This week I am teaching a Mandt System® class, and have the pleasure of having teachers from middle and elementary schools. One of the topics that came up during discussion was how to work in settings where there is only one teacher and 6 students with significant behavioral needs. Keeping your sanity when things seem to be going insane is sometimes a difficult task.
During discussions we came up with several key approaches:
➢ If help is a minute or two away, plan to ask for help a minute or two before you need it! This will require knowing patterns of behavior, how students interact with each other, etc.
Planning ahead is a critical part of working alone. The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior, we all know that. But it is easy to forget under stress, which is why planning should be done when we are at our baseline! Responding proactively is always preferable to reactive strategies.
➢ Keep your R.A.D.A.R. on!
Sweep your classroom 4-5 times a minute visually, and once or twice a minute auditorily. Pay attention for the little indicators of transition between the baseline of each student and escalation. In 5 or 6 seconds you can look around the room at each student, noting what they are doing and looking for small indicators of distress.
➢ Remove the stimulus, and if this is not possible or known, redirect the student away from where they are now, from the task they are doing, etc.
If the stimulus is known, remove it. If the stimulus was that we are working today on a novel skill or doing something which the student has difficulty with, modify the activity, use a backward or forward chaining approach, etc. If the stimulus is not known, make an educated guess. Use your relational skills to redirect the student to another area in the room, start a new activity, etc.
➢ The students who will listen to you should be redirected verbally away from students who may be experiencing some difficulty. “Billy, can you help me? I need the book on animals in Africa on my desk, right now it is in the bookshelf. Can you get the book on animals in Africa from the bookshelf and put it on my desk?”
There are several things going on in the above interaction. First, the teacher is asking for some help, which is a de-escalating event in and of itself. When people feel they are being genuinely helpful, especially when we have already built healthy relationships with them, it almost always results in a feeling of safety and of achievement. Second, it is couched in “I need” language, not “I need you to …” language.” When students are told “I need you to …” they often feel controlled, directed, and powerless. When it is something we need and they can help, suddenly instead of being powerless they are powerful. Lastly, the task request is given twice. There is no condescension in this approach, and the student is given concrete directions.
➢ Use your body positioning to pay attention to everyone. When working 1:1 in a setting with more than one student, position
yourself as you are working so you are always facing the other students, and the student with whom you are giving 1:1 instruction is paying attention only to you, and cannot see the others without turning around. This minimizes distraction and empowers you to look around the room once every 10-15 seconds so you can smile at another student, not at someone, etc.
➢ Get kinesthetic! This means that we need movement activities that are age and function appropriate to offer as redirections when students start to escalate.
Get an occupational therapy evaluation for each student who may have some sensory integration needs. Create sensory areas ahead of time that are accessible for students and individualized.
These are only a few ideas that came out of our discussions. These ideas can also be adapted for settings in supported living or supported employment with minimal changes. While the settings may be different, the principles are the same!
Bob Bowen – CEO, The Mandt System