Hang In With Challenging Students

This is one of several posts that I have to reflect on and share my learning from the sessions I attended at the ASCD #Empower17 conference.

I have never heard of or read any Jeffrey Benson‘s books, but he is now one of my favorite presenters. Why? He was a combination of Doc Brown (Back to the Future) and Mr. Rogers. Seriously…a combination of dynamic energy and then calming, zen-like moments. He had such wisdom to share about how to help students with challenging behaviors be more successful in school, while being an engaging speaker, stopping several times throughout to also share how the strategy he was using to present was effective for teaching.

As I share my learning from this session, I will include a section at the end to include some of his teaching tips that can also prevent challenging behavior.

Hanging in with Challenging Students:

  • There is NO cure for challenging students. Sorry, it would have already been sold! The road to success is paved with many useful failures. Wow, just wow.  You can read more about that quote alone in Jeffrey’s article: 100 Repetitions. 
  • This one shouldn’t be a surprise: Greet every student as they walk into your classroom or school and thank them for coming, even if you have to fake it.  Relationships are HUGE!
  • Here’s an activity to do with teachers: Identify a challenging student and individually write down the answers to these questions:
    • What are the challenges for this students’ peers?
    • What are the challenges for other members of the community? Keep in mind that kids have to learn to manage how different each teacher responds to them, even just in walking down the hallway. For some of our fragile kids, there are just too many adults in a school!
    • What are the challenges for the child’s parents?
    • What are the challenges for organizational norms? (If there weren’t rules in school, some kids would be fine!)
    • What are the challenges for that student?
    • What are the challenges for you?

When you share these responses, don’t use the student’s name. Just focus on the information identified. This conversation should focus on the collective wisdom of problem-solving teachers, not on “Oh I had his brother!” responses.

Now, here’s my new FAVORITE activity to continue on the conversation from above about your challenging student. Spend individual time thinking about/writing down your responses to the questions below. Then, before you are ready to share, put on your loving grandma/grandpa hat. That’s right, you read that correctly. Think about it, when a doting grandma/grandpa talk about their grandchild, they just brag away and don’t share the negatives. Seriously. Try it.

  • What are the child’s skills and strengths? Describe the strengths in detail.
  • What are their learning styles?
  • What opportunities are in your school/community that could help the student? Think out of the box, is there some way that this child could be involved in something to build their self esteem/confidence.

Now…brag away about your grandchild!

So often, we focus on the negatives. Think about parent/teacher conferences or IEP meetings. How balanced is the information that is shared with parents? Do your students leave school confirmed about their abilities or their disabilities?

  • Kids who are challenging can make us feel incompetent or out of control of the environment or maybe even cause us to worry that we will be judged for how the student is misbehaving. Know your personal signs of when you are being escalated and ask for help or “tag out” so to speak. Some common phrases that are signs of educators being escalated by a student (and going to make the situation worse):
    • Kids these days!
    • I will not tolerate…
    • If this were my kid, I would…
    • Maybe no one else is holding the line here on this sort of behavior, but I’m ….
    • Insert pointing finer on any of the above phrases!

Teaching Tips:

  • Always give individual think time before having students respond or turn and talk.
  • Give your students agency of their learning: When you give students time for turn and talk, don’t just stop them suddenly, use a signal your students know to get their attention, but knowing (you and them knowing) that they have 20 seconds to finish their sentence/thought. Otherwise you will just get frustrated that a student is talking while you’re talking. Adults would keep talking too in order to finish what they’re saying so why would we expect anything different from students?!
  • Go one step further and ask if extra time is needed to finish responding to the questions.

If you want to read more from Jeffrey Benson, he has a goldmine of articles posted on his website that you can find HERE. Thank you Jeffrey!

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Nidhi Patel

    As a teacher who taught students with significant behavioral challenges, I found that agency and autonomy is one of the most important tools. Don’t set goals for them, let them set and track goals and get positive reinforcement for meeting their own expectations . When it’s not about making you happy but making themselves fulfilled, you get a lot more cooperation. I built an app to help my kids with this process – happy to give free access to any want to Try it out!

  2. Jared

    Student-centered teaching methods like active and cooperative and problem-based learning make students take more responsibility for their learning. Well-implemented student-centered instruction is much more effective than traditional lecture-based instruction.

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