Are you having more negative interactions than positive interactions with a disruptive and acting-out student? Your ability to influence and to persuade a disruptive student toward appropriate classroom behavior is contingent upon the bond, or rapport, established between the child and you. By applying basic child guidance principles, you can shift the balance from negative interactions and comments to positive interactions. Some guidelines follow.
Develop the Ability to Distance Yourself from the Acting-Out Behavior
Increase your tolerance threshold to disruptive and acting out behaviors; downplay mild disruptive behaviors and allow behaviors that deviate from what is standard or “appropriate.” Do not personalize the student’s behavior, and avoid reacting emotionally. Emotional reactivity to what the student says or does is the number one reason why interactions between teachers and students turn into conflict, and the main reason why a conversation turns into an argument. Remember that teacher tension can often stir up a crisis.
Shift your attention away from his acting-out behavior and toward increasing recognition of those times where the child is exhibiting positive behavior and is interacting appropriately. For example, you see the child sharing his coloring materials with another student; tell the child and celebrate. It will require a conscious effort on your part to notice and reinforce positive behavior (a smile and a friendly remark can be extremely rewarding to any child), while downplaying mild negative behaviors.
Avoid judgments, putdowns, and lectures. In addition, avoid making comparisons between the student and other students in the classroom.
Adopt a non-blaming attitude; instead, focus on developing positive ways of interacting with the student, rather than in identifying and disciplining inappropriate or negative behaviors. In other words, do not be a “Got you!” teacher.
Focus on developing equality with the student, not domination.
As a first step in distancing yourself, and the child, from the problem behavior, a child guidance strategy that you can use is the naming the disorder technique. Borrowed from psychology, this technique consists in using a nickname (e.g. Lucy Three-Eyes) to name the acting-out behavior. Lucy Three-Eyes is the common enemy or problem, the child is not the problem. In other words, the “symptom” (acting-out behavior) is dysfunctional, not the child. When you name the problem behavior, rather than naming the student, you are not only identifying the common enemy that you are both dealing with, but you are also giving yourself the opportunity to create an alliance with the student to defeat this common enemy.
Be alert, and recognize the warning signals (e.g. when the student seems ready to start a fight). See them as signals, not as personality traits or a reflection of the student’s character. Join the student in defeating Lucy Three-Eyes, which helps you in reinforcing your bond or alliance with the student rather than alienating yourself from the child.
Address the Student’s Disruptive Behavior as Actions Capable of Change
This is a basic child guidance principle that, when remembered and applied consistently, can turn a chaotic scenario between a teacher and a habitually disruptive student into a therapeutic interaction. While you should be distancing yourself from the problem behavior, you should not distance yourself from the child. At all times, you should be working in building rapport with this student. Rapport with the child will be your best tool during difficult times.
To strengthen your rapport with the child, know the student: what he likes, what angers him, what he is fearful of, what his goals and aspirations are, and to what he responds positively. At difficult times, listen to the student and understand his point of view.
Develop a mindset that recognizes all students’ worth and potential, and always address children’s problem behaviors as actions that can change and will change. Remember, and let the student know, that she does her behavior, but she is not her behavior. See the disruptive and acting-out behavior as a challenge for both you and the student to master, and see yourself as a strategist and a problem-solver. When managing disruptive and acting-out students, always remember that you are a professional doing a highly demanding and challenging job.
During disruptive and acting-out episodes, shift from name-calling to mutual problem-solving.
Develop the mindset, and tell the student, that behavioral self-control can be learned.
Be flexible and capable of adjusting to any situation.
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