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A different approach to understanding and helping challenging students

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"Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.�

                                                  —Ben Franklin

Challenging behavior is reduced by:
• Setting clear and realistic expectations.
• Understanding why expectations aren't being met (lagging skills)/promoting more compassionate views and interactions.
• Working toward solving the problem in a mutually satisfactory and realistic manner.

A helping relationship:
• Helping is messy and takes time.
• Helping is a working alliance, a two-way collaborative process, a two-person team effort.
• Helping is not something you do to kids; rather, it is a process that adults and kids work through together.

                        —Dr. Larry Epstein, Think:Kids

Session speakers included:

• Putnam Northern Westchester BOCES Assistant Director of Curriculum and Instruction Fred Ende.

• Tech Valley High School Project-based Learning Coordinator Danielle Bouton-Wales.

• Statewide Childrens Centers Program Manager at NYS Unified Court System Rob Conlon.

• Greater Capital Region Teacher Center Executive Director Valerie Lovelace.

• ASCD Senior Director for Constituent Programs at  Walter McKenzie.

• New York City educator Starr Sackstein.

• LaSalle School Director of Clinical Services David Wallace.



More than 80 educators attend third annual NYSASCD symposium

Posted Dec. 15, 2015

Workshop Millions of students nationwide are struggling with social, emotional and behavioral challenges and educators are finding it more difficult to keep them engaged.

Fortunately, there's a different way to understand and help such students.

To help shed light on the topic, Think:Kids Director of Training and Implementation Dr. Larry Epstein joined nearly 80 educators for a workshop held jointly with the New York State Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (NYSASCD) at Capital Region BOCES in November.

"Kids do well if they can,� said Epstein during his keynote speech. "If they can't, something is getting in the way.�

He went on to explain that before a solution can be determined, there needs to be an understanding of the problem.

"We often put the cart before the horse,� said Epstein.

Adults tend to conclude that the child doesn't have the will, and traditional modes of interventions are applied that focus on motivating students with rewards and punishments.

"It is always safer to assume the problem is a result of lack of skill rather than lack of will,� said Epstein.

Research indicates that challenging behaviors are often the result of lacking critical thinking skills in the areas of problem-solving, frustration tolerance and flexibility.

"Any student lacking these skills is going to find it difficult to be a learner in your classroom,� said Tech Valley High School special education teacher Jennifer Levesque, who attended the workshop.

In other cases, an individual may have the skills, but has significant difficulty applying the skills when they are needed the most.

The child is not behaving badly because he or she is manipulative, unmotivated or disrespectful, though that has typically been the perception. 

"When the demands of a situation exceed the child's skill set, the result is challenging behavior,� said Epstein.

For that reason, Epstein said challenging behaviors should be treated like any other learning disability and require a different type of intervention. 

"When we tell kids who are trying as hard as they can to just try harder, we demotivate them, demoralize them,� said Epstein. "Kids don't learn when they are feeling ashamed, punished.�

He said rewards and punishments teach basic lessons and provide outward motivation.

"They dont teach complex thinking skills, build relationships or help kids stay regulated,� said Epstein.

To that end, he advocates a collaborative problem-solving approach to reduce challenging behaviors. Using real-life examples and anecdotes, he challenged conventional wisdom and introduced new interventions based on fact that build helping relationships and teach children the skills they need to succeed.

Interventions identify the specific lagging skill so adults can work collaboratively with students to equip them with the skills they're lacking while resolving chronic problems that tend to precipitate challenging behavior.

"Recognizing and being able to work as a team to pinpoint which areas students are lacking skills is integral to developing a plan to allow for student growth in meeting those deficits,� said Levesque.

The evidence-based approach is designed to foster positive relationships with children and encourage growth in the areas of self-regulation, communication and problem-solving.

The process isn't magical; it's messy and takes time. But the risk is too great not to try.

"We are really losing kids because of how much we have misunderstood them over the years,� said Epstein.

Other strategies for engaging all students

In addition to hearing from Epstein, participants had their choice of seven other sessions held throughout the day focused on everything from strategies for handling students with mental health issues to improving school climate and engaging students living in poverty (see speakers, right).

"It is integral that classroom teachers attend these types of trainings and are able to identify first-hand what the disengaged student brings to their classroom,� said Levesque.

In the weeks following the symposium, Levesque planned to share what she learned with faculty and parents in her home school district.

Capital Region BOCES Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Lynne Wells said educators continuing the conversations, sharing ideas and implementing strategies learned is one of the most valuable and rewarding aspects of the symposium.

NYSASCD Executive Director and BOCES Career and Technical School Interim Deputy Director Valerie Kelsey said she greatly appreciates the collaboration with Capital Region BOCES.

"It gives us a greater reach to provide important professional development," said Kelsey. 

Event photos

Nov. 3 NYSASCD/BOCES Workshop Nov. 3 NYSASCD/BOCES WorkshopNov. 3 NYSASCD/BOCES Workshop

Nov. 3 NYSASCD/BOCES WorkshopNov. 3 NYSASCD/BOCES WorkshopNov. 3 NYSASCD/BOCES Workshop









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