I do not presume my readers have not developed tricks that are highly effective. I do not presume I will post ideas on Tuesdays that you have never heard of. Teachers and parents are absolutely ingenious when it comes to finding solutions for the challenges their wee people have to work through. Given that, I invite you to add to my suggestions via comment. I believe we will all benefit. We know that learners best make meaningful connections to content when ideas are shared with peers.
We are learners. We are peers.
I considered making the first ever Tuesday Tips, Tricks and Things that Trip Us Up a really big life changing post. One that would inspire, solve some of your worst problems when working with your students. Well, there is no such thing.
Drum roll, please…..
Here it is.
Just ask them.
Ask your students what they need and they will tell you. When Joey throws his math worksheet on the floor, instead of you getting huffy and indignant, ask Joey what he needs. And do it in a really caring way. You know, like you are concerned, like you want him to get what he needs. Worry about teaching him how to express his needs more appropriately at another time. For now, just ask him what he needs. He will tell you. He may swear a bit, may put his head on his desk, may not respond to you. You must stay calm and focus on getting Joey what he needs in that moment only.
I beg you now to not tell me that this is just Joey’s way of getting out of his work and that just cannot be allowed, that he will have to get that worksheet done no matter even if it means he stays in for recess. Please, please,please. This blog is an invitation to change the way you think about student behavior. So stay with me as I explain.
Think about something you don’t do well. Or about a day you found it impossible to concentrate, or a day you just felt out of sorts and grumpy. Or think about a time no matter how hard you tried to figure something out, it just wouldn’t make sense. Now imagine someone requesting you to engage in a task you just don’t feel like doing. How did you cope? What made the task easier to deal with? Let’s say it is one of those days when you just weren’t going to be able to do what was being asked of you, that it was a day when you were unable to motivate yourself enough to grit your teeth and get it done.
Maybe that is how Joey is feeling. Maybe he didn’t get enough sleep or get breakfast. Maybe he is worried to distraction about a family issue. Maybe his girlfriend thinks she is pregnant. Maybe he hates school. Maybe he just feels really stupid and incapable of doing that math worksheet. Maybe he knows that no matter how he tries, he won’t be able to do what you are asking. Maybe the lights are too bright, the room is too hot or he knows the girl sitting next to him will whiz through the assignment and be done in 10 minutes and then she will notice he is a long way from being done. Maybe Joey is capable but just so not in the mood to face the boringness of what you have asked him to. Maybe you already kept Joey in for one recess and his body is ready to explode from having to contain it. Maybe Joey was told to sit somewhere else every time he approached a table of his peers in the cafeteria and is trying to deal with that rejection.
There really is an infinite number of reasons why Joey might throw his worksheet on the floor. And you don’t get to assume what his reasons might be.
Your job is not to make sure Joey does the worksheet that moment, or else. Your job is to find out what Joey needs. Your job is to make sure Joey understands that you are interested in him feeling OK enough to get through the school day. Your job is to listen, validate and work out a plan, with Joey, so he feels able to deal with it. By it, I mean life.
Just ask Joey what he needs. He will tell you. Then give it to him. Even if he needs a break, a laugh, a song, a dance, a nap, a snack, a different seat, a different worksheet, a partner to work with, some validation, someone to talk to, someone to cheer him on, someone to believe in his ability to learn. Just ask. Then give it to him.
Because in June when he flies out the door to embrace his summer break, if he feels like he is heard, that he matters, that his needs will be met, he will better cope with life. And that makes him better able to learn and take learning risks.
But most of all, when he sees someone else in discomfort and asks them what they need, the whole world begins to change. Even if he didn’t do that worksheet.