New Year, New Word

Make plans for supporting students who don’t fit into your classroom management in this second half of the school year. 

By Rachel Wilser

At the time of this writing, I’m sitting by our Christmas tree, sipping coffee and jotting ideas for 2018 in my planner. One of my favorite end of year traditions is searching for a new calendar, and then, once I get it I LOVE going through each month and adding birthdays, anniversaries, and any commitments we already have—weddings, doctor’s appointments, vacations. And then I like to think about the entire year: what would I like to accomplish this year? What would make me feel proud of myself?

Until a few years ago, I would set a couple different resolutions every year; goals that I’d loosely keep in mind throughout the year. I’d usually set goals for a few different areas of life — professional, personal, financial. However, the last few years I’ve found that framing the year with a single word has been more productive. The first year I used this method the word I chose was grace; at the time I was a new mother of twins staring down the prospect of a significant move. This year my word will be progress. I share this because the start of the new year is a great time to set your own resolutions or framing word for the second half of the school year. Maybe your word is calm, or patient, or organized. Whatever your goals for the new year, this is the perfect time to think about what you want for the second half of the year in your classroom.

We spent time talking last year about how to support students who are struggling academically. I want to share some ideas now on how to support students who aren’t fitting into your classroom management. Just like there are multiple tiers of academic support there are multiple tiers of behavior support, so in a classroom of 25 you’d expect to have about 5 kids who are outside your normal classroom management system. Of these kids, some of them will need a specific and individual behavior plan, whereas others will just need some tweaks to your regular management plan, like extra verbal praise or maybe a small visual schedule on their desk.

When you have students who need additional supports, you want to start at the basics, just like with an academic plan, although behavior plans can be more subjective. When you have students who need a behavior plan, you want to set 1 to 3 goals for them at a time. If you set too many goals, you won’t see any results. You need to narrow  your focus and choose what’s most essential to you and your student/class;  start with the most essential pieces first, and you want to set it up so that they’re successful. One of the most important parts of an individual behavior plan is buy-in; no matter what your plan is if the student isn’t on board, it won’t be successful. The actual layout of your plan can be whatever works for you and your student—a sticker chart, a choice board, a journal. You can find lots of great ideas on Google and Pinterest, but regardless of format there are three essential components to a successful (individual) behavior plan.

  1. Buy-in: we’ve already touched on this, but if your student isn’t motivated by what you’re offering then no matter how great your rewards are or how amazing your plan looks on paper you’re not going to see the success you want.
  2. Consistency: this is a hard part, but you can only change behavior by constantly rewarding the desired outcome, so if you take the time to create a behavior plan, but only use it when you remember or when it’s convenient then it’s not going to be effective.
  3. Focus: what I mean here is focus on the goals of your behavior plan, because those are the behaviors you’re ultimately trying to change. So if your plan dictates that when your student earns 5 stickers he gets 5 minutes of choice board time, he should earn that reward as soon as he hits that goal—if that means he misses 5 minutes of independent reading, work time, or carpet time that’s fine, because they hit the goal. It’s also important to allow children to earn the goal, even if they’re displaying off task behaviors. Let me explain what I mean by that; in a behavior plan, we’re targeting specific behaviors with the goal of changing them. So, if the child’s goal is to sit on the carpet for 5 minutes with their hands and legs to themselves, they need the reward if they do that EVEN IF they whispered to their neighbor. Because the goal they’re working on isn’t silent sitting; it’s self control. As a teacher this can be hard, and sometimes feels counter-intuitive, but you will get more bang for your buck out of your behavior plan if you focus on the goals you set.

If you keep buy-in, consistency, and focus in mind when creating individual plans for your students you’ll see success (although it may come slowly)! Creating a classroom where everyone can be successful both socially and academically is a win for everyone and can help you feel calmer as a teacher. Regardless of the word you choose to describe 2018, setting up all of your students for social success can lessen your workload and stress level.

Rachel Wilser has spent the better part of a decade in classrooms around the country — in private, public, charter, elementary, and middle schools. Now, she chases twins and drinks coffee while planning her return to the classroom.