About Lee-Ann Meredith

"The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." Lao Tzu Lee-Ann Meredith is a second grade teacher, author, Department Chairperson and education advocate who has spent the duration of her time in public education at John B. Murphy Elementary School in inner city Chicago. Often characterized as funny, dynamic, and an independent innovator, Lee-Ann cites her idol as Ms. Frizzle from The Magic School Bus. Fluent in a wide range in instructional strategies for the elementary level, Lee-Ann is dedicated to being an advocate for children everywhere by implementing 'cutting edge' strategies to increase student achievement. Some of the issues that she spearhead included: promoting literacy throughout the building, leading community meetings to advocate for full day kindergarten for all students and helping implement the Responsive Classroom strategies throughout the school. In addition to working closely with the curriculum, she also had the honor to supervise (and mentor into teaching positions) numerous student teachers and practicum students from various post-secondary institutions around the Chicago area such as: Erikson Institute, National Louis, DePaul. Northeaster Illinois, Roosevelt, and North Park Universities.

wigglystudentGot a wiggler in your class who is driving you crazy? Lucky you. I love them! I know some teachers don’t. Some teachers don’t know how to put up with the perpetual motion, the blurts and interruptions, or the ants in the pants antics. I gained a lot experience that brought wisdom, patience, and tricks in thirteen years of second grade. I always had a few wigglers in my class, usually there were several. They came to me in droves. In fact, one year I had eight children with an ADHD diagnosis and two more, who were really the most extreme, without one. Very rarely were these children on medication.

Not all wigglers have ADHD. There are a lot of causes of hyperactivity or the inability to settle down. Poor sleep habits or a poor diet can cause the symptoms. I had a few children with lead poisoning, another cause. Some just had a seriously dysfunctional home. Sensory integration problems can also be a source. I had at least two children with preliminary diagnosis of bipolarity. Maybe two-thirds of my wigglers were boys. Some had learning issues but not all of them, by any measure. In fact, one of my all-time favorite wigglers was one of the brightest students I ever taught.

Most of these balls of energy made me laugh, inwardly, of course. They say the most outlandish things and do the craziest stuff. I witnessed one boy run up a wall and flip. When I reminded him that wasn’t how we moved down the hall, he responded earnestly, “I promise never to do it again.”

Certainly, some wigglers made me want to tear my hair out, but I came to realize it was my inability to force them to be “still” that frustrated me. My job became not only to teach them academically but to give them the skills to find a way to settle themselves. So, I stuffed more and more tricks up my sleeves until I looked like Popeye.

Here are some of the tricks I learned. No one trick worked for everyone. It is all about trial and error. It usually takes a lot of errors until you find a working solution. Good luck and keep at it.

1. Preferential seating does not mean in the front of the room or next to you. It means somewhere they can be reached easily. Or, it could mean, somewhere their desk can easily be separated from the group. My energizer bunnies usually liked this as long as they could move back to the table for group activities.

2. When you are expecting the class to be quiet and listening, give Ms. Wiggles something tactile. I used strips of felt, and glove puppets with much success. A strip of self-adhesive Velcro on the bottom of their desk also worked. I found a gadget called a “wooden fidget puzzle” that was fairly effective. The idea is that by keeping their hands busy, they can focus on you.

3. If your wiggler is a banger or a tapper, using their desk as a drum, figure out where they are tapping and insulate it. A mouse pad works for the top of the desk, pipe insulation works for most other places. They can bang to their heart’s content and you don’t go insane.

4. Hand signals work. With especially busy groups, I looked like a traffic cop. Take a minute and have a discussion with your wiggler to see what reminder he’d like for a specific behavior you want to minimize. I’ve used a tap to my temple to remind someone to think before they acted, rubbed my fingers together to show it was time to use their “fidget,” or a hand to my cheek to get fingers out of a nose.

5. A yoga band tied around the base of a student’s chair becomes a kick band. This can be incredibly effective at keeping someone in their seat. They can either kick against it or put their legs between the bands and push. This doesn’t work for everyone. It sometimes gets trampled to the ground or pulled up and used as a bass. The kids it does work for love it.

6. Consequences need to be thoughtful. Taking away recess is just not a good choice for these children. Yelling at a wiggler only agitates them. Instead, try limiting choices, or having them sit next to you for a few minutes. Be creative and let them help you decide on the consequence.

7. Create a quiet spot for them, or anyone, to use. It can be a corner or under a table. Someplace with little traffic is ideal. Also, learn to use time-out effectively. It should be used as a chance to settle themselves and remember what they should be doing. Here is a link for more information: https://www.responsiveclassroom.org/article/positive-time-out.

8. Build success. Try not to put a child in a situation that is likely to trigger poor choices. If you send your perpetual motion machine as a messenger, you are asking a lot. The likelihood of success is limited. (If you have to send them, have them walk backwards, counting their steps. It works! Go figure!)

9. Find a way to communicate behavior with parents regularly and positively. I used behavior contracts, a note in a child’s agenda, or a simple thumbs up or down at the end of the day. The nice thing about the contracts and notes in the agenda is that the pages can be copied if you are tracking behavior and parent contact. This is especially important if the child is in RTI.

10. Notice what is positive about a child and build on that. My wall-runner never lied. He always admitted what he had done. I gave him tons of praise about that. I wanted him to feel good about himself and believe I understood him.

11. Know that noisy and busy activities are hard, hard, hard for your wigglers and expect that you will need to support them.  Try to balance these activities with calm and quiet work. This gives a child a chance to begin to pull themselves together afterward.

12. Don’t give up. You will have to go back to the drawing board many times to find the trick that works.

13. Keep a sense of humor. Laugh all the way home. It will save your sanity.

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