Changing Mindsets Part 3: Observing Classroom Behaviors

In my last two posts I have covered the first five steps that teachers can take to help change their mindset about classroom behaviors. In this post I will focus on the sixth step. These steps are adapted from Conscious Discipline by Dr. Becky Bailey.

Step #6: Observe and Understand

The key to changing our mindset about problem behaviors is reframing the intent of the child. For example, if there is a child in your class who constantly hits other children, it is easy to say, “This child is bad,” or “This child just wants to hit for no reason.” Reframing involves observing the child to understand exactly why this child hits. Maybe another child is taking toys from them. Maybe the child feels threatened whenever another child comes near them. It is important to observe so that we can understand as much about what is going on with the child as possible.

When you have a behavioral situation that causes a lot of stress in the classroom, it can be hard to take a step back and simply watch what is going on. Teachers have been conditioned to believe that if there is no punishment happening for bad behavior, then nothing has been done to correct the problem. However, punishing a child for hitting does not teach them why they should not hit, and it does not get to the root of the problem, which is why they are hitting in the first place. Asking yourself these “why” questions can help you begin to reframe the situation and the behavior.

After you have asked yourself why, it is time to find out. The best way to find out why a child behaves a certain way is to watch them and their interactions with others. When observing, it is important to write down what you see so that you can refer back to what you have seen and discover patterns in behavior. Writing down the time that the behavior occurred can also reveal patterns, especially if separate observations are done on separate days. Does the child become more aggressive around lunch time because of the many transitions involved in sitting down to lunch? Or maybe it is because he is tired? Writing down the time while observing behavior can lead to many insights that may otherwise go unnoticed.

Write down as much as possible about the behavior of the child and the children that he/she interacts with. It is okay not to write down every single thing, because at some point you will have to look up to see what is going on in between writing. Through practice you will likely develop your own short-hand, which will make it easier to record more information. When the child exhibits the problem behavior during your observation, you may already have seen why the behavior happened. Be sure to write down that the behavior happened so that you can refer back to it later. It may also be a good idea to allow a co-teacher handle the misbehavior so that you can continue observing the situation. That will make it easier for you to see the progression of behavior after the problem behavior is handled, as well.

Why is this important? We have talked about fight-or flight and what that means. Sometimes teachers can trigger a fight-or-flight response by how they react to a behavior. For example, if our child that has been hitting is hitting because another child has taken a toy from them, and we punish the hitting but do nothing about the toy that was taken away (because our focus is solely on the hitting and not on why the hitting took place) then the child that was hitting will likely continue to stay in fight-or-flight because his stress has actually increased. This may lead to even more aggressive behavior that may seem to be “for no reason,” when the actual reason is because they are still upset about their toy. Situations like this are common in classrooms with two-year-olds or other children who have not developed the verbal skills to articulate what has happened in their social interactions. After observing the child in action, you should be able to determine why their behavior is taking place.

Your action steps for Step Six:

  • Ask yourself why the child is exhibiting the problem behavior.
  • Observe the child to see if you can discover the answer.

In my next post I will discuss using this observation to make a positive connection with the child.

Changing Mindsets Part 2

In the last post, we discussed how important it is to change your mindset when it comes to children’s behaviors. We also worked on three action steps that can help you change your mindset when you become stressed or angry. In this post we will look at two more action steps that will build on the answers that you gave in the previous action steps. These action steps are adapted from the Conscious Discipline program by Dr. Becky Bailey.

  • Step Four: Identify the action that the child does that causes you to feel stress. Does the child:
    • Throw toys?
    • Run around the classroom?
    • Hit other classmates?
    • Bite other students?
    • Some other action?
  • Step Five: Recognize what your actions are when you become upset. What do you feel inclined to do when you are upset? A good place to start is to fill in the blanks in this statement:
    • While upset, my inclination is to punish by ________________ or get the child to feel bad by _______________ or to blame ________________.

In the next post, we will focus on Step Six.

Changing Mindsets

Children are much  more than their behaviors, and it is important for you to develop a process by which you can separate your feelings for the child from your feelings about the child’s behavior. In order to change anything about the environment or how you implement your curriculum, you must first change your mindset about the behaviors that you see in the classroom. It is so easy to begin characterizing children by their behavior: “That one is bad,” “That one never listens.” But the important thing to remember is that children are people, just like you, and you wouldn’t want anyone characterizing you by traits that aren’t you: “She doesn’t listen to anything,” or “She is a bad teacher because she never does ________.” We all do the things that we do for a reason, and just as you wouldn’t want to be characterized by what others perceive as faults, neither does a child.

