“I am able to make an even greater impact on my students than I ever thought possible! The students seem happier; the class is getting along better; I have more time for teaching, and their grades are improving!”
This may seem like an impossible dream. Teachers have the crucial but often difficult task of educating students who have a hard time sitting still; are weighed down with concerns; possess few resources to deal with them and can lead to misbehaviors. It is very possible to provide students with those resources, prevent misbehaviors, help them make more socially-emotionally intelligent choices, and give them a great start on the road to becoming successful, deep-thinking, caring adults..
It’s helpful to consider that our students’ misbehaviors are often not intentional, but, rather, a misguided attempt to express feelings and get their needs met. As students seek to maximize good feelings and minimize more difficult ones, they often choose to behave in less than ideal ways.
Trying to get their needs met, students are constantly making choices about what they think, feel, and do. Often, however, these choices are made unconsciously. Additionally, their choices are informed by their assumptions, of which they are also unaware.
BASED ON ASSUMPTIONS
These assumptions are based on the ways they try to make sense of their world. Due to a lack of maturity and experience, these assumptions are filled with illogic. This includes generalizing - stretching information to fit in more than is realistic - “EVERYTHING ALWAYS goes wrong in my life”. “Crystal-balling” leads to assuming we can accurately predict the future - “I will NEVER improve”. “Awfulizing” leads to the assumption that something is far worse than it is -“Not being asked to that dance is HORRIBLE!”
EFFECTS OF ASSUMPTIONS
These ways of thinking affect every aspect of their lives, including emotions, self-confidence, and relationships. In all of these areas, these assumptions quickly inform their thoughts, lead to their feelings, and propel their choices. In order to help students make the best possible choices and prevent misbehaviors, it is important to help them examine and edit the assumptions upon which they are based. We can help students understand what assumptions are; the basic errors in judgment that lead to them; how to change the assumptions to more logical beliefs; and then manage their thoughts, feelings and actions accordingly.
First, it is helpful to create a classroom climate in which this can best occur. It might be a relief to know that you are already making an impact on your students’ lives, just by being an adult who offers support. You can also create a climate of peer support through fun team-building games such as “mirror” where one student does slow movements while the rest follow exactly, creating a huge mirror. You could also have the students create a class name and cheer, and do regular “compliment circles”, where every student gets praise from and gives praise to every other student.
You can help students understand the process of choice-making, and encourage students to support each other to make the best choices they can. When issues arise, you can help the students pause and examine the choices they made that led to the situation. I worked in a school where we were discussing a student’s behavior in class. When he said “I had no choice”, the entire class looked at him knowingly, smiled, and then helped him examine other options.
You can create constructs in your classroom that support effective beliefs and choices, preventing and handling misbehaviors when they occur. For example, you could help students understand and change an assumption that can lead to worry, and sometimes to avoidance or misbehaviors. You could help them edit the “awfulizing” in the assumption “if something seems scary, it must be awful”, to “if something seems scary, it might be ok”. You could teach them a slow breathing activity – taking a breath in and out on a slow count of four. They could then practice slow-breathing and reminding themselves that if something seems scary it might be okay, before they take tests, or engage in activities that might lead to worry.
You could help increase students’ perseverance by helping them change the “crystal-balling” in “I will never get any better” to the possibility that “I might improve”. You could help the students graph and learn to take pride in small improvements, and create classroom celebrations, applauding student effort.
You can help support win-win relationships by helping students move from assuming “I must pressure others to always get what I want” to “I can compromise so we get what we want”. You could support this new belief by having the students role-play a variety of situations that display instances of compromising, such as sharing a remaining piece of cake or taking turns deciding what to play at recess. You could then pause and have them come up with a compromise when conflicts inevitably occur.
Helping students edit the assumptions that underlie their choices provides them with a crucial resource for the ability to make socially-emotionally intelligent choices. Building healthier beliefs and providing hands-on activities to practice the application of those beliefs provides an effective path to promoting and maintaining positive behaviors.
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