Be Firm and Be a Friend: How to Handle Those Difficult Students

I have stepped into many different classrooms with countless students over the years. Each room of kids seems to follow a similar pattern. The students that just want to help, they do everything they can to be the favorite. Then there are the students who sit in the back, keep to themselves, and try not to draw any extra attention. The ones listening intently to every word, but maybe not saying much. There’s always the students lost in their own thoughts of Minecraft or Fortnite, and the students fidgeting with things in their desks. There are so many different kinds of students you will run into in any given classroom, but there is always one student you will find no matter what. The kid that pushes your buttons and limits as far as he or she possibly can. 

I still remember the first encounter I had with one of these students, it was only a few years into my undergrad. I was in front of a fourth-grade class teaching a writing lesson, one of the very first full lessons I had ever taught. I was nervous as I stood in front of them, then took all of my excitement in me to exclaim, “Today we are going to do some fun writing!” 

A few students tuned me out, I knew it. Others paid a little more attention. One student, sitting on the front row smack in the middle as if he was purposely placed there to torment me yelled out, “WRITING SUCKS!” and had the whole class laughing within seconds. 

My little, tender, pre-teacher heart could not handle this. I choked back tears as I continued on with the lesson, ignoring his comment like I had been taught in my classroom management courses. “Class, who can tell me how many sentences make up a paragraph?”

“NONE BECAUSE WE DON’T WRITE ANYTHING FOR ANYONE.” 

His words crushed my soul. I made it through the lesson without crying, but their teacher could tell I was struggling because she pulled me aside at recess and asked if I was okay. I told her I struggled with this particular student and his comments. She sat me down and explained how he was testing my limits, what he was allowed to get away with around me. She told me the most important thing was that I needed to be firm, but also, be a friend. 

I took her advice and applied it the very next day. During the second part of my writing lesson, he thought it would be fun to hop onto his chair and dance for the class. I had to stand my ground and tell him that behavior was not appropriate in my classroom and that he would need to sit down. 

He didn’t listen right away, it took days and days of me repeating my expectations, removing him from the classroom, and calling on other teachers to assist. But slowly, we made improvements, he saw where I stood and started respecting that. Once we had somewhat mutual respect for each other, the friendship started. 

“Hey, Mrs. Ross, do you like football?” 

I can still remember him asking me that question in the hallway after school one day because it was the first interaction we had that wasn’t a power struggle between us. 

We proceeded to have a full discussion about football and he told me about his favorite college football team, BYU, and his favorite player, Taysom Hill. I asked questions and learned more about his passion for watching this game that I had never quite understood myself. 

He and I would chat often about recent games or the latest news with the team and even broaden our conversations beyond football at times. He would ask me about the latest news with my dog we were trying to convince our landlord to let us keep. At home, I would ask my husband the latest news on BYU and brush up on the current events with Taysom. Once we started building a friendship, the respect towards each other grew even further. 

This particular little boy was known throughout the school to be a tough student. Teachers in the hallways would try to reprimand him for bullying, running, and yelling to distract ongoing lessons, with no success. Eventually, I could give him one look, and he would know his behavior was not acceptable. Teachers throughout the school would ask me often what my secret was, how was I bribing him to behave? 

The truth was, no bribery was needed. This little boy needed one thing. Friendship. His teacher was in tune with him and knew which is why she advised me to do two things. Be firm, and be his friend. 

As I continued through my teaching career, I quickly found out that he wasn’t the only student like this that I would encounter.  I met many other students who attempted to push my limits and nearly bring me to tears, but at the end of my time with them, they always ended up being one of my favorite students because I spent extra time building a relationship with them. 

So next time you’re frustrated by that one student that always has a mean comment, or thinks it’s okay for her to crack inappropriate jokes during lessons, remember that it could be their cry for attention and love. 

