Sunday, May 15, 2005

"Trust everyone, but cut the cards".....

Sunday Night: When I read Ms. Frizzle address one of the issues dearest to my heart…well, I almost broke into a grin. (Let’s just say I am tired from the emotion and travel of graduation weekend…). From her blog, I knew I really liked her, but now she has really gotten to me. She wrote:

“Although I didn't say anything truly harmful to [the students], I used a really nasty tone and I know that I alienated them and made them feel unsafe in my classroom (not physically, I mean unsafe in the sense of not free to take risks and learn).”

I spent a good part of two years dissecting the idea of building a trust-inspiring climate for emotionally disabled students, and good teachers (like Ms. Frizzle!) know the principles apply to typical students as well. Lately, I have been concentrating hard on the specific teaching techniques that provide for academic achievement, but the fact I have to behave in a clearly “trust worthy” manner is no less important now.

For us in Room 10, consistent, structured schedules and behavior management systems are key. The structured, controlled setting provides a kind of relief to many ED children. Children learn to trust the sure boundaries we establish though the year. Our schedule, even day to day, is purposely similar. Changes in routine and schedule are avoided, and when unavoidable, enacted with extra attention, support, options.

The less wiggle-room and wavering demonstrated by authority figures, the better chance we have of creating and maintaining a climate of trust. Keeping track of reinforcers and consequences can be maddening, but if we screw up this basic, foundational interaction, we are doomed to promote negative behavior. Knowing when to bend a little to meet the unique needs of a kid in crisis takes even more finesse, and frankly, a lot of luck. We have to be predictably caring, firm, fair, and willing to do the hard work of being “on” all the time.

Without trust, nothing positive can be expected to develop. With trust, antsy children often find a bit of quiet; angry children often find validation; sad children can find hope, and worried children see that grown-ups can be relied on. Trust, emotional safety, is the cornerstone of teaching and learning success in my classroom. And Ms. Frizzle agrees. I couldn’t be happier! (Or more tired!)

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