I often hear from parents who want to talk with me about “a student” in their child’s class. You know the student; he has a colorful vocabulary, is an independent and divergent thinker, and at times can be very physical in expressing his emotions. The parent is concerned about how the needs of the entire class suffer due to the needs of this one student. I have dealt with this issue on every level:
Frustrated Parent, I agree your child deserves to be educated in an emotionally and physically safe environment. This is a reasonable request, and as a parent of four, I understand.
Parent of Student-in-Need, I understand you want to be supportive, and are at a loss of how to help your child, but do not want him or her to feel ostracized.
Classroom Teacher, I know you are under increased pressure to raise the academic rigor in the classroom, while so much of your time is consumed supporting the diverse behavioral needs of your students.
Administrator, I believe you see the need, but feel exceedingly limited in available resources.
If we are going to tackle this issue, we must first adjust our perspective. The world in which we live is very different than the world in which we were raised. Schools, neighborhoods, and society were much safer when we were young. We never saw graphic, violent or sexual content to which children of all ages are now regularly exposed. Our schools are a reflection of our society and these factors impact the behavior of children. This does not excuse inappropriate behavior, but it does help us understand it.
Given the world in which we live, we have to find a better way of supporting student’s diverse needs in the context of our current general education reality. So, here are some thoughts for administrators:
• Staff members K-12 need more training on best practices for supporting the behavioral needs of students. The discipline methods used 30 years ago focused on punishment of misbehavior. In today’s classroom, these strategies are not nearly as effective. We need to utilize strategies that create long-term behavior change, rather than simple containment of behavior.
• We need to acknowledge that our students’ social and emotional needs are just as important as their cognitive development. Academic rigor is important, but it can’t be more important than helping our students be emotionally stable.
• We need a full continuum of services for students needing social, emotional and behavioral support. We need to advocate for allowing our counselors to do the job for which they have been trained. Unfortunately, non-social/emotional aspects of their job seem to consume most of their time.
• We need a clearly articulated plan that details how situations are handled when serious behavioral problems occur in the classroom. This does not mean providing parents with a stair step approach of consequences for misbehavior. It means detailing the specific resources that have been allocated to support behavioral concerns in a proactive, rather than reactive manner.
I am not saying any of this is easy, but it is critical if we are going to help our students be successful once they leave our schools and enter into the adult world, where all these problems exist on a much larger scale.