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In the previous article, I talked about how the end result should be focused on moving students toward a point where they have more intrinsic rewards regarding self-fulfillment and self-actualization, from doing the right thing, more than tangible rewards. This is the ultimate goal of anyone dealing with kids with behavioral issues. We should be motivated to help students improve behaviors not only because it makes our jobs easier and the school environment safer, but because we know there is a high correlation between behaviors and academic progress.
But another thing that needs to be addressed is how to make the behavior changes "across the board." Unless a behavior change is seen in different contexts, it cannot be said that it is a true behavior change. Here are some things that can be done by special educators to make sure the behavior change is a true change and not just seen in isolation.
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1) Include Other Teachers
One of the ways I met with success in helping kids to improve their behaviors was to communicate with other teachers about "our student." Developing rapport with the students' regular teachers at the beginning of the semester can go a long way toward keeping the lines of communication open and helping your student to succeed.
One example of how this can work is to tell your student that you are going to check in with other teachers on their behavior. If the teacher reports their behaviors have improved in a specific area, you will reward them in your class. This shows both the student and the teacher that you feel a certain responsibility for the student, even when they are not in your class and may motivate the student to improve more. Keep it positive.
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2) Move Students to Intrinsic Rewards
It is important to move students toward intrinsic rewards as soon as possible, but only when they are ready. Once the student starts improving enough to where they have higher self-esteem and self-fulfillment, you can start moving away from tangible rewards. But you can still reward as needed, to let the student know you appreciate their efforts. Once you start doing this, make sure to work with other teachers and tell them you are doing this too. This way you are on the same page.
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3) Have a Follow-Up Plan
Even after the student has left your care, a follow-up plan is a good idea. This is something the administration may not even approve. But you can still do it on your own. Keep the phone numbers of the student or parents with you in a book at home and call once in awhile to see how they are doing. I have had students call me from prison or an institution just to say hello. Let them know you still think of them and care what happens to them by following up and offering to help when it is feasible.
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4) Contact Agencies that can Help
If a student needs further help after graduation from high school, offer to put your name down as a job recommendation or helping them get an apartment. I have done this for several students. Also, contact agencies for them if the student wants you to, and try to make the connections they need to be successful. This is carrying the behavioral plan to the extreme, but this will let the student know you really care about them, and may be the final push they need to reach their life's goals and stay out of trouble.
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5) Be a Friend When They Need One
I have often been criticized for this one, but I do it anyway. Sometimes I have been the only friend or advocate a student had, both in school and outside of school. Just let the student know you are there for them, even if they are locked away in some institution. People in places like that are often lonely and some encouraging words is all they need to set them back on the right path.
While it is true you cannot "save" everyone, as educators, and because we truly care, we have to try. I never met a student yet who, if I applied these principles told me to go away or was rebellious. Rebellion dies away if you show them you accept them as they are, and are there to help them if they need a listening ear. I am a counselor now and my role is more the consultant rather than teacher, but I still communicate that I am there for any student who needs me whether in a crisis situation or not. What we are really talking about is true empathy. If we don't have it, there's nothing we can do that will change a person. If we have it, there is nothing we cannot accomplish.
- Get a Handle on Behavior: http://specialed.about.com/od/behavioremotional/p/handlebehav.htm
- What is Positive Reinforcement? http://psychology.about.com/od/operantconditioning/f/positive-reinforcement.htm
- A Rationale for Empathy in the Classroom: http://www.empathyed.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=category&id=37&Itemid=63