Steve Goodier, in his e-newsletter Life Support, shares a wonderful story of a lady by the name of Mary Clough. Mary is a volunteer teacher at a school she had attended herself many years ago. She works with 2 and 3 year old students, some of whom have Down syndrome. She assists the students with puzzles, reads them stories and works with them on a variety of athletic activities. Mary says, "We care about the little kids here, we set examples for them."
Mary uses what skill she has and combines it with a heart full of love in teaching the children in her class. She, of all people, realizes it is does not matter what talents and abilities any of us has, but it's what we do with those talents and abilities that matters. Mary could teach us a lot about using what we have, you see, Mary has Down syndrome also.
What a great example! What an inspiration for us to utilize what talent, ability, and gifts we have, combined with a heart full of love, to teach our students. This is what it is all about, doing our best to make a difference in all of our students' lives.
In the previous article, we discussed positive, practical practices that may be helpful to teachers in working with students with disabilities. In fact, it was evident those practices could be effective in helping teachers teach all students. We will continue, in this article, to consider some additional basic practices for teachers.
We will begin by covering what has been referred to as "your most important asset". It has also been referred to as the "magic word" that can be instrumental in bringing about tremendous results or sabotaging your success. What is "your most important asset" and the "magic word" that can have such an impact on your outcomes? It is your attitude!
John C. Maxwell, in The Winning Attitude, Your Key to Personal Success, describes attitude as "an inward feeling expressed by behavior." He further states, "Our attitude dictates our performance." Therefore, what's on the inside becomes manifested on the outside.
It then becomes apparent our thoughts, expectations, and attitudes affect how we act. It is communicated by way of our facial expressions and our body language. It even impacts what we say and how we say it. It is evident for others to see, sometimes before we even realize it.
When it comes to attitude, the key is to remember that YOU are responsible for your thoughts, your expectations, and your attitude. It is not anybody else's responsibility. It is your responsibility.
Then, for us as teachers, we must ask ourselves - do we practice positive thinking or do we practice negative thinking? Do we maintain positive expectations or do we maintain negative expectations? Do we exhibit positive attitudes or do we exhibit negative attitudes?
Research has documented the importance of teachers maintaining positive expectations and positive attitudes toward their students. There is no doubt that expectations and attitudes can impact relationships and student results more than any other factor. The research has proven that our students will respond to our expectations and our attitudes.
William James, the great American psychologist and philosopher said, "Human beings, by changing their minds, can change the outer aspects of their lives." As we change our thinking, we can start to change our behavior. When you alter your thoughts and your attitude, you can alter the results in your life.
You can make a difference in the lives of your students by altering your thinking, your expectations, and your attitudes. Zig Ziglar, the famous motivational speaker, encourages people to "get rid of your stinking thinking" by doing a "check up from the neck up." What a great habit to develop, doing a check up from the neck up to get rid of your stinking thinking.
As teachers, it is important for us to think about what we are thinking. We need to evaluate our expectations and attitudes on a continual basis to help ensure success for our students. We would do well to remember to operate by the Golden Rule, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
Characteristics of a positive attitude can be observed in many forms. One way would be something as simple as wearing a smile. There is absolutely nothing you can wear that will make you look better than a smile.
It has been said that actions speak louder than words. A smile can make people happy to see you and give them the appearance of your being more approachable. This can be helpful in reducing anxiety in your students. This can even make them feel appreciated by you because of your smile. It does not cost you a single thing to smile. However, a smile can go a long way in building relationships and helping your students to be comfortable and at ease.
Another characteristic of a positive attitude is having patience and understanding of others. When you give someone your time and attention, in an effort to understand their perspective, then they feel important and respected. It can be the one point that can make a difference in making students feel you really believe in them and care about them. How have you felt when someone has shown patience and understanding with you when you were learning something new or different?
One additional characteristic of a positive attitude is that of praise and encouragement. Abraham Lincoln is quoted as saying, "A drop of honey catches more flies than a gallon of gall." Although we are not trying to catch flies, the principle is that you will be much more successful when you use words of praise and encouragement than words of criticism and discouragement. Praise and encouragement will give you better results in working with your students. It will motivate your students and can help them to have a better self-esteem.
Praise and encouragement also meets a need that is common to all of us, that of needing to be recognized! By singling out a student or a group of students and telling them what a great job they have done, you have helped to meet the need to be recognized. By using praise and encouragement, students feel recognized, supported, and important.
