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Anger Management Behaviour Management parenting

7 Common Triggers for Meltdowns

For teachers and parents, supporting children when they are having a meltdown or tantrum is a stressful experience. As a teacher, when I am working with a child who has entered a full emotional outburst, I become very self-conscious of people watching me and how I handle it. I also enter an emotionally heightened state which impacts on my decision making. I strongly want to help the child calm down and as they are now in a fight-or-flight state, reasoning and logic have gone out the window. At this point, it is about ensuring the safety of the people and objects in the vicinity and waiting for the child to come down from their heightened state.

If meltdowns are a repetitive part of your day, it is time to become a detective and start to decipher why they are occurring. Bishop Desmond Tutu has a great quote that “there comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they’re falling in.” This is what we are going to do. If we can find the trigger, we can intervene here and the urge to meltdown will naturally dissipate. There are seven common areas which we need to be curious about and consider.

1. Internal Issues

Are they melting down because they are tired, hungry or sick?

2. Sensory Issues

Is there an issue with noises, smells or something they’re in contact with? Are they becoming bored or over-stimulated?

3. Lack of Structure

Is there a clear structure and routine on the day? Are they aware of what it is and what is expected? (App Recommendation here)

4. Work

Do they hate new or challenging tasks and situations? Do they fear them?

5. Waiting

Do they meltdown when they do not get their desires met instantly? Are they incapable of dealing with disappointment or the word “No”?

6. Self-Esteem

Do they get triggered by threats to their self-esteem like making mistakes, losing a game or being criticised?

7. Attention

Are they reacting negatively to an unmet need for attention or approval? 

From reading through this list, it is evident that we would intervene differently according to the trigger. Treating a child who is sick and melting down the same way as a child who is incapable of dealing with no makes zero sense. Once we have the trigger figured out, we start to work on designing strategies to iron it out. Taking this approach will go upstream from the problem and prevent it before it starts.

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anxiety Inclusion parenting Special Education

Help Children With Autism Return to School

Anyone who sifts through social media will see an abundance of quotes and inspirational photos. I love the area of personal development and can’t get enough of podcasts, videos, articles and anything related to the area. One common thread running through all of them now is;

Control the controllables.”

Its a phrase that looks slick and is easy-to-remember. But what does it mean? How can we apply it at this very moment?

Children with autism are likely to be struggling with all the changes in routine and uncertainty of this pandemic. I wrote an article about the 9 essential questions that children with ASD like to know and as hard as we may have tried, it is impossible to give definitive answers to them as we ourselves can’t predict the future.

One thing we do know, however, is we will return to school. We don’t know when but we know we will. Talking to parents of children with autism, a common concern they have is about trying to get their children to return to school after the long lay off. How we try to smooth this transition is a definite controllable.

I suggest that schools prepare small stories for their children with autism (or any child they feel may struggle with a return to school) and aim to answer as many of the nine questions as possible. These include:

  1. Where do I have to be?
  2. Who will I be with?
  3. Where exactly in the place will I be?
  4. What will be happening there?
  5. How much will I have to do there?
  6. How will I know when I have finished?
  7. What will I be doing next?
  8. What is the expected behaviour?
  9. What if? (questions guided by the child and their concerns)

It should be relatively easy to find out where their classroom will be and who the teacher will be in the next few weeks. Their favourite school activities can be included. The month (or date) of return can be included. The times that school starts at and finishes at can be included. The story can be made in conjunction with the parents to answer questions worrying them and start a conversation about returning to school. With this made and distributed to parents, they can start to read it with their child in the weeks leading up to a return. Each page should contain photographs of the information to increase the impact. This is a controllable.

Although we can’t predict the future, we can prepare for it. This is a strategy to promote inclusion and hopefully, prevent issues arising before they have a chance and an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

If you’re a teacher, you can begin this process now and have it ready in lots of time. If you’re a parent or know someone that would benefit from this strategy, you might consider suggesting it to the appropriate person.

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Categories
Inclusion Special Education

9 Essential Questions for Children with Autism

Children with autism need extra support to be included in day-to-day life. The social cues, rules and routines that neurotypical children pick up without explicit teaching do not come as easily to a child with ASD. Without the appropriate support, these children may look to be “misbehaving” or “difficult” when really, they just require a helping hand to get involved and be included.

