Thursday, 16 July 2015

Dear Teacher Aide

Dear Teacher Aide,

I want to congratulate you for listening and applying the techniques around social and emotional coaching we discussed today.  I am impressed with your ability to listen and then apply new ideas.  This ability is critical and will see you go far in any profession.  It is really helpful to work alongside someone with this skill.

It was exciting to see your success with the boys in particular.   The boys think very highly of you so when you do apply these techniques it has an awesome affect.  They want your friendship, they want you to notice them.  The principle of ignoring unwanted behaviour and praising  wanted behaviour seems simple enough.  However, it is very difficult in practice and many teachers struggle with it.  I think that as teachers we often let our hearts dictate our actions.   “I feel so mad right now, that child is so naughty…  I have told that child 1000 times not to do that.  We end up wanting to punish that child. We end up saying and doing things leading the child to be noticed negatively.  Children crave any attention and if negative is all they can get, they will take that.

However, punishment never wins.  What does punishment teach a child?  Does it teach them skills about how to calm down?  Does it teach them how to forgive or how to make the situation right again? That is why we are a restorative school.  Using restorative practice enables students to learn from difficult situations.  They might learn 1.  What they did that the other person didn’t like.  2.  How to put things right.  3.  That situations often involve two people  4. Teachers can say sorry as well   5.  Learn skills so that the problem doesn’t happen again.  

Restorative practice provides the student another opportunity to try again, to practice that social skill in context without being disgraced.  In our learning community, Year 1 and 2, the students need multiple opportunities to practice.  Older students benefit from learning safer and more respectful ways of living and learning together to restore calm and rebuild relationships.

We need to always remember to love and believe in the child as a baseline expectation.  Don’t take words or actions personally.  An angry and upset child doesn’t hate you.  They are simply expressing deep emotion of frustration and hurt. They are yet to learn how to self manage. 

You have done so well not to take things personally.  That shows a lot of maturity.  Remember that the moment after a child has done something that offends you is the most powerful moment of all.  Ignore the behaivour, make sure the child and everyone else is safe and then quickly praise the child when they choose to do the right thing. Choose to praise them with tagged praise even if you don't feel like it.  “Well done for taking a deep breath Zuri."

Praise lets the child know what they are doing that is so helpful in making amends. Randomly using a tangible reward like a stamp or a juicy helps the young child or a child who has difficulty self managing, see the result of an abstract behavior concretely. The reward helps them notice the steps they take along the way to successfully manage situations. They might not notice a ‘good boy or a good girl or a thank you’ for the time they paused and took a deep breath when they were frustrated. They may not connect those words to what it was they did so well.  But they will notice if they receive a tangible reward for a specific social skill.  “Wow, I loved the way you used the chill out chair today, you were self managing your frustration by calming down.”  Praise with a tangible reward is on the same continuum as praise with words, it is just as valid when used in the right situation.  And for some of our learners, who are very concrete thinkers, they need this material object and/or tagged praise to help them notice the abstract nature of some feeling or social skill.
You may have heard people say that kids who get a lot of praise, come to rely on it.  However, I have experienced and read articles saying that when kids are full of praise they start to give it away to others.  Think about the times you have been given a compliment by someone you respect.  It has put you on cloud nine, and the next person you see, often gets a smile and some kind words.  This praise effect can have a dynamic influence in a learning community.  Think of the effect of many emotionally full learners giving away compliments and meaningful friendship words to fellow students.   

Today, you had success by spending time, purposeful time, building relationship with one student.  You focused on him for 5 minutes.  You used Descriptive Commenting to notice him;  “You are building a digger.  You are putting the wheel here, no there.  You are keeping your body calm even though the wheel doesn’t fit”.  You also used his name, and you looked him in the eye and smiled.  These things are so powerful.  He needs to know in lots of small ways that you respect him.  Every time you notice him, you fill up his emotional bank. 

So well done again.  Keep up the good learning.  It is wonderful to have you in the team and to see you being so successful.  

Your colleague,

Tara O’Neill

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