Sometimes children get a bad rap. We think we have to ‘civilize’ them or that their natural state is chaos. As the mama of three kids myself and now teacher to eighteen (or 72) at a time, it’s taken me awhile, but I’ve come to embrace what I learned in my behavior management class. Children want to succeed. Most* children really will rise to the behavior expectations we set for them. They want be well-regarded, not only for their academic progress but for their behavior, too. It’s our job as teachers to communicate the expectations clearly, to be consistent in communicating when behavior doesn’t match the expectation, and to give regular, positive feedback (if possible, at a ratio of 20:1, 20 positive interactions for every critique).
Basically, if these kiddos are acting out it means something is up. Because sometimes, even when we’ve communicated the expectation and followed up with a reminder that the behavior isn’t matching the expectation, even the “best” of kiddos will continue to act out anyway. It’s then that we have not only the opportunity but the obligation to seek out a quiet moment with that child and ask, “What’s up with you today?”
Though there are those days – when I’m feeling harried and hassled and just hanging on for dismissal time – that I might be tempted to ask the question like this:
I’ve found it really is much more effective if I ask it like this:
Seriously, though. Just a simple, “Hey kiddo, what’s up today? This behavior isn’t like you.” Followed by wait time…. sometimes a lot of wait time… works wonders. I’ve found there’s always an answer that at least partially explains the misbehavior. It might be related to sickness or lack of sleep, problems at home or friendship woes at school. Checking in makes all the difference. Sometimes the simple act of asking and listening to the answer clears up the behavior problem and helps them know they aren’t alone. Sometimes it’s the heads-up I need to check in with the student or a parent or to help the family make a connection with the school counselor.
While writing this post I had the thought that some students might prefer to write instead of talk if something is up that’s contributing to a difficult day, so I created this Tough Day share sheet and put it up as a freebie on my TPT page. I’ll be putting a stack of these at my “Bee Mellow” table, which is a little student desk in my classroom near the window. It’s a place my students can choose to go, but will never be sent to. I’ve promised them I will say yes every time they ask to sit there (as long as someone else isn’t already using it, of course). It’s not meant as a time-out space and so will never be used as a consequence. Rather, it’s for someone feeling the need for a little space, a quiet place to work, or a place to take some deep breaths until the sadness or frustration passes. I’ve got a green plant on top of the table and a well-worn copy of the problem-solving wheel our school counselor gave us. The desk holds blank paper, pencils, markers and crayons.
These Tough Day sheets will be there as well. When someone chooses to write one, they’ll fold it up and put it on my desk in a share box. I’ll let you know how it goes. Do you have your own version of a Bee Mellow table in your room? What resources do you like to use for helping students identify ‘what’s up’ on difficult days? Tell us about it in the comments.
* A note: I want to acknowledge that some children may want to rise to the level of our behavior expectations but may not be able to because of significant issues that need to be addressed by much more than the simple question, “What’s up with you today?” That’s a post for another day. My heart goes out to teachers and students alike in those situations. <3