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Category: Anger Management

Every Student Has a Story


As a new teacher, it is so easy to get all-consumed with the teaching.

Yet, it is important to remember that we are teaching students … we are teaching children.


cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Pink Sherbet Photography


Some of my students, my “little characters”, are not easy to teach.

Some make me laugh, some make me cry. Yet, I enjoy working with, and teaching every one of them.

 

I believe in building bridges with my most alienated, challenging students. I invest significant time and effort in building trust and mutual respect. I try to find that connection, that one little thing we have in common … and I’ve learnt “that from little things, big things grow”.

Sometimes, I feel like I’m preoccupied with my own teaching and learning, but today I received a powerful reminder about the foundation of my teaching practice.

A student told me her story.

It wasn’t an easy story to tell, and not an easy story to listen to. Yet, it was a first step, a little breakthrough …  from which, I believe we can move forward.

Every student, every child has a story …

But as teachers, do we take the time to listen?

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Cracking the Hard Class

As a relief teacher, I’ve come across many tough and extremely challenging classes, taught by graduate and experienced teachers alike.

Walking into, and taking control of the ‘hard class’ is one of the greatest challenges of my job, and I have learnt that there is no “one size fits all” approach. These classes are hard work, but most can be won over in time.

As I write this penultimate post on my classroom management approach, I thought I would share my experiences in a Year 4 class, in July 2010. Over the course of three days, I managed to take control of one of the most challenging class I have encountered as a relief teacher, marking a personal triumph of my first year.

Extract from my Reflective Journal (July 31, 2010)

This week, I spent my second and third day teaching the class. The first time was hell – students were generally unruly, refused to follow instructions, and I had the Principal dropping in at frequent intervals to ‘keep an eye’ on the situation. As usual in this school, I had not been warned that I would be teaching a really tough class. I left that day with a sore throat, almost losing my voice after raising my voice to excess.

On the second day I taught the class, I was surprised to find a number of students were actually excited to have me return. I wasn’t too impressed with having no work left for the two days, but I was much happier with the other (experienced) Deputy Principal, who properly prepped me for the class.

I found the students challenging, but not as bad as that first day. Working with the experienced teacher’s aide, I set out to teach some tried and tested relief activities and games, including Graffiti Walls (spelling) and a comic strip text innovation activity. I took an assertive management approach, insisting on every student’s individual attention, giving explicit instructions, and using the “hands up for quiet” signal.

On several occasions, I took the students outside the classroom for games. When they couldn’t line up without fighting and yelling at each other, I sent them back into class, and bluntly explained that their behaviour was completely unacceptable. They got the message … eventually.

The difference on the third day was amazing. I marvelled how I didn’t have to raise my voice, and at how much faster students responded to the “hands-up” signal. I did have to teach the class how to line up after Recess and Lunch, pulling a group of diehards out of line for a “chat”. Watching the class ‘perform’ for their Health teacher, I came to appreciate just how much better behaved they were for me.

I tried to make the activities interesting, and emphasised students’ sharing of their work with their peers. I also used the Find Someone Whostrategy for the very first time, marking the achievement of a recent learning goal. The students loved it, and even the shyer / more socially isolated students were able to get involved. Recognising that some students couldn’t read, I read through the items first, and encouraged them to ask for help if they weren’t sure. Sure enough, one did.

Marking students’ graffiti walls and comic strips at the end of the day, I was extremely impressed with some students’ efforts. I shared some of the funniest comics with the class, and kept a few for my records.

Drawing Parallels with a Year 7 “Class from Hell”

Leafing through my journal (Volume 1), I was struck with by the parallels with a class that ‘tore me to shreds’ in 2009, one of my worst ever teaching experiences. Comparing the management approach I took into these classes, I can see how much I have grown in this area.

The Keys to my Management Success

1) A confident assertive attitude and stance (body language is important)

2) Insisting on total compliance and attention prior to issuing instructions or explaining a learning activity. I also moved amongst students to ensure this happened.

3) Praising and rewarding the ‘allies’ – refusing to use collective punishment

4) Explicitly teaching (and if necessary) making students practice my expectations for their behaviour.

5) Using interesting learning activities

If you have a “class from hell”, it pays to be proactive, consistent, and persistent.

These classes are really hard work, but most can be conquered.

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Responding to Student Anger

Anger is a confronting emotion for classroom teachers and students alike. Early intervention, a sensitive response, and teaching of anger-management strategies are critical to successful interventions.

When a student gets angry, they can become aggressive or violent, and sometimes flee the situation. Each individual’s anger-response is different, and it is imperative that teachers know the warning signs and characteristic behaviours. (Please, please – tell the relief teacher too!). It is also important to remember that a student may feel shamed after losing control of their emotions in front of their peers.