In the next few posts I will be outlining a series of action steps that you can take in order to begin changing your mindset about a child and his/her behavior. These steps are adapted from the Conscious Discipline program by Dr. Becky Bailey. Today we will work with the first three action steps:

  • Step One: Identify the child in your class that creates the most stress for you.
  • Step Two: Return to the post about trigger thoughts and identify the trigger thoughts that you regularly experience in connection with this child’s behavior.
  • Step Three: Identify the feelings or emotions that you go through during the child’s behavior. A good place to start is the list of emotions in this post.

In the next post, we will work with the next two action steps.

 

One Word About Change

In my last post I discussed the Hierarchy of Change and how teachers can use it to see what elements of the classroom they can change. The Hierarchy of Change looks like this:

Hierarchy of Change with Header

Items that are most important for teachers to change are toward the top, and items that are least important are at the bottom. As you can see, the student is listed at the very bottom of the square. This is because not only are they the least important for teachers to change, but it is very hard for anyone to change a human being. As a matter of fact, any time that you try to change anyone, you are essentially applying force to them and exerting your own power over them. This is not the type of situation we want in a classroom, which is why students are listed at the bottom of the square.

I am a firm believer that people can change, and that goes for students as well. However, teachers can’t force or make a student change. Change usually begins when we change or clarify our own perception of a situation. In the example where you spent so much time cooking a special meal only to get angry at your significant other in the end, taking a few moments to find out what was going on with your significant other would have taken away the desire to think any trigger thoughts. You wouldn’t have gotten angry, and you actually would have strengthened your relationship with your significant other through communication rather than tearing it apart through anger. And communicating about their own stress would have changed the demeanor of your significant other, as well. Empathy and communication are powerful relationship tools, and we will be discussing these tools a lot more through future posts.

The Hierarchy of Change

One key to unlocking the secrets of effective classroom management is realizing that there are many pieces of the classroom puzzle that a teacher can change. However, the child is not one of them. The Hierarchy of Change shows different elements of the classroom that teachers can change in order to realize a less stressful classroom environment. The Hierarchy of Change looks like this:

Hierarchy of Change with Header

 

 

The Hierarchy of Change lists items according to their importance. Thus, while it may be easier to change the classroom environment, it is more important to change the teacher’s mindset first. Because teachers can’t change the student, the student is listed at the bottom of the diagram.

So what does it mean to change teacher mindset? In previous posts I have discussed how our brain reacts to stress, and that is something that will be covered more in future posts. One way you can change your mindset is by realizing that there may be more going on with a situation than you can tell at first glance. For instance, if a child is hitting another child, our automatic reaction is to punish the child that is doing the hitting. However, what if the child that he was hitting had taken a toy from him or hurt him first in some way? Changing our mindset means understanding that social situations are complicated in any situation, and in order to teach children how to navigate their own social setting, we have to be willing to get to the bottom of negative social interactions in order to help children repair relationships. In fact, changing your mindset means that you need to shift from a punishment mentality to a teaching mentality when it comes to any situation in the classroom. There are several other ways that you can change your mindset, and these will be covered in future posts.

Changing the environment means making it more engaging and more open to the exploration that children enjoy. Children are naturally curious, and children love moving. One of the ways that we can change the environment is to allow children to satisfy their curiosity more often and allow them the opportunities to move that they need. More will be covered on this in future posts.

Changing how we implement curriculum is probably one of the hardest pieces of this hierarchy to change, especially if you work in a school or childcare center that has a very specifically defined curriculum. However, you should familiarize yourself with the ways in which children learn best and use that knowledge to teach lessons in a way that is engaging, fun, and connects learning to the real world. More will be covered about how you can adapt lessons and make them more engaging and fun in future posts.

 

Our Brains on Stress

In my last post I wrote about classroom stress and the choice that you can make between being calm and being angry in classroom situations. I also wrote about how you should not give away your power to a child. After all,

No one can make you angry without your permission.

Now it is time to examine what goes on in our heads when we are faced with a stressful situation.

In 1996 a research study was conducted about the effects of parental anger. The study revealed that anger causes people to form mistaken beliefs about the actions of the person they are angry at. These mistaken beliefs are called “trigger thoughts,” and for teachers, they prevent us from seeing the underlying causes of children’s behaviors.

The researchers grouped trigger thoughts into three distinct categories:

  • Assumed Intent – when we assign intent to the student’s actions, usually negative. Assumed intent usually means that we feel the child is misbehaving on purpose in order to upset us or another child.
  • Magnification – when our thoughts make the situation seem worse than it actually is.
  • Labeling – when we use negative words to describe the child or their behavior.

Below is a list of trigger thoughts that have been adapted from the 1996 study, as well as from Dr. Becky Bailey’s Conscious Discipline system. See how many of these trigger thoughts you can identify as being part of your thought process when you become angry in classroom situations:

Assumed Intent:

  • You are just doing this to annoy me.
  • You are deliberately defying me.
  • You know this is wrong and you’re doing it anyway.
  • You’re trying to drive me crazy.
  • You’re trying to see how far you can push me.
  • You are tuning me out intentionally
  • You are doing this deliberately to get back at me, hurt me, embarrass me, spite me, etc.

