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Learning how to support children in crisis: A collective awareness of classroom stressors

nau_edwizePatrick Nau, a teacher at PS 369 in the Bronx, has completed his training with the Institute for Understanding Behavior, a consortium of the New York City Department of Education and the UFT. The institute trains entire school staffs in using strategies that help foster social, emotional and academic growth in students. Eight schools have signed up for the training. Patrick is writing a series of blog posts about his experience and the lessons he hopes to bring into the classroom. Read Patrick’s first post »

The four-day training of the Institute for Understanding Behavior asks you to take stock of yourself and your school community. Each day, for six hours, we were asked to think with sincerity about our school’s successes and where our school needs to make changes. We rehearsed how we would deal with stressful situations. And we shared with the other participants what behaviors really irk us and what we do to help ourselves remain calm.

My co-workers and I realized a few things: mainly that our staff — as do most educators — knows what we are supposed to do. We know that in stressful situations we need to support student needs and understand the correlation between their needs and behaviors, use positive language, avoid power struggles. We know what environmental conditions cause children to struggle with behavior.

The trainers suggested that teachers ask themselves four key questions before responding to a child’s behavior: What am I feeling? What does the student feel, need or want? How can I change the environment? What is the best response?

In the heat of the moment, I sometimes struggle to pause before reacting. I need to not panic during a stressful situation — even if there is fighting — take a deep breath and quickly assess the situation before trying to address it.

My colleagues and I also found the Life Space Interview to be a helpful tool. In a nutshell, the Life Space Interview is a way to engage a struggling student, one-on-one, to understand what is frustrating him or her, to understand the behavior correlated to how the child feels, discuss and practice alternatives, and ultimately reintroduce the child into the class.

But ultimately all of this led to more questions. How do we find time to use these strategies when you have a full class of other students? What do you do when multiple students are having difficulty at the same time?

During the training, my colleagues and I found ourselves frequently in discussions about applying what we were learning to our particular school and staff. We kept returning to one key question: Will everyone buy into the program and implement it in earnest? How do we implement the components and strategies of the IUB training with consistency across the entire school community?

For the IUB strategies to be implemented effectively, all staff needs to develop a collective awareness of how to handle stressful situations.