Student Voice and Choice in Problem Solving
By Laura Andrews
What are some ways we can help students problem solve, resolve issues, and grow as social and emotional learners, rather than resorting to punitive behavior management practices? How can we give students choice in how they address personal and social conflicts in the classroom? These were the driving questions of this #EducatorsInAction chat on December 20, 2017, as host Laura Andrews led the group through a conversation about creating a #CaringClassroom community.
The classroom is a safe place
The group talked about helping students resolve issues and findings ways to keep them in the classroom, rather than removing them from class and sending them to the principal’s office. High school teacher Meghan Kestner has found that sending students out does more harm than good, and really breaks down the sense of community that she tries to foster in her classroom. When students seem to be having a hard time emotionally or behaviorally for whatever reason in her classroom, she asks them if they need a break and encourages them to write her a note about what’s going on. She can then get to the underlying issue and help them work through it.
At Laura’s K-6 school, all of the teachers have a “paradise area” in their room, where students can go to decompress. When students feel they need to take a break, they can go to this area. Some choose to just sit and breathe, while others draw a picture or write a note to her about what they’re thinking and feeling. At first, teachers were the ones to offer students the opportunity to take a break, but now students are recognizing times when they need it and choose to take a few minutes on their own.
Building relationships and getting to know your kids
A former principal, Adam Welcome talked about the importance of building relationships. His strategy: talk, talk, talk, and keep talking with them. He said, “sometimes students initially push you away because they don’t know how to behave or respond. But, eventually they see that you care,” and that changes the game. Getting to know each student and showing them empathy and care are essential.
Meghan added to this, emphasizing how important it is to get to know students by their name, not a label. When she began teaching at a new school, others tried to help by giving her the scoop on certain students. She said, each student is “like an onion, and you have to peel back the layers” to learn about them and build trust.
Practice Idea: Class Meetings
One practice that came up in discussion was weekly class meetings.
In Meghan’s class at the high school level, students take turns facilitating the class discussion each week. They submit 4-5 questions, which can be as simple as something like, “What is stressful about the holidays?” She said, the discussion starts there but usually morphs into a deeper discussion about academics, family, and friends. Students now look forward to facilitating, and it’s a great way for them to lead these kind of problem solving conversations.
In Laura’s elementary class, understandably the conversations need to be a bit more structured. She has a private class meeting box where students can submit notes about issues they’re having. Every Friday, Laura goes through the notes, and asks the group if they want to discuss anything. The students help each other work through problems, and sometimes they even say they figured it all out on their own. Either way, the Friday meeting is an opportunity to validate their efforts and further build that supportive community.
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