Week of April 8th...
LA Staff News
1. Need help getting permission slips on file for people who may be interested in attending music group on Thursdays. 18 year-olds can sign their own.
2. Must administer the Clarity Brightbytes to all students; survey is open this week.
Thursday: Music Therapy at 9:50.
Upcoming dates to note:
-April 23rd: ACT
Effective Interaction Strategies for Students with Mental Health Issues
In this article in Phi Delta Kappan, special educator and behavior analyst Jessica Minahan says that a surprisingly high percentage of students “struggle with a mental health disorder that may impair their ability to perceive people’s actions accurately, stay regulated when stressed, or cope with typical classroom interactions.” But because these disabilities are often undiagnosed and not visible, it’s easy for teachers to perceive disrespect, non-compliance, or unwillingness to participate where none is intended. And teachers’ reactions or tone of voice can also set off a fight-or-flight reaction, with the student escalating or shutting down.
“To succeed in school,” says Minahan, “students with mental health challenges tend to need a steady diet of positive interactions with their teachers. Otherwise, they may become uncomfortable, uncooperative, or withdrawn and may not be able to access the curriculum, sustain effort, engage in tasks, or even attend school at all.” Some teachers have an instinctive knack for working with troubled students – their tone of voice, proximity, use of humor, tricks for de-escalating defiant behavior, and gentle ways of giving constructive feedback.
An example: A seventh grader with post-traumatic stress disorder and generalized anxiety disorder enters his math class and sits at the back. The teacher tells him to take off his hood, and the boy doesn’t respond, looking blankly at the teacher, who repeats the order twice in a louder voice, moving closer to the boy. Still no response, at which point the teacher sends him to the office. This student’s English teacher uses a different strategy: when she sees him with his hood on, she moves into his line of sight and silently mimics taking off a hood, and he always does so right away. A private, non-verbal request elicits compliance while a public demand in front of his peers triggers defiance and a disciplinary incident. Sadly, the English teacher had never shared this strategy with her colleague.
• Relationship building – It’s helpful to ask previous teachers for students’ top three interests (perhaps college basketball, superhero comic books, marine biology) and be able to greet a student at the classroom door with a question about one of those topics. Minahan suggests that teachers fit in quick one-on-one conversations with students over lunch, while making copies, or when a colleague covers the class. “Students will remember these random examples of kindness,” she says. “Building relationships in this way not only helps students feel more comfortable; it also makes it easier for teachers to read a student’s cues.”
• Praise – Public recognition from a teacher is often counterproductive with students who have low self-concept and social anxiety. A nonverbal thumbs-up or a note with specific comments works better (“I’m still laughing at the essay you wrote last month. That was so humorous and well-written.”). A teacher might also pull a student aside and ask, “When I’m proud of you, how should I let you know?”
• Giving directions – “It can be extremely precarious to give directions to a student who tends to be oppositional or noncompliant,” says Minahan. With these students, a stern command can lead to a power struggle. Instead of “Line up,” the teacher might offer a choice: “Do you want to be in the front of the line or the back of the line?” And instead of “Pick that up!” explain, “I would hate to trip on your bag and hurt myself, so could you please pick that up?” A command to lower their voices is heard by some students as being “yelled at.” An alternative is to cushion a critique with positive language: “I love how much you’re enjoying and participating in this activity. Could you lower your voice, though? Keep up those reflective comments you are making to the group.”
“Some students simply need time and space to comply,” says Minahan. “With these students, the teacher can use a nonverbal signal, such as a nod or a gesture, to let them know that they’ve overstepped a boundary, or they can write the direction on a sticky note, hand it to the student, and walk away.” Sometimes not asking for immediate compliance is a good strategy: “Pick that up before lunch.”
“It’s neither difficult nor time-consuming to learn about the reasons behind some common behavior problems,” Minahan concludes. “Nor is it time-consuming to write up and adopt some interaction strategy accommodations tailored to their needs… By taking out the guesswork, these strategies can make it much easier to build a comfortable learning environment where all students can learn and thrive.”
“Building Positive Relationships with Students Struggling with Mental Health” by Jessica Minahan in Phi Delta Kappan, March 2019 (Vol. 100, #6, p. 56-59), https://bit.ly/2C8Gawy; Minahan can be reached at email@example.com.
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