Wednesday, July 27, 2016

10 Things To Do Before Back to School: #3

Temper tantrums.  Bad attitudes.  Arguments.  Fights.  Screaming.  Crying.

It's going to happen.  Our students are people too - full of emotions, thoughts, and opinions.  But unlike adults, they have only been on earth a short while and are often unsure of how to handle the things they are feeling.  That's where we come in.  

While making a plan on how to handle behavior in your classroom is important, we must also discuss how you plan to teach your children about behavior.  

How do I solve a problem I have with a friend?

What am I supposed to do when I'm angry?  What about when I'm scared or sad?

How do I tell my teacher I'm overwhelmed or confused?  How do I know that's what I'm feeling?

Before you can expect children to behave or act in a certain way you must do two things:

First, you must evaluate if your expectation is developmentally appropriate for the age you are teaching.  Then you must TEACH children the expectations and what you want to see.  

This year, my team is spending a full week strictly talking about classroom and school expectations.  Yes, we are going to continue teaching and building on these skills throughout the school year.  However, the first full week of school will be spent only teaching behavior instead of focusing on academics.  I.  Cannot.  Wait.  I truly feel that hitting these skills early on and head on will help our students in the long run.  

Our district is a PBIS District.  PBIS stands for Positive Behavior Intervention Support.  It is an approach that targets preventing problem behavior and, at the same time, rewarding positive behavior through school-wide incentives.  It is based on the principle that students learn appropriate behavior in the same way they learn to read - through instruction, practice, feedback, and encouragement.  

Our building has created a learning matrix that outlines expectations for our entire building.  The expectations are the same for each child regardless of the classroom, grade level or location.  This helps teachers and staff members be consistent and use the same language ("Be safe.  We walk in the hallway.") and students are held to consistent standards.

Our three main themes are:

Be safe.
Be respectful.
Be responsible.

Under each of these themes, our building has broken down that looks like in different settings.  What does it mean to be safe in the hallway?  What about safe on the playground?  What does it mean to be respectful in the classroom or in special area classes?  What does is mean to be responsible in the cafeteria and the restroom?

My team is using our learning matrix to guide our behavior instruction during the first two weeks of school.  We will spend time modeling, practicing, and discussing all of our expectations.  

We will also be using literature to further our conversations and our thinking.  Here are just a few of my favorite books we'll be reading!

 In addition to talking about general rules in the classroom and building, we will also discussing expectations in specific centers.  "I Can..." cards and other 'task' cards can help students know exactly what is expected of them in a learning center.  Signs like the ones below can help guide students in more open centers such as dramatic play and blocks - and give them appropriate options to choose from.  Some students, when given an open choice, can be overwhelmed and may need help narrowing down options.  

Respect for people, property, feelings, and ourselves is stressed every day in my classroom.  We practice positive choice making.  Classroom expectations are taught, practiced and reinforced during the school year, both as a whole class and individually.  However, as stated before, sometimes things go wrong.  Young children break down and the beautiful, calm classroom of your dreams turns into something from Jerry Springer!

In this case, it's important to recognize that students need a break to calm down and recompose themselves.  In my classroom, I have a cool-out corner where students can go when they need a moment alone.  There, they can take the opportunity to recognize how they are feeling and determine how they should appropriately handle those feelings.  When students are in this corner, I will use a sand timer (only a few minutes) so students aren't there for an extended period of time, but will also allow students to help determine how long they need to stay.  

In my corner, there are several, soft emoji pillows for students to squeeze, snuggle, scream or cry into as well as an emotions poster and mirror.  Often students who are young or students with Autism aren't able to recognize their own own emotions or the emotions of others.  This will provide a model for students to practice identifying emotions and an opportunity to have a dialogue with students about they are feeling.

In addition, I have a box of stress balls and fidgets for students to manipulate and use to decompress.  

I also plan to add some books regarding feelings in a small basket, a step by step poster on ways to calm down and a clipboard with Think Sheets - a PBIS tool we use to have discussions with students about their inappropriate behavior and ways to change it the next time the situation occurs.  (I will update with pictures when I get those items added!)

Finally, if conflicts arise in the classroom (this is never going to happen right?!) I am going to be using this mat from Conscious Discipline.  This is a Conflict Resolution mat that literally walks students through the process of solving conflicts with each other.  It emphasizes being open to solving the problem, finding a solution and ending without any hard feelings.  For more information, you can check out their website

Treat behavior like any other subject in school, and TEACH children how to solve problems, handle hard feelings and meet expectations.  Then, work with students as they practice, make mistakes and have successes.  We are adults and often our emotions get the best of us - children deserve the same grace and respect.  When you give children the grace to be human, not only will you create a classroom environment where students feel safe and loved, but you will set students up to capable problem solvers and caring adults. ♥

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