at School 

What if ALL teachers had certification in general AND special education?

Can you imagine a classroom where all teachers have a "toolbox" to work effectively with all kinds of learners? Teachers who can read a child and know what strategy to use in a particular moment are rare. In my experience they are not the teachers who have had the most experience, rather they are the teachers who had a variety of experiences and time to reflect on them and share them. We live in a world where everyone, including typically-developing children, needs a little extra help at least once in their lives. Teacher training programs, in essence, Masters in Education programs, give teachers 2 important pieces of becoming a skilled teacher for all populations. In both general and special education programs, the 2 components are taking classes (ie. reading and learning within a teacher-community), and real world experience, often called field work or student teaching, where the student shadows a master teacher and gets first-hand experience in a particular educational setting. I am here to invent the possibility that there's only ONE license and it is a combination of BOTH general and special education. If this were the case, all teachers would have field work from a special education setting. They would have seen master teachers in action, tried out lessons as well as created their own in a master teacher's classroom with feedback from that master teacher, and networked with master teachers through email and social media, and develop relationships with them so that years down the road when they are confused about a child they have a network of professional colleagues to connect with for ideas, resources, collaboration, and help. Special education teacher training programs differ from general education ones in that the field of special education is aware of and celebrates the whole child. As a teacher in a special education program you learn about all kinds of child development, what it looks like in the child, in the home, in the classroom, and what kinds of strategies teachers can use to reach all students. How invaluable! This is how we can meet every child's needs. This is how we can best prepare teachers.