The next positive, practical practice that we as teachers need to master is communication. Communication is probably the most important key in the educational process. Without a good understanding and implementation of communication, learning will not occur in an effective and efficient manner.
When communication is analyzed and broken down to its most basic elements, it can be described as simply consisting of three distinct parts. The first part of communication can be referred to as "the sender." This is the person or thing that is producing a specific message.
The second part of communication would be described as "the message." This contains the specific information that is being produced by the sender. The third part of communication can be referred to as "the receiver," which is the person or thing that is receiving the specific message being produced by the sender.
Therefore, communication can be understood as consisting of the three parts: "the sender," "the message," and "the receiver." This oversimplification helps to lay a foundational explanation of any type of communication.
Take for example a book as a means of communication. The author is the sender, the topic of the book is the message being produced, and the readers are the receivers of the message.
Television or radio can be another example of communication. The station producing the message is the sender via the television set or radio. The message is whatever is being broadcast on the program you are watching or listening to. The receiver would be the audience of that particular program.
Similarly then, in teaching, communications follows the same simple pattern. The teacher is the sender of the message. The message is the topic that the teacher is presenting. The receivers are the students to whom the teacher is making the presentation.
A "communication breakdown" occurs when there is a problem somewhere within the three aspects of this understanding of communication. In the teaching example this means there may be a problem in either how the teacher is sending the specific message, or there may be a problem in the specific message itself, or the problem could be in how the message is being received by the students.
The question would then be, "How does this communication breakdown impact the learning process, especially when it comes to students who have learning problems or a disability?" Historically in education, we tend to assume the problem must be on the part of the student (the receiver.) Certainly in many circumstances, this may be where the problem needs to be addressed. However, this may only be part of the bigger picture.
Remember, there are three parts to the communication process. Therefore, it is vital to closely examine each of the three parts (the sender, the message, and the receiver) to ensure that we are addressing the cause or causes in the breakdown of the learning process. This means it will be necessary to investigate the student (learning style, etc.) to investigate the teacher (teaching style, etc.) and to investigate the message (modifying or adapting the content of the task.)
This is the point where it becomes necessary to employ a problem solving model to endeavor to discover where the "communication breakdown" may occur. Todd Gravois, in the Instructional Consultation Team (ICT) model, talks about this problem solving process in terms of getting a match between the student, the instruction, and the task in order to achieve success.
Dr. Judy Wood, in her Systematic Approach for Assessing and Accessing the Learning Environment (SAALE) model, describes it as finding where the "mismatch" may be in a student's learning environment. Once you have identified the "mismatch," then you would apply a strategy (keeping data to ensure it is working or not.) If after some time, it appears the strategy is not working, then you would implement another strategy. Dr. Wood offers a number of strategies and ideas to assist teachers through her model.
Through the implementation of a problem solving model, teachers would be able to identify the "mismatch" or "communication breakdown" and implement strategies to help remediate the problem. This process not only helps the students but also helps teachers to become more effective in educating all students.
In bringing this article to a close, I would like to go back to something that I wrote in my last article. In a conversation with one of my colleagues, we discussed the implications of several of the positive, practical practices that were presented and how they related to implementation of discipline.
The positive, practical practices were that students must know what the expectations are for them in the classroom/school, the students must know the expectations will be followed with consistency, and the importance of the teacher "saying what you mean, and meaning what you say."
First it is important to note that these positive, practical practices are all meant to be proactive. When implemented they should help to reduce and/or prevent inappropriate behaviors in the classroom. Second, it should be noted that when it becomes necessary to implement discipline that all children are not the same.
Think of it in terms of how we are to "differentiate instruction" for students. We must be diverse in the way we provide instruction because students have different needs and varying levels of ability. Therefore, it is necessary for teachers to differentiate instruction to help address the needs and abilities of their students. This allows all students the availability to make progress and be successful at their ability level.
When dealing with students with behavior problems, because of their different needs and varying levels of ability, we must "differentiate discipline." In other words, as teachers are sensitive to the fact of different educational needs of the students, it is important to be sensitive of the different behavioral needs of students.
Discipline does not necessarily have to be the same for every child. It can vary according to the needs and varying ability levels of the student. This is a challenging concept for most people to understand and accept. We will discuss this in more detail in future articles.
For now, continue to be proactive and implement these positive, practical practices to help build success for you and your students.