Intervene Early – If You Can

I encourage students to tell me if they aren’t coping with their emotions; explaining that I will give them a chance to get out of class and calm down. This usually involves sending them on an errand, going to the toilet, or getting a drink.

If I recognise the warning signs of an impending outburst, I often quietly tap the student on the shoulder, and offer them an exit strategy. This is an important strategy for teaching students how to cope with and regulate their emotions.

Responding to Anger Crisis Situations

As I discussed in a recent post, the teacher’s first priority in an anger crisis situation is to ensure their personal safety and the safety of the other students. This may necessitate the removal of the student, or the audience.

After the student has calmed down, and accepted the relevant consequences for their actions, it is important to privately discuss their behaviour with them. (You can take the student aside in class, or if possible, take them for a 5 minute walk at Recess break. Sometimes it is more relaxing and beneficial to discuss these matters in informal settings). 

anger-management 

I often explain to the student that I can’t possibly understand what they are going through, but that it is normal to feel upset /angry. If they have exhibited a violent/aggressive response, I discuss coping strategies, and help the student identify more positive, less harmful responses. As a classroom teacher, this would inform a more formal behaviour management plan.

Anger Management (TeacherTube)

http://www.teachertube.com/embed/player.swf

 

Useful Resources

Anger Management and Conflict Resolution for Middle School Students, a free PPT download from TeachersPayTeachers.com

“Part 3: Coping with crises, conflicts and difficult situations” in Magic Classroom Management. Rob Plevin (2008/9). (Email me for a copy – I have free distribution rights)

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A Focus on the Teacher’s Attitude, Actions & Management Approach

The classroom teacher’s attitude, demonstrated through their words, actions, body language and management approach, is the most significant factor in successfully working with challenging students.

My father taught me that “when dealing with people’s problems, you need to lift the bandaid to understand why they behave as they do”. I believe teachers can play an important role in ‘lifting the bandaid and treating the festering sore beneath’.

This ‘bandaid’ metaphor describes my attitude and approach to dealing with students with ‘problem’ behaviours and special needs. (What is a ‘problem’ or challenging behaviour)

My Attitude & Actions
  • I understand that challenging students’ behaviour(s) are purposeful, and try to acknowledge their emotions & circumstances as valid and real.
  • As teachers, we have no control over the emotional baggage our students bring to school, and indeed, some have extremely complex problems.
  • What we can do; however, is acknowledge their emotions, and work to identify the purpose(s) of their behaviour.
    • This involves trying to neutralise the environmental triggers, intervening before the behaviour occurs.
    • It also involves teaching the child how to understand and better manage their emotions & behaviour.
  • We can also work to engage these students in their learning by:
    • incorporating their interests & talents into classroom learning activities
    • modifying teaching and learning processes to enable students’ participation in their learning (e.g. reducing reading content, asking peers to scribe information)

How does my Attitude inform my Management Approach?

As a professional relief teacher working in unfamiliar classes, I try to observe & win-over my challenging students. I may only work in the class for the day, but if/when I return, I can plan my management approach accordingly.

To this end, I initially focus on proactive, preventative behaviour management measures. I observe and privately talk to the student in question, watching how they interact with other students and the relief teacher. If the negative or testing behaviours continue, I apply a system of graduated consequences based on 1-2-3 Magic™, bumping students towards Timeout, Buddy Class & ultimately Office Withdrawal.

I try to work along this continuum over time (a few hours). While this means I may temporarily put up with certain behaviours, it enables me to start identifying the purposes & triggers of the ‘problem’ behaviours. I suppose the only caveat is that you need to know and understand the school’s behaviour management policies, as I’ve been caught out on occasion by some radically different whole-school approaches.

As I’ve described in earlier posts, I supplement my in-class management approach by working to develop positive relationships with my most challenging students. Relief teaching is a difficult job at the best of times, but targeted relationship building efforts can help to significantly reduce your management challenges over time. 

Summing Up

I view my challenging students as a “a work in progress”. I’ve had my successes and failures, but I’ve been surprised to find that some of my most challenging students’ have incredible talents, interests, and intellect. Their considered contributions to class discussions and creative talents have, at times, amazed me.

Working with challenging students requires considerable time, effort and patience, but as I have found, the rewards are worth it.

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The Classroom Learning Environment – Be Aware of the Audience

I’ve already explored the ‘3 R’s of an Effective Learning Environment” in a series of earlier posts; however, I have a few further points which specifically relate to the effective management of challenging students. In particular, it is extremely important to consider how the rest of your class reacts to your challenging student’s antics.

