Texas schools try to get a grip on discipline problems using social-emotional lessons

Adapted from the article, Texas schools try to get a grip on discipline problems with social-emotional lessons.

More and more schools throughout the United States and Texas in particular are introducing Social and Emotional Learning into their lesson plans. These classes essentially centre on how to manage emotions and develop skills; including empathy, responsibility and problem solving. An assistant principal at one of the key elementary schools used to be one of those teachers who had little or no time for kids squirming in their chairs and ‘other annoyances’. She thought that surely by fourth grade, her students would know how to raise their hand, sit quietly and walk in a straight line down the hallways. “But they don’t”, she said.

She realised that students needed to be taught appropriate behaviours and that it was her job to teach those behaviours as many times as it took students to grasp. “We don’t have the expectation that kids know all their math by fourth grade, so why do we have the expectation that they always know to behave? This is something that we have to continually teach.”


Authentic Compliments

One teacher at Ridgeview Elementary School, Amanda Self, has a goal to build empathy within her classroom. Instead of just imparting empty self-esteem talk or praising poor grades for students who remain upbeat, Self’s approach focuses on teaching students to give each other “authentic compliments”. An authentic compliment could be something like, “I liked the way you helped me solve a math problem” or “I appreciated the way you were a good friend and let Suzy come and play with us”. Whereas an authentic compliment is NOT, “I like your shoes and the way your wear your hair”.

Self asks the students to sit in a circle and each student takes a turn to either give praise or ask for it. On these days, more than half of her students in the class gush with admiration for their classmates.

“It builds relationships within the classroom so that when problems arise, the teacher can deal with it a lot easier when she has established a culture and climate of kindness. Problem-solving comes a lot easier.”

This has been particularly effective among vulnerable students who often enter school lacking in academic readiness and in social skills. In many cases those students are experiencing a number of social obstacles that hamper their learning. “They have so many things on their plate that until we can help them deal with this socially, they’re going to continue acting out and that’s often why the academics are low.”


Focus on Continual Learning

The principal at Caprock Elementary school was not faced with a frightening campus culture or violent students but needed to “get a handle on behaviours that were taking away from teaching and learning”. This included clowning around in class, excessive talking and rudeness.

The social and emotional lessons were implemented campus wide, with lots of discussion among staff. Together, the staff selected two virtues to reinforce with students day-in and day-out, these were respect and responsibility. Consequently, Caprock’s hallways, bathrooms, cafeteria and playground are lined with posters that remind students to show respect, as this can be shown slightly differently through different settings.

In addition, the teachers have used individual approaches for managing difficult behaviours in their classroom. For example in a grade four classroom, one child had ‘ants in her pants’. She couldn’t sit still for long at all, so each time the child would put her bottom on a chair, the teacher was there with a “Gator buck”, which the child could use to purchase a gift from the treasure box at school. This helped to reinforce ‘good behaviours’ in the classroom and create lasting changes.

Moreover, another student would erupt in loud laughter in class as well as get up and dance or tell jokes. The boy stopped this behaviour when his teacher agreed to allow him to be a comedian in front of the class for 10 minutes, twice a week. Ultimately, this 10 minutes was less time than the amount of time the teacher spent trying to correct him and getting the rest of the class back on track.

Our philosophy is that if we can focus more on the positive, we can decrease the negative and we’re seeing that happen. We’re seeing kids really want to work for that positive behaviour.

(For the full article, follow this link http://www.star-telegram.com/news/local/community/fort-worth/article67838337.html?utm_content=buffer57b62&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer )

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