Summarizing My Inquiry Into a Poster

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.

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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.

Restitution

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.

Self-Regulation

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.

“Whole-Brain” Thinking

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.

What now?

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.

Inquiry Interview: Kathryn Turnbull, Grade 6 Classroom Teacher (My Mentor Teacher)

Throughout my weeks of observing Kathryn and her class, I’ve tried to compile ideas or strategies that she uses in her class. I’ve also tried to jot down words of wisdom she has shared with me that could potentially benefit me in my own class. Since these have occurred over several conversations, and not just one interview, I’ve compiled them in a list below. I’ve bolded points that directly relate to my inquiry question. 

  • Start with silent reading in the morning, play calming music. This starts the day with a calm environment, brings down the energy in the room.
  • “You are distracting me from doing my job right now” or “What is your job right now?” – using “my job, your job” speech from restitution theory to remind a particularly noisy student to listen during an important lesson.
  • Students graph their math improvement so they can refer back to it and see their improvement. It’s not something they need to hand in for summative assessment.
  • While reading, encourage students to think of an inference, make a connection, ask a question, visualize what is happening, and maybe even have a transformed thought (new way of looking at the story, the world, etc) based on what they are hearing/reading in the story. Based on the reading powers method that encourages kids to engage/ learn critical thinking skills while reading. http://www.readingpowergear.com/  
  • Alternate allowing students to sit on the carpeted area while reading/doing a test so that they have some choice built into their environment.
  • Ask students to repeat back lunch time announcements to you so you know that they were listening.
  • Encourage mistake making! “I’m so proud of you for trying a new idea. It’s better to make a mistake you can learn from than never try in the first place.” Point out your own mistakes so they know you are still learning too, “Did you see what I just did? See, I’m still learning and making mistakes too.”
  • Be fun and joke around! Treat them like people! The kids say they love when Ms. Turnbull jokes with them.
  • Sometimes she will try to challenge their answers to make sure they are sure. They sometimes second-guess themselves, but they like to hold their ground and be reminded that even the teacher can be wrong sometimes.
  • Have a book conference with kids to discuss the books they are reading. Ms. Turnbull also gets students to write a short review of a book on a bookmark and hangs them at the back of the class. This way they can review books for each other and find out what other people have been reading.
  • Read books you think kids should read! Know the stories so you can get excited about the books you keep in your room. Don’t expect the kids to read something you wouldn’t care to read.
  • Keep a running list on the board of other work/ homework they could start on if they finish a given activity early.
  • Use post-it notes for activities to get them up and moving. Ex. “write one transformed thought you had about the video today and go put it on the board at the back of the room”.
  • Play “war” with cards for kids to practice their times tables. (Jacks = 11, Queen = 12, Ignore the King).
  • Stand at the door and greet them by name when they walk in in the morning.
  • If you can’t follow through, don’t point it out! This can corner you in an unnecessary power struggle that you won’t win. If you have extra time, or a support worker available, to help you follow through on an instruction (“do this worksheet”) then you can point it out and insist they follow instruction.
  • Play Math Bingo to help kids understand how to recognize large numbers when they are read out.

My Field Experience Inquiry Question

The main assignment in our Field Experience course is to come up with an inquiry question, then to compile as much knowledge as possible on the subject, then exhibit our findings at a gallery walk at the end of the semester. I’ve included my inquiry question below.

How we can support students with a history of trauma when their history begins to affect their classroom learning experience?

Specifically, I aim to

  • do some basic research on how children process a painful experience. This could help to prepare me for the ways that process could play out within a classroom setting.
  • learn the kind of terminology that recognizes “inappropriate behaviour” as the complicated event that it often is so that kids no longer view themselves as “bad” but rather recognize that they are processing a bad experience.
  • compile as many useful tools as possible that could could allow me to maintain a safe environment if/when a student’s behaviour begins to escalate in a way that could threaten the safety of other students.
  • identify key strategies to prevent these situations from happening by teaching students to recognize their own emotions and identify ways to deal with their particular struggle in a way that is appropriate for them.
  • (If/when these situations do happen) outline some exercises that could help students debrief about a situation they may have found traumatic.
  • find resources for teaching empathy to students who witness another student’s outbursts.
  • compile all of these resources on an easily accessible space (this blog) so that other teachers can also look through them for inspiration or ideas.

Throughout the semester I will attempt to write short posts about resources that I find extremely helpful. To prepare for the gallery walk, I will compile all these posts into a table of contents so that I can easily refer back to them later.