Wednesday, March 26, 2014

How to Survive a Defiant Student

Anyone recognize this? It is the tell-tale body language of a defiant student. It may just be that I am getting older, and perhaps more aware, or is it that we have seen an uptick in defiant student behavior? You'll hear the seasoned vets tell you that kids are "different" than they used to be. Parents do not help like they used to 10, 15, 20 years ago. You get the picture, right?  Teachers struggle daily with defiant students who do not seem to want to work with them, or comply with directions or instructions. I'm going to devote some time helping teachers understand and cope with defiance, because I think our schools would be a much better place to be! Remember, in order for there to be a conflict, there must always involve two parties! That means that when a student is in conflict there's another student involved, or a teacher.

Understanding Defiant Behavior
  •  Students may act out in order to mask limited academic or social skills.
  • Students can become defiant or confrontational if they lack the necessary skill to ask for help,or have not been modeled or taught how to approach conflict. Often another's words and actions are not read properly by the defiant student. 
  • Confrontational behavior has paid off for them in the past, or has been rewarded by giving them power or authority
  • Generally "ambiguous" behavior has been seen a provocation, and the student receives a reprimand which is unnecessary. Take the "Boy Who Cried Wolf" as an example. They're usually the ones in trouble. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

Top tips to start building a proactive vs. reactive classroom:
  • Always, I mean always remain outwardly calm. The student must not be aware that they are provoking you. This incites them, and encourages the power struggle to continue. Maintain a professional perspective when approaching the student.
  • Approach the student privately and use a quiet voice. Other students in the class should not be privy to your conversation with a defiant student. If they are, rest assured, the student will try to "save face" and will say or do things to make it look as if you are not in charge.
  • Establish eye contact, and begin by stating the student's name and what they need to do. For example, "John, you need to start the math assignment now." Make the request, and allow for a reasonable amount of time for the student to respond to the request. (5-20 seconds). Seriously, time yourself! I will bet you do not wait very long for them to comply with your request.
Okay, I waited 5-20 seconds. They still didn't do what I asked them to do. Now what? (P.S. I'm not surprised!)
  • Repeat the exact same request again, "John, please start the math assignment now." and wait a reasonable amount of time (5-20 seconds) for them to comply. Again, time yourself! If the student fails to comply with your request and you've asked in a professional, non-threatening manner, impart a 2-part choice. "John, you can start the math assignment now and receive a positive note home or receive a referral to the principal for failing to begin your math assignment as I've asked you to twice now. It is your choice." Wait again...(you'll receive your angel's wings for this level of patience)
  • Impose your selected negative consequence and ignore all student complaints or comments designed at engaging you in a power struggle. Offer them one last "face-saving" out. Tell the student calmly, "is there anything I can do to help you, or anything I can do to earn your cooperation?" 
I hope this helps all of your wonderful teachers out there! You have the hardest job, and this is an area of discipline I know we all struggle with. Is there any insight you have to offer on defiant behavior? I'd love to hear from you! 

Monday, March 24, 2014

Stay Where You Are and Then Leave by John Boyne

"The day the First World War broke out, Alfie Summerfield's father promised he wouldn't go away to fight—but he broke that promise the following day. Four years later, Alfie doesn't know where his father might be, other than that he's away on a special, secret mission. Then, while shining shoes at King's Cross Station, Alfie unexpectedly sees his father's name on a sheaf of papers belonging to a military doctor. Bewildered and confused, Alfie realizes his father is in a hospital close by—a hospital treating soldiers with shell shock. Alfie isn't sure what shell shock is, but he is determined to rescue his father from this strange, unnerving place. . . ."

Alfie Summerfield is just about as charming and precocious as you'd want to see in a young character in a book. This story warmed my heart from the start, as Alfie takes the place of his father while he is off to war. This precious child sees the world around him falling apart while his father is off fighting. To help make ends meet, Alfie takes to skipping school in order to shine shoes at the train station. Alfie hasn't seen or heard from his dad in ages, and with soldiers arriving with bad news on the daily, Alfie's sure his dad has surely been killed. But alas, he finds out through one of his customer's missteps that his dad, Georgie Summerfield, is at the local hospital suffering from "shell shock." I think in modern times, we would call this severe PTSD caused by the trauma of war. Alfie decides that his home is a much safer place for his dad to be. Will home be the best place for Georgie? One will need to pick John Boyne's Stay Where You Are and Then Leave  to find out what really happens. I enjoyed the realistic portrayal of this period in history, and think the author has done a fine job writing this book for middle grade readers. 

The Parent Pair 

Home Front by Kristin Hannah
"Like many couples, Michael and Jolene Zarkades have to face the pressures of everyday life---children, careers, bills, chores---even as their twelve-year marriage is falling apart. Then an unexpected deployment sends Jolene deep into harm’s way and leaves defense attorney Michael at home, unaccustomed to being a single parent to their two girls. As a mother, it agonizes Jolene to leave her family, but as a solider she has always understood the true meaning of duty. In her letters home, she paints a rose-colored version of her life on the front lines, shielding her family from the truth. But war will change Jolene in ways that none of them could have foreseen. When tragedy strikes, Michael must face his darkest fear and fight a battle of his own---for everything that matters to his family. At once a profoundly honest look at modern marriage and a dramatic exploration of the toll war takes on an ordinary American family, Home Front is a story of love, loss, heroism, honor, and ultimately, hope."

This book truly opened my eyes to the tragedies of war of which I was blithely unaware. A truly honest look at the toll that war takes on a family. Her gripping description of amputation, and what happens to your body was memorable and haunting. I gained a deeper understanding and appreciation for the plight of a soldier and his or her family. It was a phenomenal book. I zipped through the pages of this book, and have been a long-time Kristin Hannah fan.