There are nine key questions when preparing a child with autism for a new event or skill:

  1. Where do I have to be?
  2. Who will I be with?
  3. Where exactly in the place will I be?
  4. What will be happening there?
  5. How much will I have to do there?
  6. How will I know when I have finished?
  7. What will I be doing next?
  8. What is the expected behaviour?
  9. What if? (questions guided by the child and their concerns)

If you are going to a school assembly later in the day, an adult should sit down with the child and move through the nine questions to ensure that the child knows exactly what is going to happen, how it will happen and what is expected of them specifically. This can prevent issues before they arise and prevention is always better than cure.

Visual resources like timetables and social stories benefit children with autism massively as it can reduce their anxieties by providing clarity. Timetables (app recommendation here) are easy to prepare and implement but having every single social story ready is not always possible. A lot of preparation can be required preparing a story about the event or skill you are trying to teach. They are extremely worthwhile but how can you predict every change, social skill and event that will happen in a school year? You can’t and this is where MagnusCards come in.

MagnusCards is an app that has a wealth of scenarios and skills that answer a lot of the generic questions that will occur throughout a school day and home life. 

For example, if you want to teach a child how to come in from lunchtime, there is a 10 picture story on how to do this. Want to teach a child how to engage with pairwork in a class? There is a 7 picture story that can be used.

The events and skills range from school to social skills to personal care and safety along with much more. The pictures and text are not specific to your child’s school or home but the stories are readily accessible at your fingertips if you need them. 

I would recommend this app for three reasons. First of all, having a look through the app will help you predict what stories you could personalise, prepare and print in advance for your child. Secondly, when a change occurs or unforeseen event happens, you have a quick-and-easy visual aid to support the conversation you need to have to support a child with autism. Finally, if you see a child with autism acting inappropriately during lunchtime or somewhere unstructured, you can pull out the app and use a social story to incidentally teach an alternative way to behave in that scenario with clear, visual prompts. MagnusCards is an app that is simple, free and practical. These apps are always welcome in a teacher’s toolkit.

To download MagnusCards:

Android Version here.

Apple Version here.

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Behaviour Management

Why Michael Jordan Can Teach Us About Behaviour

Michael Jordan won six NBA championship rings as part of the Chicago Bulls team. As good as he was, he couldn’t have achieved such a feat without the likes of Phil Jackson, Scottie Pippen, John Paxson and all the other quality players that played alongside him. There was another key that gets a little shine in The Last Dance documentary: The system.

The Triangle Offense

The Chicago Bulls used a system for playing the game called the Triangle Offense. Without boring you on the ins and outs of this intricate system, it involved the players working in groups of three to form a triangle and required constant movement, crisp passing and numerous options. What happened on the court through the system was a result of the player’s decisions as opposed to other teams who had pre-determined set plays and strategies. The system – although rigorous – moulds to the strengths of the players and the system works best with players who had a high game IQ. The players follow the framework of the system and fundamental principles, however, there is an infinite number of potential actions that can emerge as a result of what is happening at the moment and what the strengths of the situation are.

Michael won six rings playing this system and Phil Jackson – the coach – won even more using it. The system works. How can we use this system in schools?

Tie It Back To Behaviour Please

I’m not suggesting for a second that we start lining up children in triangles to start promoting positive behaviour. There are definite learnings, however, to take from this hugely successful system at guiding a group successfully to the desired goal.

If the system they had used was too rigid and inflexible, players would not have been able to abide by for all 82 NBA regular-season games. It just can’t be done. People have personalities and they need to shine through. They need to be allowed to express themselves from time to time.

If the Chicago Bulls system was set on pre-determined strategies, there would have been some success but this is always limited. Eventually, opposing teams start to work out your strategies and counteract them successfully. Alternatively, the strategies don’t suit the strengths of your players so never can be executed with precision.

The Classroom

Think of the classroom as your very own Chicago Bulls team. Think of the characters in the room that need to express themselves. I believe that if I use the predetermined teaching styles and behaviour strategies that I use every year, I will have the same level of success as a predetermined basketball system if I am not considering the class I have in front of: limited.

