I’m continuing my series on 3 simple tips to help manage difficult students. You can catch up on the original post here and read in detail about Tip #1 here and Tip #3 here. In this post, I’m going to explain tip #2 and how I use my most challenging students as helpers.
Often, the most challenging students are seeking attention in a not so positive way They don’t feel good about themselves and they need your help. They just want to be noticed, they want to be cared for, they want to be loved, they want to SUCCEED in the classroom and they don’t know how. Getting in trouble is a time-honored method of getting out of class and getting out of the work at hand.
I like to make my most challenging student my helper. If I notice that “Nina” is getting frustrated in math, I might ask her to run a quick errand for me. “Could you please bring this note to Mrs. T down the hall?” This allows Nina to have a brief break before she blows up. When she returns, I’ll make a point to go sit with her, thank her for helping me out, and help her work through a problem.
I also enlist my most challenging students for help every day in the classroom. I”ll give them tasks to complete in the morning before other students come in, before instruction begins, during transitions, or at the end of the day (I only have them do tasks during academic instruction if I see an urgent need for the child to have a break from what they are working on). I might have them straighten out a drawer, erase the board, turn on all of the computers, set up the chairs, wipe down the desks, or sharpen pencils. A small, simple task, that really helps me in a small way. This student will the first one I’ll turn to for a simple favor. If they don’t want to do the task, I don’t take it personally – I’ll just say “OK, maybe next time” and give the task to another student. Most times though, the student will help me. I don’t make a big deal of the task completion but offer a simple and sincere thank you. After a bit (and it usually doesn’t take very long), my most challenging friend will come asking me for something they can do. Most every one wants to feel needed. Enlisting the help of a challenging student helps to build a rapport and a connection in a genuine way.
The key to the success of this technique is getting to know your student by looking for patterns of behavior. What is setting them off? Is it during math? A certain time of day? After an interaction with a classmate? Looking for a pattern and having an idea about what might trigger a student’s outburst is when it’s a good time to redirect with a simple task in or out of the classroom. Making a child feel useful and appreciated can help a child feel important, needed, and in control.
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