Find out what they are interested in and truly care about it too. Ask them questions about the games they play and the friends they have. I’ve learned about college football, famous YouTube stars, Fortnite, JoJo Siwa, and more. They are all topics that have never been on my radar and most likely would not have if I hadn’t talked with them for a minute. Dude Perfect turned out to be more interesting than I ever would have expected!

At first, they’ll push you away and resist any relationship, it’s their defense mechanism because deep down they know they cannot continue to be the class clown if they start respecting you. But keep trying, be persistent, and just truly care about them and each of your students. 

I look back and think about these students often. I wonder how they are doing in school and genuinely hope that they have been passed along to other teachers that care about them as much as I do. I hope that they have someone to talk about BYU football and famous YouTube stars, because I know that’s the conversations they need to be having in order to learn about Shakespear and y=mx+b. I truly hope they are successful and that my short encounters with them made the smallest difference in their lives. In the end, that is the reason we are all teachers, right? 

Inquiry into Skills: Research

This is part of a series of inquiry-based provocations for essential elements of the PYP and the Learner Profile. For more, click here.

What measures do we take to help our students cultivate research skills? Teach them to google? Help them take outlined notes? These and others might be helpful, but it might be time to go a little deeper and help them further break down what research skills really entail.

According to the PYP, this break-down includes:

  • Formulating questionsIdentifying something one wants or needs to know and asking compelling & relevant questions that can be researched
  • ObservingUsing all the senses to notice relevant details
  • Planning: Developing a course of action; writing an outline; devising ways of finding out necessary information
  • Collecting data: Gathering information from a variety of first- and second-hand sources such as maps, surveys, direct observation, books, films, people, museums & ICT
  • Recording data: Describing & recording observations by drawing, note-taking, making charts, tallying, writing statements
  • Organizing data: Sorting & categorizing information; arranging into understandable forms such as narrative descriptions, tables, timelines, graphs & diagrams.
  • Interpreting data: Drawing conclusions from relationships and patterns that emerge from organized data.
  • Presenting research findings: Effectively communicating what has been learned; choosing appropriate media

This week’s provocation is intended to help students investigate the nature of research skills for themselves.

Resource #1: Fistful of Stars 360 via The Kid Should See This

Also see (also via The Kid Should See This):

Resource #2: Urban Nature hunting tips from Mr. O’Shea

Resource #3: What is dust made of? via The Kid Should See This

Resource #4: OK Go Sandbox (lessons on the science behind their amazing videos!)

Resource #5: Biography picture books on scientists. Here are a few great ones!

Provocation Questions:

  • What does it mean to conduct research?
  • What does it mean to be a researcher?
  • When are you a researcher?
  • What tools do researchers use?
  • What are the processes of research?
  • How does research change throughout a project?
  • What is a source? How can we use them
  • What is the role of perspective in research?
  • How can we develop/strengthen research skills?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Inquiry into Skills: Social

This is part of a series of inquiry-based provocations for essential elements of the PYP and the Learner Profile. For more, click here.

As I come toward the end of sharing provocation resources for each of the PYP essential elements (just 3 to go!), I was surprised to realize that finding ones for social skills was tricky. But then I realized that was because I was looking at it as a whole instead of breaking down more specific skills. The PYP social skills include:

  • Accepting responsibility: taking on a completing tasks in an appropriate manner; being willing to assume a share of their responsibility
  • Respecting otherslistening sensitively to others; making decisions based on fairness & equality; recognizing others’ beliefs, viewpoints, religions, & ideas may differ from one’s own; stating one’s opinion without hurting others
  • Cooperatingworking cooperatively in a group; being courteous to others; sharing materials; taking turns
  • Resolving conflictlistening carefully to others; compromising; reacting reasonably to the situation; accepting responsibility appropriately; being fair
  • Group decision-makinglistening to others; discussing ideas; asking questions; working towards and obtaining consensus
  • Adopting a variety of roles: understanding what behavior is acceptable in a given situation & acting accordingly; being a leader in some circumstances, a follower in others

In breaking them down, it became clear that I’ve been sharing resources for all these skills all along. There is so much overlap among all the PYP essential elements, but I think this is particularly the case when it comes to social skills. Each of the other PYP essential elements may help students investigate & build up their own social skills in addition to the specific attitude, skill, or attribute.

