One of the absolute best things about being a National Faculty Member for The Mandt System is the opportunity to meet so many diverse people across the country who have dedicated their lives to serving other people. I feel most comfortable talking to folks with similar background experience – those who are working in residential settings and those who are working with adults. However, I find myself more and more interested in the teachers across this country. I am awed at times as I hear stories of how these remarkable men and women are coming up with creative ways to teach children – children who are often struggling with trauma; who are facing more adversities in their day-to-day lives than many adults I know; and, children who, at some point in our history, would have been thought “unteachable.”

Teachers are sometimes at a disadvantage because of the fact children aren’t in school 24/7/365. There are lots of things that happen outside of school hours that have a significant impact on children and the way they learn, and the way they use their behavior. Teachers sometimes face unwilling partners in the education process in the form of parents who aren’t forthcoming with valuable information – not always because they aren’t willing, but because they don’t understand that the things happening at home may affect their child in the classroom.

So, I try to ask teachers how they handle things. How do you respond to the needs of those children in your classroom? How do you manage a situation with twenty-four children in a fairly small space when just one of those kids starts to use their behavior in a dangerous way? How do you keep coming back day after day, year after year?

I’ll tell you how they do it. Teachers are wicked creative! I’ve always known that (based on my college friends who were education majors and on several family members who are teachers), but I thought the creativity was more centered around snazzy bulletin boards and fancy penmanship. When I hear some of the methods teachers employee to keep kids safe in their classrooms I am amazed. Here are some of my favorites:

At the beginning of each school year these proactive special education teachers sit down with their students and talk about how they can all work together (collaborative effort – win/win!) to keep their classroom safe. They develop a plan that everyone will follow in the event someone is using their behavior in a dangerous way. The plan is that when one of the teachers gives them the code word (or phrase), each student stands up and takes their chair along with a book and they all leave the classroom and go to the room next door. This allows the teacher to focus on the one child who is in crisis. It gives the other children the opportunity to move to an area that is safe. It provides so much respect and is so dignified for that child who is struggling. As is to be expected, these special ed teachers did meet with some resistance because of the disruption that leaving the classroom represented, however, they report that incidents of these types of evacuations have steadily decreased. The numbers of times they have to put their hands on students to keep the situations safe have also decreased. Again…it’s a win/win!

There are scores of teachers out there who have worked with kids to come up some sort of signal – always subtle and respectful – that the child can use to indicate “I need a break.” No questions asked and the child is given the break. Which is not to say that the student isn’t expected to return to whatever activity (test, homework, project, etc.) they were engaged in, but even having the opportunity to take five minutes away has a significant impact on students being able to manage their own stress. Gosh, think about the numbers of little breaks we adults take during our work day. If that’s the cigarette you go smoke, or the next cup of coffee that you go pour yourself – it’s the signal you’re giving to yourself that says “I need a break.”

Perhaps my favorite is those teachers who are able to recognize when kids are struggling to manage their emotions and in an effort to distract them those teachers will ask logical questions with specific right and wrong answers (“hey, do you remember what 2+2 is?” or “remind me again, when is your birthday?”). It’s fun to hear the stories of how these simple questions actually required the student to use a different part of their brain and allowed a full-blown crisis to be avoided. The teachers go on to mention how they then creatively talk to kids and process whatever was stressing them out in the first place.

So…teachers…I have said it before and I will say it again. I am awed by you. I think the way the kids today would sum it up is “YOU ROCK.” Of course, they are just as likely to roll their eyes at me as I say that, but hopefully you get the idea!

Nikki Wince – Mandt System Faculty