“...even though today's teachers are trained to be sensitive to "social-emotional development" and schools are committed to mainstreaming children with cognitive or developmental issues into regular classrooms, those advances in psychology often go out the window once a difficult kid starts acting out.” — What if Everything You Knew About Disciplining Kids was Wrong?
In my first year of teaching preschool (way back before I knew about the CLASS tool), there was a little boy in my class who had a hard time verbalizing and regulating his emotions. Happiness equaled him jumping up and down, waving his arms, and squealing loudly. Fear turned into ear-piercing shrieks and racing around the classroom. Anger was translated into pushing over furniture, and sadness meant sobs in the corner.
As a new teacher, I was a little lost on what to do. I knew he needed extra support, but I felt caught between being sensitive and maintaining control of the classroom. My efforts to create firm boundaries and guide him to alternative behaviors mostly ended in power struggles. He would eventually calm down, but I was left knowing that the issue wasn’t actually resolved and would happen again the next day.
When I recently read an article entitled, “What if Everything You Knew About Disciplining Kids was Wrong?”, the memories came rushing back. Finding ways to manage and guide behavior in the midst of the 1500 educational decisions teachers make each day is tough, regardless of your age group, background, and experience.
The article mentioned above highlights the need to move away from behavioral psychology approaches such as rewards systems, behavior charts, and suspension/expulsion. (By the way, did you know that preschoolers are the most likely age group to get expelled for behavioral issues in the classroom?) As the author noted, these punishment-focused strategies may work in the short term, but when we look at children’s long-term development the results are less positive. Additionally, when we think about children’s brain development, most are not ready cognitively to process everything happening in the classroom context.
So what is a teacher to do?
Fortunately, researchers and practitioners are finding ways to support teachers and reach “challenging” kids. Programs like Collaborative and Proactive Solutions, CSEFEL’s Positive Behavior Support, and Conscious Discipline, offer various options for teachers and administrators.
What all of these have in common is the focus on children’s social and emotional development found within the CLASS domain of Emotional Support. We see behavior change, when teachers are able to:
Rather than providing escalating punishments, teachers can take a step back and focus on the relationship with the child. Teachers can get to the heart of the problem instead of throwing up their hands. And children can feel accepted, less stressed, and engaged in the classroom in a meaningful way.
How does this resonate with your experiences in the classroom or supporting teachers? How have you used Emotional Support to address “challenging” children and behaviors?
As a Certified CLASS Affiliate Trainer, I enjoy reading the discussion posts and responses in the CLASS Learning Community. It gives me further insight into the areas that teachers have questions about, and the responses and techniques that members of the community are sharing with others. Usually I just sit back, read along, and take it all in.
Then recently someone posted, “I'd love some great examples of what Quality of Feedback looks like when you're working with less verbal children. For instance... creating an effective feedback loop off of what a child does more so than what he or she says.”
In construction, a scaffold is a temporary structure used by workers to access heights and areas that are hard to get to. This is exactly what educators are doing when they scaffold for students. A student is having a hard time reaching a new height—understanding a concept, answering a question, or completing an activity—and the teacher provides just enough support to allow the student to succeed.
Decades of evidence indicate that high-quality early childhood education positively affects children. Yet studies reveal that too few programs implement high-quality programming. To date, improvement efforts have primarily focused on what occurs within the classroom. The Ounce of Prevention Fund (Ounce), in partnership with the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research (UChicago Consortium), strives to broaden the focus of improvement efforts beyond the classroom to organizational conditions that support teachers and the relationships among staff, children, and families.
We’ve written before about the discipline disparities between children of color and their white peers. (Since that post was published last year, the Department of Education has released updated - but not improved - statistics on the topic.) But discipline is not the only school arena where children from different backgrounds have different experiences. There’s also evidence that racial bias affects teachers’ academic and behavioral expectations, even in early childhood.