- Social Emotional Learning: Can It Help Our Most Vulnerable Students? - August 27, 2017
- Why We Should Teach Meditation in the Classroom - November 8, 2016
- Strike! - October 5, 2016
- Teaching a Superpower - September 22, 2016
- Essentially, I am a Teacher - August 30, 2016
- A Chicago Teacher's Dream - January 22, 2016
- A Career in Crisis - August 27, 2015
- Classroom Community and Rock-Paper-Scisssors - July 22, 2015
- The Art of Teaching - June 22, 2015
- Parent tip: Beyond Sounding It Out - June 4, 2015
Each class has one, that quirky child who just can’t seem to fit in. Even the nicest kids aren’t sure how to handle them. I could be a psychological issue, a hygiene issue, the desire to cling to everyone, the OCD boss, or the super-social ADHD student who just cannot be quiet. As adults, we understand the class’ uncertainty but we know the importance of working with everyone. We understand the need to belong and have a place in the group. We also empathize with the other students. These outliers wear us down, too.
You cannot create a perfect world where this child suddenly is popular and sought after. You can, however, set expectations and build structures within a classroom to help these children become an accepted and functioning part of the group. Here are some ways to set these children up to succeed. This is especially important as we move to full inclusion.
1. Determine what the social issues are causing the problem. This requires observation of not only the “problem” child but also how different children respond to the behaviors. Who is bothered by it? Is it everyone or just a few vocal children? What time of day does it occur?
2. Pick one aspect of the problem to tackle. Brainstorm ways to fix it or at least mitigate the issue. If the child receives special services, be sure to include those teachers, as well as Special Education Aids, in this step. Create a list of possible solutions.
3. Meet with the child and work together to help the problem. Begin with a positive comment so he understands you are on his side. Then state the problem. Most children realize what is causing them problems. Work together to come up with some strategies to mitigate the issue. This may take a few meetings and several tries before you find a way toward a solutions. Keep at it. Just by working in a patient way with a child, you show them you value them. That in itself helps. Here is an example of a collaborative meeting.
4. Talk to the kids who respond the worse to behaviors. Talk to individuals, if it just a few children. If it is a whole class problem, hold a class meeting to discuss strategies of what to do when something bothers them. Never name the student they are responding to. Instead name the behavior. For example, say that you notice they are bothered when someone bangs on their desk or talks too much. Ask the child for solutions to the problem. Do not embarrass the child being discussed. Being rude is never allowed. I always told my class that I couldn’t make them like someone but I could make them treat them with respect. (I love this article on how to do this.)
5. While you are working through this, be careful not to assign your “nice” kids to perpetuity of being a difficult child’s partner. Give them breaks. Rotate who is partnered with her. Keep an eye on the situation. It is exhausting and disheartening to always be put with “the problem.”
6. If it is a physical ailment, ask the parent if you can discuss what is going on with the class to help them understand their child. Most parents are willing to do this. I have done this with serious behavior issues caused by medical conditions. Usually, the child is quite willing to talk about themselves to the class. Sit next to them to help explain things. I am always astonished by the response to this. The concept of "pest" or "weirdo" changes swiftly to an idea of someone who is courageous. Be sure not to make this a pity party but a moment of understanding.
7. Recognize that while some things cannot be fixed or changed, with effort you can change the dynamic to a class community that works with or, perhaps only, around a difficult situation. You are not only teaching that child new skills to help fit in the group but you are also teaching the rest of the class how to be empathetic citizens.