Magnification:

  • I can’t stand this one minute longer.
  • Your behavior is intolerable.
  • You have gone too far this time.
  • You never listen, pay attention, etc.
  • How dare you speak to me like that, look at me like that, etc.
  • You turn everything into a power struggle, lousy time, nightmare, chaos, etc.

Labeling:

  • You are getting out of control.
  • You are manipulating me.
  • You are lazy, malicious, stubborn, disrespectful, ungrateful, willful, selfish, cruel, etc.
  • You don’t care about anyone but yourself.
  • You’re deliberately being mean, cruel, hurtful, a jerk, a smart mouth, etc.

Trigger thoughts are very powerful. They usually enter our heads when we are stressed, and they have the power to transform that stress into powerful negative emotions. Imagine this scene, for example:

You cook a very special dinner for your spouse or significant other. You have spent a lot of time and effort to put this meal together. You proudly set the food in front of him, but he barely acknowledges the work you did or even the taste of the food. You become over-anxious and concerned that your loved one isn’t enjoying the meal, and as the silence continues even after the meal has ended, the trigger thoughts roll through your head:

“He doesn’t care about anything I do.”

“He is so ungrateful and selfish!”

“He purposefully didn’t say anything about all the work I did! Well, I’ll show him!”

And then you begin the silent treatment, when all along your significant other was simply distracted by his own stressful day at work! Rather than stopping and allowing yourself to discover why your significant other was behaving this way, you allowed your trigger thoughts to light a fire under the stress and anxiety you were feeling, and that created a huge explosion of anger. But you forgot one important thing:

No one can make you angry without your permission!

In the next post, we will discuss how to begin changing our mindset.

The Teacher’s Choice

In my last post I talked about the stress that teachers face in the classroom. Most of them face this stress every day, and a lot of teachers do not have adequate support to help them handle the classroom situations that cause them so much stress. I have been a teacher in a preschool classroom for many years; the majority of my years teaching have been spent in classrooms by myself with no extra support.

Any time you find yourself in a stressful classroom situation you have a choice about how you will react to that situation. You can react to the situation in a calm manner or an angry manner; it is ultimately up to you. Or, as Dr. Becky Bailey puts it, “No one can make you angry without your permission.” This may seem easier said than done, but allow me to explain.

When you say that someone makes you do something, you are ultimately saying that this person has control over you – enough control that you would not be able to stop yourself from doing what the other person wanted you to do. When you say that a child is making you angry, you have effectively given away your power to a child.

It is time for you to take your power back. That is why I say that you have a choice. Do you choose to give your power away to a child or do you choose to keep your power for yourself?

In my next post, I will discuss what goes on in our heads during stressful classroom situations.

How Do You View Children?

When I first wrote that question as a way to start my thinking about classroom management, I thought, “Wow, what a loaded question!” I mean, we all love children; if we didn’t we wouldn’t be working in the field of early childhood education. But it is no secret that this is a very challenging field: a 2003 study found that the turnover rate among early childhood educators is estimated to be between 15-30% every year. About a year ago I wrote a post in which I pondered the idea that teaching in early childhood is considered a dead-end job. Obviously, I have never considered it a dead-end job, but those who aren’t familiar with (or aren’t curious about) the amazing amount of knowledge out there that can make the job easier have a harder time in the classroom than those who seek out knowledge and productive ways of doing things in the classroom.

One of the most frustrating aspects of working with children is dealing with problem behaviors. Many different discipline and classroom management systems label these behaviors different ways, from “mistaken” to “challenging,” but the fact is that early childhood educators are expected to handle these behaviors on a daily basis while still trying to maintain a nurturing atmosphere. Sometimes these roles can feel conflicting if problem behaviors get out of control; teachers feel that the role of disciplinarian, coupled with the frustration that comes with it, overtakes and consumes their role as nurturer. Having to be a constant disciplinarian is one of the factors leading many teachers to burnout.

So what if I pose the question differently: what if I ask you how you view children in the worst situations, those situations in which you are being the disciplinarian rather than the nurturer? How often does it happen throughout your day? Is there one children that you find yourself disciplining more than others? How do you feel during those situations?

I remember when I first began studying about classroom management and discipline techniques. I was a fairly new teacher in a three-year-old classroom with fifteen children. I did not have a co-teacher or an assistant teacher; I was alone. There was one girl – we’ll call her Jayla (names are changed to protect the innocent) – who put me in the disciplinarian chair every single day, all day long. Jayla’s behaviors made me feel:

  • powerless
  • frustrated
  • overwhelmed
  • hopeless
  • alone
  • angry
  • out of control
  • anxious

Needless to say, when I felt these emotions, it became difficult to have a productive learning environment. While I tried to be as positive as possible with other children in the class, my negative emotions took a toll on my energy level and my positive interactions with the rest of the class. After all, a teacher only has so many hours in a day with children. The more they find themselves in negative situations, the less time they have to be in positive situations.

