Any teacher will tell you that managing classroom behavior is critical to surviving the first days and weeks of the school year. But how? The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) 2009 provides guidelines of procedures that must be adhered to when disciplining students with Special Needs. Teachers have the legislation to guide them, but do they have a toolkit of strategies to help them manage classroom behavior in a supportive, non-confrontational way?
Get in the Game
Without specific training related to the modification of behaviors of children with special needs, it is no wonder that teacher turnover in the first five years in the classroom is so high. According to NPR. org, schools that do a better job of coping with behavioral issues have significantly better teacher retention rates. So, it is well worth the school’s time and effort to educate not only students, but also teachers in this significant area of professional development.
The good news is that there are a number of very simple techniques that, if applied correctly, can yield positive outcomes for both students and teachers. The bad news is that school districts must be committed to teaching them, but often are not. Many of these techniques have been adapted from work originally presented by Fritz Redl and David Wineman in their book titled Controls from Within: Techniques for the Treatment of the Aggressive Child. These techniques address how to interact with children and avoid confrontational, no-win situations. In the work done by Redl and Wineman, threats and punishments were never used, even with considerably challenging students.
In the Beginning
Long before a student and teacher are in a “no-win” situation that results in disciplinary action, there are things that can be done to create a “win-win” situation. Relationship building is key. People, in general, do things relationally with and for one another. A simple smile can break multiple barriers and set the stage for interventions aimed at establishing positive, caring, teacher-student relationships. One such intervention is called “hypodermic affection”. This is an infusion of affection aimed at breaking through a barrier laden with fear or distrust. When a teacher exudes affection and positive energy, it can go a long way to encouraging a positive reaction from the student.
“Hurdle Help” is another such technique. In this intervention, a student is helped over his barrier to learning and participating with a hint or a strategy. As such, students are helped over their “hurdle” and can participate in the learning and the lesson.
No Words Needed
Non–verbal interventions, such as proximity and touch control, let the student know that the teacher is close at hand if support is needed. On the other hand, planned ignoring can protect a student’s ego if he or she needs a little more time to process a request. To the untrained eye, it may look like a teacher is ignoring the student, but this is in fact a very specific move on the part of the teacher. Often, especially with young children, the purpose of misbehavior can be to gain attention…planned ignoring removes the audience.
Change is a Good Thing
Sometimes it is necessary to “restructure” an activity and redirect a student; change it up a bit! If a student is totally lost on one particular task, find a way to alter the task. For example, if the student is coming up blank for the assigned writing prompt, allow a different subject choice. If other students see this as “unfair”, shine the light on differences among all of the students in the class. If this rule is applied equally to everyone, the trust in the room will grow, as will the respect for one another.
A Little Help Goes a Long Way
Prompting and fading is another intervention that can allow for a non-threatening solution to an otherwise crisis situation, or “showdown”, between a teacher and a student. Prompts can be full physical, partial physical, modeling, gesturing, or positional. If using this intervention, it’s important to proceed from the least to the most invasive prompting and should include a plan for prompt fading to be implemented as soon as possible. Fading means that over time, and as a student masters a skill, prompting will not be needed at all.
Plan Ahead for Success
Equipped with techniques to avoid confrontations, lessons can proceed! Providing a structured learning environment means that a teacher thinks carefully not only about the lesson to be taught, but how it will be introduced, instructed, and practiced for mastery. Have an interesting “do-now” on the board that introduces the aim of the lesson right from the start will motivate cooperation and participation. An interesting little known fact can kick off a lively discussion in any classroom, regardless of the level of the students. Since students learn by doing, elements of activity should be built in to the learning process for optimal gain.
Big Ticket Item – Cooperative Planning
Classroom rules are a necessity for structure and order. It is best if the teacher and student create them together and agree upon them as a unit. Utmost attention should be given that no one is left out of the equation. Inclusion is not just the law; it is the right thing to do. If we can play, shop, and live together in neighborhoods outside of school, why should students be separated in school? A master teacher knows how to differentiate a lesson’s aim, activities, and assessment. Students learn to accept differences and practice social skills important for the world outside the classroom doors when inclusive education is infused within schools.
It’s a Cultural Thing
Practicing these simple techniques can improve the climate and culture of each teacher’s classroom, and by extension, the climate and culture of our schools.
This article originally appears in The Autism Notebook Magazine, Aug./Sep. 2016, South Florida Edition, p. 7. Online edition can be viewed for free at:
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Antonia Guccione, MA; MS is a consultant, educator, and writer. As an educator, she has forty years’ experience designing and chronicling model programs for students with a diverse set of Special Needs
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