Teachers tend to be overly focused on their most difficult students.
They stress-out about them. They strategize over them. They spend more time dealing with them than the rest of their class put together.
They try this approach, then that one. They powwow again and again with colleagues and counselors, parents and psychologists.
They experiment with behavior contracts, incentive systems, and ever-stiffer consequences.
They often fail, however, to apply the one thing that difficult students need the most.
That is, just good, solid classroom management.
It’s common to fall into the trap of being so fixated on finding the right combination of individualized strategies that you give the rest of your class short shrift.
You become sloppy and haphazard in addressing the relatively minor misbehaviors coming from the balance of your classroom.
In other words, because disruptions from the other students pale in comparison, you’re apt to look the other way or not even notice.
The problem with this tendency is that ignoring any misbehavior—no matter how innocuous—is lighter fluid for your most difficult students.
It encourages them, antagonizes them, and even labels them. They take a look around and see that they’re treated differently, and it reinforces the negative beliefs they have about themselves.
It tells them that they are indeed not like the others, that being a behavior problem is who they are and therefore expected. It’s a prophecy they’re quick to fulfill.
But one of the trade secrets to handling difficult students is to focus on managing all students.
You see, when you have a classroom management approach that results in exceptional behavior of the entire class, you effectively remove the fuel that ignites the bad behavior of your most challenging students.
You take away their oxygen. You empty the audience from the theater. You leave them alone on stage with no one to perform for.
They take a look around and see everyone else behaving, and no one amused by their antics, and they do the same. They become what is the culture of the classroom.
They experience the dignity of being treated like everyone else . . . and they start behaving like everyone else. Their sense of self-worth, too, changes.
They begin to see themselves not with an inflated idea of self—which is fragile, false, and ultimately harmful—but with one that jibes with the humble energy of a successful student.
Pride in being just another valued member of the class takes root. They listen. They join in. They engage. They bloom and grow.
So throw out the contracts, the bribes, and the temporary, manipulative strategies that do more harm than good. Draw your gaze away from this one particular student and widen your perspective to include your entire class.
Become an expert in classroom management principles and strategies that really work and that you can feel good about using.
And all will thrive.
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