How my Inquiry Started
When I began my inquiry, I knew exactly what I wanted to learn, but I was concerned about framing it in “the right” words. For nearly a decade, I’ve worked as Education Assistant in both public and private education systems. This experience has made me extremely passionate about reaching out to children who have been dismissed or driven from the conventional classroom because of their behaviour. In my work as an E.A., I often had the opportunity to build relationships with students who acted out in class. Through this experience, I realized that many of these students felt unable to respond in the way the teacher was expecting or requiring of them. Now that I’m in the process of earning my teaching degree, I want to learn the best way to respond to disruptive behaviour in the classroom. In particular, I want to learn how to validate the student and their experience in the moment, while also maintaining a safe space and community culture in the class.
Initially, I was torn about how I wanted to present my inquiry question. I was worried about focusing on behaviour specifically, so instead I framed my question as “How we can support students with a history of trauma when their history begins to affect their classroom learning experience?”. Several of the children who made a lasting impact on my life used to act out in the classroom because of trauma they experienced in the past, so I thought trauma might be a good starting point for my question.
Overview of My Learning Process
I attended Ed Camp Victoria in October with my inquiry in mind. I tabled my question and it was selected for one of the break-out sessions. They rephrased it as “Supporting at risk students”. I took extensive notes throughout the session and followed up by watching the Ross Greene videos that were suggested by other teachers who attended the event.
Since then, I’ve asked every teacher I’ve encountered about how they responded to disruptive classroom behaviour, especially when it involved students who have experienced trauma. I’ve included notes from my discussions with Danita Stewart and Kathryn Turnbull in blog posts, but I couldn’t share many of my notes publicly because they didn’t take place in a formal interview. I also interviewed Jen Clarke, a school counsellor, and read several resources suggested by her and other teachers. I’ve blogged about many of these resources as well.
I attempted to practice some of what I have learned about my inquiry in the classroom during my weekly visits. In particular, I’ve been trying to reframe my own response to disruptive behaviour in order to avoid stepping into an unnecessary power struggle (See below: Engage, don’t enrage). Many of the approaches I’ve been studying have helped me get a better idea of what the student may be experiencing in the moment. I’ve also been consistently asking the teachers I’ve observed what kind of classroom managment tools they find most effective (the social contract has been a main feature).
Since none of my classes this semester touched on classroom management directly, I didn’t find a great deal of information I could draw from them in order to tackle my inquiry question. However, I did learn a lot about classroom management and heard about a variety of resources from guest speakers that visited our Wednesday seminiars. I was also introduced to some of the tenants behind restitution (in particular, undestanding the students needs) during a module on student motivation in our Psychology class.
Reframing my Question
Through this inquiry process, I came to realize that the root of my question was more specifically focused on how teachers could respond to the behaviour itself, both preventatively and in the moment. I also realized that trauma was not an ideal starting point for my question. While I do want to be prepared to support any students who have experienced trauma, I also need to keep in mind that there is a line between my role as a teacher and the role of a counsellor or a specialist. “How can teachers respond to disruptive classroom behaviour?” seemed like a much more authentic representation of my inquiry and where it led me.
Summarizing my Learning
Part of my inquiry involved presenting what I learned on a poster that I could share at a gallery walk at the end of the semester. Along with my question, I emphasized that “Behaviour is communication” and also asked “What is the student trying to say?” Then I tried to include specific resources/examples on the poster from each approach that I would like to use in my own classroom. I limited my focus to the four approaches I studied most in depth throughout my inquiry process.
A big piece of what I felt I had learned from my inquiry was to change the way I thought about disruptive behaviour. Underneath each of the four approaches that I studied, I’ve provided an example of a question that challenged my way of thinking. Then, I included specific tools I could use in my own teaching career. Below, I’ve included the questions and examples I included on my poster.
Does the student have a need that isn’t being met right now?
Does the student understand the needs of the class community?
Tools I hope to use during my practicum/ in my own classroom:
- The Needs Chart (Survival, Belonging, Power, Fun, Freedom)
- The Social Contract (co-written with students, something I modeled on my poster using post-it notes)
There are a variety of other restitution tools I would like to use (including “my job, your job”, and 30-second interventions) but I chose to focus on the two tools I saw reflected most often in the classrooms I’ve been observing over the semester.
Collaborative Problem Solving
Is the student lacking the social/emotional skills to respond appropriately in this situation?
Tool I hope to use during my practicum/ in my own classroom:
Using the 3 steps of collaborative problem solving when a disagreement or disruptive behaviour occurs:
1) Empathize: Ask the child questions in order to better understand his/her concern or perspective on the unsolved problem (don’t assume you already know!).
2) Define Problem: Adult or other party now puts their concern or perspective on the table.
3) The Invitation: Brainstorm solutions that will address the concerns of both parties that we have now explicitly laid out in our first two steps.
Is the Student lacking the language they need to express how they physically feel?
Tool I hope to use during my practicum/ in my own classroom:
How is your engine running? – A visual representation of how the body feels when when it is flooded with adrenaline or cortisol, or a happy balance in between.
Has their brain been “hijacked” by the amygdala or the emotion-driven (right) side of the brain?
Tool/approaches I would hope to use during my practicum or my own classroom:
- Connect and redirect: Connect with the emotional right brain before you try to engage the logical left brain.
- Name it to tame it: Discuss potentially traumatic events so that they don’t become a dormant trigger.
- Engage, don’t enrage: When the fight or flight response is engaged, don’t step into a power struggle. Redirect their attention until they are ready to engage their higher processes.
- Use it or lose it: Exercise the upstairs brain: “What would you do if…?”
- Move it or lose it: Take physical activity breaks to keep the mind in a happy, healthy space.
- Let the clouds of emotion roll by: Remind kids that feelings come and go. Fear and frustration and loneliness are temporary feelings that won’t last forever.
- SIFT: Sensations, Images, Feelings, and Thoughts: Open opportunities to discuss Sensations, Images, Feelings, and Thoughts to help them better understand their internal self.
- Exercise mindsight/mindfulness : Help kids learn how to calm their minds and focus their attention (ex. taking deep breaths, doing meditation exercises, etc)
While Siegel and Bryson run through several other strategies in their book, I chose the main ones I could see myself using in the classroom.
My inquiry is far from over. I still have a stack of books that I’ve only just began to read. I hope to continue asking my question and finding as many answers as I can throughout my education journey and my career as a teacher.
If you have any suggestions about resources I should check out, feel free to leave me a comment below.