- Lower Division
By Lower Division Learning/Behavioral Specialist Rebecca Wohl Hibshman and Third Grade Teacher Patrick Sawyer
As the Lower Division’s learning/behavioral specialist, my core belief when working with students is that all children want to do well and “be good.” If a child is struggling, it is rarely due to a lack of motivation or willingness. This is why research does not support imposed consequence strategies as being an effective way of changing a child’s behavior. When a child is acting out, he or she is attempting to communicate a specific need that is being met through the challenging behavior.
Behavior is a way of communicating needs, as well as fears, insecurities, and other important feelings.
Children are very good at making sure their needs are met. They will often resort to behaviors that they know will meet their needs quickly when they have not yet learned and internalized more school-appropriate strategies. It’s important to work with students and their teachers to figure out what need a behavior is attempting to communicate. Once that need is identified, teachers, parents and other staff come together to collaboratively develop a plan to teach the child a better way of communicating his or her needs.
Sometimes students need a little extra support in learning how to identify big feelings and appropriate ways of expressing those feelings. At Denver JDS, we try to teach individual students and whole classes about self-regulation and how to use strategies to express and calm big feelings. Learning self-regulation strategies helps kids maintain the focus that they need to learn in school.
But, there is no one size fits all approach to supporting students with challenging behaviors. Every child has different reasons for acting out and different skills that they need to learn in order to be successful. Our focus is to support students in identifying the reasons for their behavior, and then to work together with them to come up with appropriate replacement behaviors, all without shaming, punishing or damaging a child’s self esteem or the important relationships they have with other students and adults.
In third grade, we recognize that the building of one’s emotional intelligence is just as important as one’s intellectual intelligence which is why we try to promote positive behavior by building a classroom foundation on a sense of community using our Divrei Chaim (Words to Live By) and middot (Jewish values).
During our first week of school, we spend our time building a strong community by getting to know each other, celebrating our uniqueness, respecting our diversity, and understanding that each one of us is a special and integral member of our classroom. From day one, we try to create an environment where students feel free to take risks, discover their interests, and are given the freedom to explore their curiosities.
We later build upon and reinforce this philosophy by holding weekly “campfire” chats. These weekly discussions afford the students the ability to bring their thoughts, concerns, obstacles, and problems with the rest of the class in a safe and supportive environment. Students begin to take ownership of their problems and struggles while also allowing their peers to help solve the current issues. In addition, students are able to hear others’ thoughts and concerns and are able to build problem-solving skills to help their classmates. As the school year progresses, students tend to begin to enjoy having campfire chats that revolve more around positivity than focusing on the problems.
All children do well when they can. Our goal at Denver JDS is to help all students get to “can”!