Wednesday, August 10, 2005


With the start of the new term, good teachers everywhere are carefully setting the tone for a successful, achievement-focused school year. General education and special educators alike will focus on providing a productive learning community, a place where high standards, challenging lessons, and positive energy create an optimum learning environment. In our special education program for children with emotional disabilities, teachers will be busy establishing themselves and their classrooms as predictably supportive, fair, and trust-worthy. My years of experience in an ED classroom bear out this important point: without a strong feeling of trust in the teacher, students’ academic and social- emotional goals will likely go unmet.

The negative school and life experiences faced by our students often squelch a “natural” love of learning; the risk-taking necessary for learning is often met with fear and its partner, anger. Building trust becomes all the more difficult when children spend so much of their time and effort in crisis. Many children with emotional disabilities need absolute consistency and structure, often precluding them from finding comfort and predictability in an even reasonably flexible general education setting. So we teachers are focusing much of our early efforts preparing and practicing the art of being predictable, caring, trust-inspiring.

Much of the new research about effective teaching includes the development of classroom routines and rules meant to ease transitions and allow for the best use of academic time. These efforts are doubly important in the ED setting where every direction and suggestion can be met with strong student opposition. When routines and expectations become normalized, opposition tends to decrease; compliance and cooperation can “sneak in”; learning becomes a more likely outcome.

With these issues in mind,I completed some research this spring on the kinds of skills/characteristics that effective ED teachers possess. Of course,this list could describe effective general education teachers as well. See what you think….

1. I build positive (trusting) relationships with students due to my consistency and attention to their needs.

2.I deal directly with student emotions; I don’t shy away from taking issues on.

3. I maintain a consistent behavior management system, including making individualized arrangements for special behavior needs within my classroom.

4. I create a learning environment that supports active, easily distracted students; I plan for reduced disruptions via my classroom arrangement, planned schedule, and active lesson delivery .

5. I differentiate instruction to meet individual needs, including teaching in small groups assigned according to academic or social skills .

6. I enjoy interacting with students. My students sense my enjoyment.

7. I “change up” my lessons “on the fly” as needed.

8. I support student’s positive self image by using positive, instructive praise, and creating successful/appropriately challenging learning experiences.

9. I engage in professional development, seek out classes/ workshops in areas of interest or weakness.

10. I know the subject matter in depth; I prepare in advance so I am ready with detailed, comprehensive plans that present material in the modality most advantageous to that particular lesson.

11. I am flexible and open to new ways to meet immediate needs.

12. I am consistent, predictable, and honest (trust-inspiring).

13. My rules and expectations are fair (trust-inspiring again).


Fred said...

Wonderful post. You should submit this to EdWonk for the weekly Carnival of Education. I'm in complete agreement with your list. (In fact, I may steal a few of them - with proper credit, of course!)

Mrs. Ris said...

Thank you Fred, I appreciate the compliment. From YOU it's especially welcome... I read your blog and comments faithfully!!

DW said...

Hi, Mrs. Ris, as a School Board member, I'd love to hear your view on whether teachers should be paid extra for providing mentoring. Is a formalized mentoring program required for new teachers to learn from their peers?


Polski3 said...

Great post! Lots of super data for new teachers and a nice reminder for us veteran teachers!
Have you thought of expounding on each point and creating a teacher inservice type workshop?

Mrs. Ris said...

Hello DW, The county for whom I work has a "GREAT BEGINNINGS" mentor program that is system-wide. Trained mentors are paired with new teachers, and are paid a stipend. Mentors are also assigned to teachers new to the county but new to the profession--part of the understanding that coming to a big complicated county like ours can be daunting no matter one's previous experience. Surveys of new teachers show that they chose Fairfax over other offers because of the formal mentoring program. (I understand we are "famous" in the mentoring biz?)

Check out the details at the website:

The year long internship program I do with George Mason University also pays a stipend (350dollars, not a lot for the work, but still better than nothing.)

Yes, mentors should be paid. Unfortunately, we could not be paid what we are worth!!! I have to be realistic!!

NYC Educator said...

One of the most important things on that list, I think, is that you enjoy the students. There's just nothing worse than a teacher who hates kids, and it's remarkable that such people choose teaching. Hopefully, they'll get their administrative licenses soon, and move somewhere they can do less harm.

Jorie said...

It is good to stumble across your thoughts as I head into my emotionally impaired classroom in two days. It will be different than doing general education last year!

Mrs. Ris said...

good luck Jorie.... yep, it'll be different, but it can be so satisfying. I hope what I have to share will help in some small way!