In my next post, we will explore the choices that teachers have in high-stress discipline situations in the classroom.

Forming Relationships With Children

In my last two posts (here and here) I have been contemplating forming relationships with children and why it is important. Today I want to talk about how to form those relationships with children.

It all started when I went crazy with planning activities for children on the night after my first day at my new job. I felt crazy doing it, and when I talked to the director about my wild night of planning, she told me that I need to slow down and concentrate on forming relationships with the children. As I began to reflect on why relationships are important, I realized that relationships are formed through doing things with others.

Think about it. When we want to begin a new relationship with someone, we begin doing things with them. We try eating out together to discover what we have in common when it comes to our tastes for food. We do other activities together to discover what we have in common as far as our interests go. And we talk to each other. A lot.

As I was thinking about the processes that we go through to begin new relationships, I realized that I wasn’t too far off the mark. Sure, I didn’t know  what the children are interested in, but I was creating a foundation for finding out. I was making a plan for activities that we could do together to find out more about each other. I didn’t put any of the plan in motion, but I have had several opportunities to find out what some of the children like, and have been able to base the beginning of a relationship on that. For example, gardening is a big part of the school community where I work now, and I have found out which children are interested in gardening and which aren’t. I have even done some gardening with some of them. I have dug up grub worms with some of the children, and we learned more about the life cycle of a Japanese beetle through this activity. Some of the children are wildly interested in airplanes, so we have done a couple of small activities having to do with airplanes. The lead teacher has given me the go-ahead to try to plan a transportation project for the beginning of the year. I have found that a few of the boys are passionate about superheroes, and have already seen some of the negative effects of that passion.

The children and I have even worked on communication. I have talked to the children a lot about their interests, their families, and school life. But we have all practiced communication that helps to heal broken relationships and repair damage done by our actions. These are important lessons that all children should learn, because the skills needed to communicate through relationship issues is a life skill that all people need. Letting people know when what they are doing hurts in some way, and being able to empathize, apologize, and make the situation better is important to every relationship that we have in our life. As teachers, it is important that we are not only teaching these skills to children, but using them ourselves throughout the day as we interact with them. Through these interactions trust is built and relationships grow. Children come to see teachers as not just a disciplinarian or someone who is there to teach them things, but as someone they can talk to and share ideas with, who will take their ideas seriously and help them grow those ideas into something meaningful and fun.

That is what the teacher-student relationship is all about.

The Key to Relationships

In my last post I discussed how important it is to form relationships with children when involved in caring for them. It is highly important. It is so important that I spent the better part of this past week reflecting on why it is important and how teachers go about forming relationships with students.

Why Relationships Are Important

Do you remember any of the teachers that you had when you were young? I only remember a handful of my own vividly. I remember my sixth grade teacher because she used to sing “Que Sera Sera” to me (my name is Sarah). I loved it when she did that. It was one of the techniques that she used to build a relationship with me. She also made learning interesting and fun, taking us outdoors for classes and making learning more hands-on than a lot of the other teachers I had did. In fact, I remember my fifth grade teacher for the same reasons – he made our learning very hands on, and I remember a lot of the experiences that I had in that class. But the relationships that we built made me feel safe with these teachers. I felt like I was in a secure place where I was valued.

Have you ever felt like you weren’t valued? Have you felt like that in a place that you spent the majority of your day? That feeling has the power to physically and emotionally drain people. It causes them to lose the enthusiasm for learning and work and to spend all day looking at the clock, waiting to go home. I read an article just last night that said that if a person has a friend at their place of work they feel more satisfied and happy in their work environment. Most children that attend childcare centers are there as long as, if not longer, than their parents are at work. This makes it a full-time job for children. In order to ensure that they will be happy and satisfied with their experiences in childcare, it is important for them to feel like they have a friend or a secure connection with someone.

That is where teachers come in.

A lot of children do have friends in the early childhood setting, but they are still learning how to get along with children and how to communicate with them. These friendships can be rocky and change from minute to minute, depending on the situations that the children find themselves in. Children need a connection that is more stable, one that they can rely on to be constant through the ups and downs of their days in childcare. When we form relationships with children we provide them this constant connection, even as we are guiding behavior and teaching social skills. The connections that we build with children give them a reason to want to come back to school day after day, and when children want to come back to school it decreases the daily stress of drop-off for both the child and the parent. That is a win for everyone.

In my next post I will talk about how teachers go about forming relationships with students.