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Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Things I Learned From Having a Difficult Class: Problem Child

This is the third post in my Things I Learned from Having a Difficult Class Series. Today I'm focusing on the dreaded difficult child. Last week I wrote about dealing with the class as a whole. In the upcoming weeks I'll discuss the perfect kids and the kids on the fence. But how do you manage the child with a documented behavior problem, such as conduct disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, or even a mood disorder?

I have to be honest - it was my problem child(ren) this past year that inspired this series. I ended up working with the district behavior team, which is not very common, TWICE this year.


Lucky me.

Now this post was written at a time when I was not dealing with the child, so I can see the bigger picture more clearly. If I wrote this right after I dealt with an episode/meltdown it would have been a string of words that I do not want to publish on my blog. #teachersunderstand

First of all, when you are dealing with children with severe behavior issues you need to realize up front that every day will be different. There will be good days and bad days, and everything else in between. There is nothing you can do about this. You can bend over backwards trying not to set a child off, but the truth is - you will NEVER know what is going to set off a child like this. So just be you and treat them as badly as all the other children all the time.

That being said, it is so important to document EVERYTHING. I have another post about that coming up, so I won't say too much about this right now. I really cannot stress the importance of documenting your actions, anything you send home, any outbursts that happen in class, the reactions of the other students, accommodations. Wait, I'm getting ahead of myself. Stop by my blog again in a few weeks to read all about this!

Back to the problem child.. I'm going to generally describe both of my little gems this past year. Obviously for confidentiality reasons I'm not going into detail by any means, but just enough to give you a general idea of what I mean by "problem" child.

Child A - inconsistently medicated, unstable home life that is unaware of many aspects of raising strong children, extremely off task, physically destructive in the classroom, yadda yadda yadda.

Child B - wide range in behavior that quickly escalated throughout the year, severely emotional, expert at manipulating the system, mental illness runs in family, runs away from staff meaning out of the classroom and off campus, broke furniture in classroom, safety concern, evacuated the classroom on multiple occasions.. You get the idea.

Here's the thing.. anyone outside the classroom such as administration, psychologists, and district personnel, will want to know that you have tried a variety of things and their results. Try a variety of accommodations for at least a week, or if it is showing positive outcomes even longer, and DOCUMENT EVERYTHING. Date initiated, duration, and results, both positive and negative. (If you can't find anything positive look for the SMALL things. Get creative)

Some accommodations I would try are:

1. Seating at the front of the room

2. And the back of the room

3. As an island at both the front and back of the room

4. Near positive role models 

Rotate them out for their own sanity.

5. The dreaded sticker chart

This is my least favorite, and the most difficult to do when you have 30 kids in class. If you can't do it consistently - try something similar that is easier for you to manage. Consistency is key, and if you can't do it with fidelity because of large class sizes like me then think of resources you already have that you can make work for you.

Here's an example of something I did with Child A at the beginning of the year. I read my class the How Full is Your Bucket? and we discuss how we all have our own invisible buckets and earn and lose drops throughout the day. I created a teacher bucket, and I gave buckets (plain cups) to table of my table groups. Each time the group was behaving appropriately, working quietly, ready first, etc. they earned a drop (marble)in their bucket. They can lose drops too, but I try to stay away from this. At the end of the day, I would empty all of the table buckets into my teacher bucket. Once it was full, they would earn a prize. I gave Child A (sitting as an island at the time) their own bucket, so they earned their own drops for positive behavior. It was something I was already doing, so it didn't take any extra time away from teaching.

6. Positive notes home

Get the parents on board and have them celebrate these notes home. Make positive attention work for you!

7. Making the student a helper and/or giving them a job

The job can be to carry a blank piece of paper for you that you don't even need, but they'll feel special and important for helping the teacher. They probably don't feel this way often, so it'll be a nice boost to their self-esteem!

Who knows, they may be so excited to do a job and so concentrated on it that they will "forget" to misbehave. #agirlcandream

8. Breaking assignments into smaller chunks (cut the paper in half if you have to).

Give them big praise once they complete one half and then give them the other half. I would recommend getting the parents on board with completing unfinished work at home, since that will probably happen often. It will be a more successful intervention if they realize that all tasks must be completed at some point, whether that is at home or at school.

9. Increase frequency of small group instruction

If they're struggling academically, this will be crucial to help the child catch up. If they're not as far behind academically, then maybe the behaviors will diminish.

10. 1 on 1 instruction (even if it is just for 5 minutes a day)

They may not need it, or they may desperately need it, but the positive and individual attention may be just as important (if not more) than your instruction.

11. Proximity near the teacher.

Try a variety of these accommodations for at least a week, or better yet - even longer. Some may be successful, and some may not be. You really never know until you try, and anyone you plead your case to will want to know that you have tried your own interventions. Prove to them that you have, and you will get a whole lot further more quickly than you would have without trying these things.

Other pointers:

1. Take a deep breath. 

Repeat as often as needed. See my first post about Taking Care of Yourself.

2. Seek any and every kind of support available.

Use whatever resources you have available at school. If more families services are needed check with a local church group, they may have resources available that you don't even know about. Our church contact is amazing and works so hard to get the students, most of whom don't even go to that church, what they need. You never know what you'll get!

3. Send (and cc) a million emails to everyone involved. 

Don't let this get put on the back burner. We all have way too much on our plates, and make sure that this stays at the front.


(Check back in a few weeks for more about this)

5. Smile at the student.

Give them a hug. This may be the only positive reaction they get all day.

6. Keep your expectations the same for this student. 

Severely modifying behavior expectations sends a bad message to that child and the rest of the class.

What pointers do you have for dealing with the problem child? Leave your ideas in the comments!

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