So this week’s provocation is designed to think about the big picture of social skills as a whole, but know that if you are looking to hone in on the more specific skills listed above, you may find what you need in the complete list of provocations into the PYP essential elements, or even the complete list of all inquiry-based provocations on this site.

Resource #1: Family Rescues Whale Tangled In Net via The Dodo

Resource #2: Brene Brown on Empathy by The RSA (yes, this is a specific skill, but watch closely for multiple social skills here)

Resource #3: Kids Meet a Person with Cerebral Palsy via The Kid Should See This

Resource #4: ADA at iPark Museum of Art via The Kid Should See This

Resource #5: “We Found A Hat” by Jon Klassen

 

Resource #6: Do Unto Otters by Laurie Keller

Provocation Questions:

  • How do social skills impact our relationships?
  • What are social skills?
  • How do we improve our social skills?
  • What is the impact of social skills on our lives? On our communities?
  • What is our responsibility to cultivate our social skills?
  • Are there different perspectives on what good social skills are? If so, what are they, and why do they exist?
  • How do social skills connect to collaboration?
  • How do social skills impact our ability to accomplish goals?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Inquiry into Skills: Communication

This is part of a series of inquiry-based provocations for essential elements of the PYP and the Learner Profile. For more, click here.

Communication is obviously a biggie. It shows up in the 4 C’s of 21st century learning. It comes up in the lists of skills employers most desire. It comes up in wellness articles and self-help books and relationship therapy.

Maybe it’s time we deliberately help students develop communication skills. As we do so, I hope we’ll also teach them more about what it means to be a communicator (see separate provocation on just that!). These resources are intended as a start; please feel free to add others in the comments that might help provoke student thinking and discussion.

Resource #1: How Miscommunication happens (& how to avoid it) by TED Ed

Resource #2: Tools of the Mind (intro video at top of page)

Resource #3: Bottle by Kirsten Lepore

Resource #4: Click, Clack, Moo: Cows that Type by Doreen Cronin & Betsy Lewin

Provocation Questions:

  • What does it mean to communicate?
  • What are different forms of communication?
  • What are communication skills like?
  • How does communication impact our lives? Our communities?
  • What is our responsibility to communicate effectively?
  • What is the connection between learning and communication?
  • What is the connection between self-regulation and communication?
  • What is the connection between connection and communication?
  • What are the different perspectives of individuals in conversations?
  • [if you also shared the provocation on being a communicator] What is the difference between communication skills and being a communicator?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Inquiry into Skills: Self-Management

This is part of a series of inquiry-based provocations for essential elements of the PYP and the Learner Profile. For more, click here.

We constantly talk about providing our students with skills that allow them to think, act, and choose for themselves. In the PYP, such skills include gross/fine motor skills, organization, time management, safety, healthy lifestyle, codes of behavior, and informed choices.

It’s important to regularly provide our students opportunities to discuss & cultivate those skills. This week’s provocation is designed to get the conversation going.

Resource #1: 3 Ways to Start, by New Age Creators

Resource #2: What Matters to You by Jorge R. Canedo E.

Resource #3: Why Incompetent People Think They’re Amazing by TED-ED

Resource #4: Arat Hosseini’s Instagram account run by his father (I especially loved the Arat’s father’s comment in the second video). 

