Q | One of my middle school classes is extremely draining—lots of tattletales and students with negative attitudes. How can I foster teamwork and a more respectful environment?

A | It is critically important that you take care of yourself—the more ­energy you have, the more likely you will feel confident in your teaching skills and be able to think creatively and react patiently to challenging interactions among your students. Identify an activity that relieves stress for you, such as exercise, meditation, leisure reading, or taking a break to chat with a favorite colleague, and find time to do it regularly. Your ­students will benefit more if you are taking care of yourself.

Now for your classroom plan: Make a concerted effort to pay special attention to students collaborating and working well together. Provide regular, brief lessons about the difference between tattling and seeking legitimate help. Engage your students in role-playing to help them practice handling challenging situations, whether they arise in the classroom, at lunch, or during recess. Emphasize the importance of being an active bystander, or standing up for a classmate whose feelings have been hurt. Consider offering a class-wide privilege if the students can get through a day with less than a handful of tattling. All of these strategies help prevent the behaviors you’re concerned about and reward the positive opposites of those behaviors. And with your self-care plan in place, you will have the energy and motivation to follow through. 

Question for Dr. Fernandez?
E-mail: instructor@scholastic.com

Melanie A. Fernandez, Ph.D., ABPP, is board certified in clinical child and adolescent psychology and is director of the Parent-Child Interaction Therapy Program at the Child Mind Institute (childmind.org).


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