To see how this looks in practice, I’ve decided to share a recent relief experience (some details changed); one which leads into my next post on teachers’ attitudes and actions.

My Day

Today was not an easy one. I was working in a relatively unfamiliar Year 2/3 class, which I had taught for a few hours previously. The fun and games started during Morning Fitness, when we were trying to play Fruit Salad on the oval.

A student came last, and several classmates made that extremely clear to him through their vocal comments and shouting. The next thing I knew, this particular student threw his hat on the ground, and ran off across the oval crying. While I was torn between chasing the kid and looking after the class, from experience, I made my first priority the removal of the audience.

  • Your ‘audience’ (i.e. the rest of the class) can significantly escalate these anger/flight situations through insensitive responses and actions.
  • While this is usually done inadvertently due to a poor understanding of their peer’s anger/emotions, some children may deliberately spark off the fireworks.
  • Always keep an eye on your so-called “innocent” bystanders. Some may not be as innocent as they look.

Sure enough, shouts of “Go home!” from certain children resulted in an extremely irritated teacher and a further alienated student, now sitting on the edge of the oval, crying his eyes out.

After removing the audience, talking to the provocateurs, and asking another teacher to keep an eye on the class for a few minutes, I set off to talk to my wayward student.

  • Most children can’t understand their peer’s anger, and an angry child may feel shamed if they lose control of their emotions in front of the class.
  • It is important to sensitively acknowledge the student’s emotions as valid and normal. You need to try and work out the purposes & triggers of their emotional / behavioural issues, and explore more positive ways to express & cope with those emotions.
  • This may involve working in partnership with the student’s support network – parents, grandparents, school social worker, mentors or psychologist.
  • Never underestimate the value of a volunteer mentor or social worker. They can have an amazing impact on your challenging students.

Later in the day, I faced a ‘crisis’ situation with another student. While I knew this particular child had a few issues, I had no real knowledge of his typical behaviours, warning signs, or the purpose of his behaviour. This made an early intervention / prevention impossible.

After returning to the class after an office withdrawal, the student appeared to pose no further problem; however, I soon found him standing at the classroom door throwing rocks (with amazing accuracy) at anyone who came too close.

I took steps to protect my students, trying to keep them at a safe distance; and calmly supported the Deputy Principal’s defusal of the situation. During this time, I became extremely annoyed with the reaction of my ‘captive’ audience, which I perceived as rewarding/supporting the negative behaviour.

  • Normally, in this sort of situation, it is imperative to remove the audience – either by removing the misbehaving student, or by removing the class.
  • It is virtually impossible to explain a peer’s behaviour to a class for privacy reasons; however, it is essential to teach them how to deal with & strategically ignore certain behaviours or situations.

The Moral of the Story: Never underestimate the influence of the audience.

Previous Posts on Effective Learning Environments:

The Three R’s of an Effective Learning Environment

Transforming a Year 3 Class into a Learning Community

The Third ‘R’ – (Shared) Responsibility for the Learning Process

Crisis Management Advice

WA Disability Services – Crisis Management Tip Sheet [doc]

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What is a “problem” or challenging behaviour?

A ‘problem’ behaviour is a particular behaviour, defined by its context, intensity, and frequency, which is expressed in an inappropriate social situation (Conway, 2005, p. 211).

While a student’s ‘problem’ behaviours may offend, annoy, or irritate their teachers and peers, they are rarely meant to be spiteful. Such behaviours are associated with poor social skills, and usually indicate an attempt to avoid work, seek attention, or communicate frustration (p. 211).

Is it fair to blame the ‘problem’ student for their behaviour?

Many teachers blame ‘problem’ behaviours on the student’s poor self-control and parenting, laziness, or their special needs ‘label’ (e.g. Autism, ADHD). Unfortunately, this attribution ignores the underlying causes and communicative purposeof the behaviour.

There are many factors which can contribute to ‘problem behaviours’, and very few lie with the student.

Causes/Triggers of Problem Behaviours

The Student

  • Frustration & anxiety – they may be unable to work independently, or may not understand the task.
  • Poor social skills
  • Underlying learning difficulties
  • Special needs (e.g. ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorder)

The Home Environment

  • Unstable / dysfunctional family environment
  • Low socio-economic status
  • Family values and attitude to schooling
  • Lack of parental support
  • History of neglect or abuse
  • Culturally acceptable behaviours (e.g. attitudes towards women)

The Teacher

  • Negative attitude towards student’s behaviour
  • Inappropriate (unintentional) reinforcement of problem behaviours – providing negative attention, being drawn into power-struggles.
  • A classroom management style based on power and dominance, rather than relationships.