 

My son, my hero @arat.gym _____ Father and son #fatherandson

A post shared by Arat Hosseini (@arat.gym) on

 

✌🏻 👨‍👦 🏅 🏆 @arat.gym I told Arat that’s enough but he wanted to continue. There are times that I get a video from him, but I don’t post it because he looks tired and unhappy , but after we were done with this exercise he told me: dad please post this video , when I grow up I want to see how hard I pushed myself and practiced for being a champion Translated by @asa_kh🌸 💯 💯 🆗 🌎 🌍 🌏 من به آرات گفتم بسه ديگه اما اون خودش ادامه داد. وقتي چهره آرات در فيلمهايي كه ازش ميگيرم به اين حالت است يعني خسته و ناراحت كننده من هيچ وقت فيلمش را نميگذارم اما آخر اين تمرين آرات از من خواست، او گفت: بابا حتما اين فيلمو در پيجم قرار بده تا وقتي بزرگ شدم ببينم چقدر تلاش ميكردم تا روزي قهرمان بشوم. 💯 👌 🌍🌎🌏🆗✌🏻 #sixpack #myson #myhero #hero #baby #kids @arat.gym

A post shared by Arat Hosseini (@arat.gym) on


Resource #5: Forever or A Day by Sarah Jacoby

Resource #6: The North Star by Peter Reynolds

Provocation Questions:

  • What does it mean to self-manage one’s self?
  • How does self-management impact an individual’s life?
  • What helps a person manage themselves?
  • What obstacles sometimes stand in the way of self-management?
  • How does self-management relate to growth mindset?
  • How does knowing our purpose help us develop self-management skills?
  • How are balance & self-care connected to self-management?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Anti-Bullying Resilience Skills: A Work In Progress #TeacherMom

My almost 8-year old recently came home sharing how she has been struggling with another kid in school that has been teasing her. She described the embarrassment she feels when he does this, and the way it often embarrasses and upsets her classmates as well.

After listening, I asked her if she’d like to watch a video about how we might respond to bullies. She agreed, so we watched this one by Brooks Gibbs that I’ve shared here before:

Our favorite part was when Brooks responded to “You’re ugly!” with, “You have the face of an angel, sweet-cheeks” (it’s now an inside-joke we share, quoting it pretty much daily).

We talked about everything Brooks explained: power, not playing the game, resilience, not caring what others think. It all seemed straightforward enough.

But as much as my daughter enjoyed and seemed to understand the video, she still had some hang-ups on all those concepts. Responding that way seemed too embarrassing. And how could she really just not care about what other kids think?

And it hit me. Even with all the love and support my daughter receives, this still gets really complicated for our kids when it comes to the actual process of building resilience skills. It takes a lot more than the occasional fun pep talk and advice. Building resilience skills is hard, messy work.

So here’s what our process looked like:

First, we discussed weighing the embarrassment. “Would you rather respond in a way that might make you feel a little hesitant or embarrassed now, but that will get the bully to stop in the long-run, OR would you rather just keep feeling humiliated and embarrassed again and again and again as the bully decides he/she can get to you?”

Second, we rehearsed some role play, as advised by Josh Shipp. It actually surprised me how tricky this was in practice, which is probably why Josh describes the kinds of responses we shoot for as counter-intuitive. So, we went with the baseline bully insult, “You’re gross!”

Response idea #1: A casual, “Hm. I don’t think so.” But we realized that the bully might take that response as an argument and feed off it (“Well, I think so because I KNOW so!”)

Response idea #2: A passive, “Ok.” But then we realized that the bully could still possibly take that as, “Oh, she doesn’t know what to say? Let’s do it AGAIN!”

Response idea #3: With a smile, “Yeah, sometimes I do do gross things.” We knew we were on the right track there, because it shows the bully she’s not bothered by the insult. Of course, we continue to joke about adding, “You have the face of an angel, sweet-cheeks.” 

Best part was when she came back and told me she has been training all her friends at school on these concepts! She specifically told them that when they respond with, “Stop, you’re hurting my feelings,” that bullies love that (Brooks’ hilarious bully voice: “That’s the point, stupid“). They even practiced role-playing together!

I know this is the first of many resilience skills-building sessions we’ll need to have. But I’m grateful to understand now the way we need to go deeper and work through a messy but worthwhile process!

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto