Aug 12, 2012

Newness: The Job, Teen Behaviors & Changing the Status Quo

View from the roof of my new school!

In less than a week, it is the official start of school. I'm running around like a crazy woman trying to make sure everything is ready--kids have school supplies, I have lessons planned, and we have the groceries for packing school lunches. The new job gave me a heap of paperwork to fill out for insurance, payroll and all that other stuff. I have a new email address, access to a new-to-me student information management system, and a computer that is very different from the machine I have at home. I got a tour of the building last week and found out where to get copies made. I have a mailbox in the office that actually had mail in it! The little pieces of the new job are starting to come together, but the big picture won't really form until I meet the kids. Soon!

Another rooftop view. Loved that my new principal let us go on the roof!
It has taken a while for me to really understand what my new job is all about. I worried that maybe some of my new co-workers thought I was daft because I keep asking questions and feeling confused. But the questions and confusion are slowing to a trickle--especially after a 2-day training I attended last week. Now, I get it. I understand what I am supposed to be doing and know that I will have lots of support and lots of freedom to figure out how to best do it. It's a good feeling.

This morning I had time to catch up on my Google Reader feed, and found an article that directly relates to the new job. I've written about this issue before here on emapatheia: Bad KidsSpecial Education, Suspension, Criminalization of School, Dropout Rates, and Race; Civil Rights in Education; Imagine: White Students Suspended Disproportionately More than Blacks. Here is a piece from Education Week discussing more data about Black students and suspension--this one relating to Special Education.


One in Four Black Students With Disabilities Suspended Out-of-School

Students with disabilities are suspended about twice as often as their peers, a new analysis from the Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles at the University of California, Los Angeles, has found.
Analyzing data that districts submitted to the federal Education Department's office of civil rights, researchers found that the rate of suspension for students with disabilities was about one in 13, compared with 7 percent for students without disabilities.
Most alarming, they said, was that one in four black students with disabilities was suspended at least once during the 2009-10 school year. That figure is 16 percentage points higher than for white students with disabilities. (Nearly one in six African-American students without disabilities was suspended from school during the 2009-10 academic year.)
Some of these students may have an explicit need for help with their behavior outlined in their education plans, which should warrant counseling or appropriate therapy, noted Daniel J. Losen, the director of the Civil Rights Project's Center for Civil Rights Remedies.
Read more at Education Week
I read this and am proud to be a part of a program to change the status quo in my new school. Our goal is to teach kids with behavioral challenges and disabilities the skills they need to be successful in any setting. We will work hard to adjust our adult behaviors, so that suspension--both in school and out-of-school--is an absolute last resort. Our goal is to reduce the number of times students are referred to the office for disciplinary measures. Instead of punishing kids with behavior issues and treating them like they are "bad kids", our focus is on their knowledge and skills. They aren't "bad kids"--they are kids who are lacking the necessary skills to succeed in a classroom setting. As teachers, is it our job to teach the skills necessary for reading, writing and math...but it is also our job to teach the behavioral skills necessary for academic learning. We can no longer assume that every kids just knows how to study, knows what it means to be "responsible" or "respectful". Those are very vague terms. My job now is to listen to kids who have struggles, help them problem-solve, and teach them (and re-teach them) the skills they need to be successful. 

Programs like the one I will be working in are found mostly in elementary schools, but I haven't heard of many at the high school level. It is very, very exciting to be a part of something I see as ground-breaking. The focus is largely on behavior, and realizing that even though teenagers are in bigger bodies, their behaviors are sometimes not that different from little kids when you think about the why of it.  We watched a video in my training last week to talk about that point (see below.) Maybe it will look familiar to some of you with toddlers!?!  The point was to think about human behavior as having a function: usually to gain or avoid something. Instead of looking at the "bad choices" kids make, we look at their behavior as a form of communication. Instead of saying that a student is "bad" or has no self-control, or that his home life is to blame, we use their behavior as a clue: the student is lacking the skills to  communicate more effectively. That outlook--it changes everything! The kid isn't "bad" anymore, they're trying to tell us something! The way they're telling it isn't necessarily the most effective way, so we need to figure out what they're trying to tell us and teach them a better way to do it. As a society, we seem to understand this concept with kids like the toddler in the video below, but not so much with teenagers. The behavioral approach is used frequently these days with kids who have Autism, too. Why not with teenagers--the most historically misunderstood people on the planet? My new job involves trying to figure out the function of teenaged behavior and teaching more appropriate ways for teens to communicate. Does this make sense to you? I hope so. It is exciting and different and challenging and cutting edge... I am not sure how it will go, but I am looking forward to finding out!

Here's the video from my training. Can you tell what this toddler is trying to gain or avoid through his behavior? (Watch! It's pretty humorously obvious :D)

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