Dealing with challenging student behavior is one of the toughest aspects of teaching. Devin Bokaer, social worker and the spouse of a teacher, says that acts of heroism can be in the form of empathetic questions, small positive comments, or gestures exhibited in response to negative behaviors. He says that super heroic teachers perform these acts all the time.
Watch Bokaer’s short video (mobile users can access the video here), then read on for three simple phrases and suggestions that can be printed on heavy cardstock and laminated for daily reminders of how to be a superhero for your students.
Video created by Devin Bokaer
Read on as I get clarification from Bokaer on some of his more salient points.
Christy: In the heat of the moment, it would be helpful if teachers had a couple of phrases to readily respond appropriately and peacefully to a child's inappropriate behavior. But really, is being a superhero teacher as easy as memorizing a couple of phrases?
Devin Bokaer: No. Responding peacefully to egregious misbehavior is much easier said than done, especially since the child may continue to act out in unconscious attempts to force the teacher into an unsupportive authoritative role that the child may be used to outside of the classroom. However, over time, when a teacher remains supportive and uncritical of the child, it gradually provides the child with a new, more positive way of relating to others.
Christy: Educators aren't trained extensively in child psychology, psychiatry, or developmental relationships. Can they really make a difference?
Devin Bokaer: This all sounds like the work of a school counselor — someone who can relate to one student or a small group of students at a time, versus busy educators who have to relate to a class of 25 or more and worry about classroom management and high-stakes test prep. The student's behavior is difficult to change because the child's caregivers learned their model of relating from their own parents or caregivers. And of course, relationships are usually quite complex with both positive and negative ways of relating. However, teachers can make a difference. Teachers are important figures in a kid's life that can help break the relational cycle of problems with authority.
Read Bokaer's recipe to help a child feel at PEACE.
Acknowledge and praise them for even the smallest things that they are doing well.
Let them know that they are accepted as important members of the classroom community in spite of challenging behaviors.
Be consistent in consequences without being angry or critical.
Empathize — let them know their struggles are seen, heard, understood, and valued as important.
Superheroes Devin Bokaer and Lauren Sutherland laugh with students in Sutherland's New York classroom.
To have a powerful influence on how children learn to manage their behavior, read and print Bokaer's PDFs on heavy card stock for your classroom, desk, or teacher's notebook.
1. Is the student not listening to directions or instructions? Your peaceful response. (Downloadable PDF)
Acknowledge the child’s behavior without being critical. You’ll also hopefully learn more about what’s keeping the child from listening. (When students feels that they are seen, heard, or validated, they are more likely to share what’s bothering them.)
2. Is the student being disrespectful? Your peaceful response. (Downloadable PDF)
Help the student see that she is acting out feelings. Give the child language to express her feelings rather than acting out.
3. Is the student aggressive or exhibiting violent behavior? Your peaceful response. (Downloadable PDF)
Make it absolutely clear that what they are doing is not O.K. Respond peacefully by identifying the child’s unacceptable behavior as the problem and not the whole child. This helps to prevent the student from internalizing the message that she is a “bad child” and it will also inspire her to self-regulate in the future.
New teachers especially get stuck in classrooms with an inordinate number of behavior problems. Please share your suggestions to help them successfully manage their classes. What do you say or do to help your students relate in a positive manner to other students, friends, or authority figures?
* Devin Bokaer is a graduate of the Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College and currently works at Genesis, a family domestic violence shelter run by the Jewish Board of Family and Children's Services.