The School & Curriculum Environment

  • Boring and unstimulating classroom environment
  • Peer provocateurs (students who instigate / negatively respond to their peer’s problem behaviour)
  • Inappropriate level of curriculum difficulty
  • Lack of appropriate teaching and learning adjustments
  • Reliance on teacher-centred strategies – ‘chalk & talk’

(Conway, 2004, pp. 210-213)

Exploring the Purpose of a Student’s Challenging Behaviour

A student’s challenging behaviour is purposeful, and may fall into one/more of these categories – Power, Attention Seeking, Withdrawal (Assumed Disability), or Revenge/Anger.

When you understand the underlying purpose of the challenging behaviour, you are better able to respond to its underlying causes and incidence in the classroom/playground. This can prove invaluable knowledge.

For further information, I highly recommend reading the relevant chapter in Classroom Management: A Thinking & Caring Approach(Bennett, B. & Smilanich, P., 1994).

I also recommend the Quick Strategies notes on the Behaviour Needs websites, which provides a list of graduated responses to common misbehaviours (e.g. attention-seeking, confrontation, disruption). (http://www.behaviourneeds.com/quick-strategies/)

 

Summing Up:

Advice for Teachers on the Firing Line

classroom-management

As a relief or subsitute teacher, I know what is like to be on the ‘firing line’ – I’ve worked with a range of students exhibiting ‘problem’ or ‘challenging’ behaviours. I’ve been kicked, sworn at, received “attitude”, and dealt with my fair share of fights and runaways.

I’ve made my mistakes, but gee, I’ve learnt some fundamental lessons along the way.

 

To work effectively with challenging students, teachers need:

  1. To try and understand the causes, environmental triggers, and underlying purpose of the problem behaviour(s). (This is easier said than done)
  2. To identify appropriate proactive and reactive behaviour management strategies for the individual student.
    • Proactive strategies target the underlying causes of the ‘problem’ behaviour & promote social inclusion (e.g. high expectations, teaching social skills, dealing with peer provocateurs)
    • Reactive strategies guide the teacher’s graduated responses to the incidence of the problem behaviour (e.g. Time Out, Buddy Class, Loss of Reward Time)
  1. A commitment to building a positive teacher-student relationship; building trust and mutual respect, and working to engage the student in their learning. This may involve the formulation of an IEP / Behaviour Plan.

These fundamental lessons, drawn from university research and relief teaching experience, form the basis of my “Three Keys to Working with Challenging Students”, as outlined in my previous post.

 

References

Conway, R. (2005). ‘Encouraging positive interactions’. In P. Foreman (Ed.). Inclusion in Action, Melbourne: Thomson, [Chapter 6: pp. 210-251].

Keen D and Knox M. ‘Approach to challenging behaviour : a family affair’. [online]. Journal of Intellectual and Developmental Disability;.29(1), pp.52-64. Retrieved March 25, 2008, from http://search.informit.com.au/

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Challenging Students: Dealing with Student Anger, Defiance, Aggression, and Violence

As a relief teacher, I meet and work with challenging students on a regular basis; and it is fair to say that my 2008 school experience and 2009 relief teaching experience in a TRIBES school have defined my attitude and management approach towards these students.

My experiences, observations, and professional learning in these schools underpin my ongoing efforts as a relief teacher to win-over and build effective relationships with my most challenging students. They have also contributed to some of my major success stories working with students that some dread to teach.

Common Characteristics of Challenging Students

  • Their behaviour disrupts the learning process, verbally or physically harms others, frustrates their teachers, and often results in office withdrawal or school suspension. 
  • They are usually male, ranging in age from 7-12 years old (K-7). I have also worked with some challenging female students, but they are usually found in upper primary. 
  • They can be socially-isolated, or associate themselves with students with similar background experiences. 
  • Their behaviour is directly linked to the emotional / social baggage they bring to school, and is motivated and purposeful.
  • They generally can’t cope with changes in classroom routines, and are more likely to negatively respond to relief teachers. 
  • The attitude and management approach of the classroom teacher, and school staff, are CRITICAL to a successful intervention with a challenging students

 The Three Keys to Working with Challenging Students

  1. Focus on Building Positive Relationships
  2. Focus on the Classroom Learning Environment
  3. Focus on the Teacher’s Attitude, Professional Knowledge, and Management Approach

I will be discussing these “Three Keys” in the context of Rod Plevin’s (2009) eBook: MAGIC Classroom Management: How to get the most from the worst kids in school (www.classroom-management.org), as his approach mirrors the lessons I have learnt over the past few years.

Dealing with Challenging Behaviour (Belize Teacher Training)
 
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