Courtney Dealy - Boys Town National Training
“Taylor, please put up your pencil bag. You have a pencil out already. It’s time to begin your bellwork.” Mrs. Pedroza continues walking around the room as students enter her seventh grade Social Studies class.
Taylor digs in her pencil bag and mumbles, “Ugh, one minute. I’m looking for something.”
Most students are settled in and have quietly begun the bellwork. Taylor is still digging through her pencil bag. The teacher walks back to her, and in a normal speaking voice says, “Taylor, I told you to put the bag up. That’s enough. Please begin your bellwork.”
“I am! Gawd!”
“Taylor, no you’re not. Follow instructions right now and put this up. You are wasting my class time. And if you continue I will take your time and you will have to stay after school to finish this.”
A few students shift uncomfortably in their seats.
“What?! Maybe if you go away and leave me alone then I can work on my work.”
“Taylor, I’m going to stand here until you put this up.”
“If you go away I’ll put it up.”
“Okay, I’m going to send in attendance. But when I come back you better have your pencil bag put up and be working on your bellwork.”
Mrs. Pedroza goes to the computer and submits attendance. From across the room, she sees Taylor’s bag is on the desk and it looks like Taylor’s begun the assignment. Mrs. Pedroza whispers loudly across the room, “Taylor. Good. Now put the bag up.”
Taylor squints her eyes, “What? I’m working! Gawd,” and pushes her paper and pencil bag off the desk. Taylor stands up, picks up her desk, moves it aside, sits down cross-legged on the floor, crosses her arms, looks up and smirks at the teacher.
Let’s stop right here. Is anyone else sweating just reading this scenario? Unfortunately, this behavior is not uncommon.
Dr. Nicholas Long describes the conflict cycle, reminding us that when students are stressed about something at home, in their community, or at school, feelings and anxieties are activated that drive behaviors. The behaviors may be an attempt to decrease the stress or may be driven by feelings/anxieties. The way other people in the student’s life respond to the student’s behaviors can either break or fuel the cycle.
In this example, the way Mrs. Pedroza chose to address Taylor’s behavior may have resulted in increasing Taylor’s level of stress, and in turn contributed to escalated negative behaviors.
At Boys Town we like to say, "If you can predict it, then you can plan for it.” And we can predict that kids are going to enter our classes with their own feelings or anxieties, their own mini-weather. But let’s look at what we can do to create a climate in our classroom to help us weather their storms.
In the moment:
Address the child’s behavior, not the child. Specifically describe behavior: “You’re looking through your pencil bag. Please zip it up and put it in your backpack.”
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Here are some things to keep in mind each day that are effective preventions to possible power struggles and classroom conflict:
Let’s rewind and return to Mrs. Pedroza’s classroom when students first began entering her 7th grade Social Studies class. The teacher is standing at the door, welcoming students.
“Good morning, Taylor.”
“Hi,” Taylor curtly says as she shuffles to her desk with her head down.
Mrs. Pedroza welcomes three other students by name, taking note that Taylor is acting differently than normal. The bell rings and Mrs. Pedroza walks around the room, monitoring as students work on their bellwork. She pats a couple students on the back to let them know they’re doing a good job. Most students are settled in and working on their bellwork. Taylor is digging in her pencil bag.
Mrs. Pedroza walks over and bends down to talk one-on-one with Taylor. “Hey, Taylor. How’s it going?”
Taylor looks up from her pencil bag and sighs, “Fine, I guess. But I can’t find my favorite pencil and my twin sister was being a butt this morning.”
“That’s frustrating. I’m sorry you guys had trouble. But could you find a nicer way to say that, please,” and she smiles.
Taylor smiles, “Well…she was annoying.”
Mrs. Pedroza smiles, “Fair enough. That can be a frustrating start to the day. Let’s see what we can do to start this class off well. We do have some bellwork on the board. What can we do to get you started so you can get the most done now without having to spend other time doing it?”
“I don’t know.”
“Would you like to get a drink of water first? Or do you want to go ahead and choose a pencil from your pencil bag and get started?”
“It’s fine. I’ll just get started.”
“Very good. I’m going to send in attendance. I’ll be back around and see what a great job you’re doing getting started on this work, okay?”
The teacher goes to the computer and submits attendance. From across the room, she sees Taylor’s pencil bag is on the desk and it looks like Taylor has begun the assignment. Mrs. Pedroza catches Taylor’s eye, nods her head and gives a small smile. Taylor gives a half-smile and gets back to work.
Sometimes the difference is in the small things and how we approach situations.