I wrote previously about the possibility of labelling our children with ADHD, ODD and ADD being counter-productive. Part of the reason is this kind of labelling leans teachers towards using predetermined strategies guided by a diagnosis as opposed to the child’s strengths and personality. If they are successful, great. If they are not, however, the teacher is left scratching their head or the child is being labelled as extremely difficult.

Now think of a classroom that utilises a triangle-offence style system. There is a clear framework for how the class functions. There are a minimal set of rules aimed at health and safety and basic respect. The children are clear on these rules but understand there is room for expression within them. They can shout out if they are super passionate about something. They can leave their seat without permission if they need to. They have a level of choice as to how they express themselves through their work. They can disagree with the teacher if they have a reason for doing so. Will there be children in some classes who still have social, emotional and behavioural difficulties? Absolutely. In these situations, they would need to be further supported with a more individual framework that has a process, yet is flexible.

A framework like this could be completed in eight steps:

  1. Define the problem behaviour clearly.
  2. Look at what solutions have been attempted.
  3. Look at the exceptional time when they don’t behave this way.
  4. Discuss how you would make the problem worse.
  5. Discuss how the child would be treated if the problem didn’t exist.
  6. Set a single SMART objective.
  7. Create an Action Plan.
  8. Review its success.

A model, such as this one from Winning without Fighting, offers that rigorous framework similar to the triangle offence of the Chicago Bulls. It has clear guidelines, clear rules and an infinite number of potential outcomes. Flexibility, adaptability and using what you see in the moment and the strengths of the individuals you are teaching are huge factors in successful behaviour management.

Don’t agree with me? Just look at how Phil Jackson managed Denis Rodman successfully!

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Homeschool Inclusion parenting Special Education

How Can We Help Children Missing Occupational Therapy?

Perhaps we are concerned about children who made great progress over the year and are now missing their physical education with their class, their active time on yard and their one-to-one time with a teacher or occupational therapist. We may worry that they may not be progressing and could even be regressing. How can we help maintain this progress and extend them where possible? Enable Ireland can help.

Enable Ireland provide services to children with disabilities and have expert teams that support them and their families through each stage of life.

With the current restrictions, their clinical experts and therapists have made a playlist of 44 videos that can provide a focus for anyone looking to improve movement, balance, core strength, flexibility or motor skills. The full list is available here but here are some popular areas which you can use as a parent or recommend as a teacher:

Wiggly Warm-Up

Lower Limb Stretching: Range Of Motion

Core Exercises For Junior Age Children

Core Strength: Jigsaw Challenge

Squish the Duck Challenge for Balance

Lower Limbs: Strengthening

Balance at Home

Pilates

Movement Regulation

Fine Motor Therapy At Home

Gross Motor Skills: Animal Walks

Wheelchair Exercises

With the great range of resources here, parents and teachers can consider the priority needs, age and personality of the child to select suitable activities that will ensure any progress achieved to this point can be maintained. 

Anyone who finds these resources useful should look at the Enable Ireland website for further guidance around the area of speech and language, social stories and more.

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anxiety Behaviour Management Inclusion parenting

The Difference Between Constructive and Destructive Anxiety Management

I came across some quality content from Dr. Tony Attwood on anxiety management related to children with autism. I love any information that is easy to understand and relay to people and has the potential to make a difference. This content fits the criteria.

Dr. Attwood discusses the two types of anxiety management. Constructive habits succeed in mitigating the potential impact of anxiety whilst destructive habits also does this but to the detriment of relationships with others. Dr. Attwood details three destructive strategies to avoid and promotes six constructive alternatives. If constructive strategies are not being used, a child may naturally fall into using destructive ones.

Three Destructive Anxiety Management Strategies

  1. Excessive Control: When children are feeling anxious, they may seek to exert control through defiance or threats to property, self or people. The impact this has on relationships is clear. Excessive control to manage anxiety may result in a diagnosis of Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD). Is this a reason to move away from labels? (Full article here)
  2. Rituals: An anxious child may insist on sameness and become intolerant and inflexible to any change. They can become over-reliant on rituals and routines when they are too prolonged detracting from their ability to engage in other tasks.
  3. Emotional Explosions: When fight-or-flight reaches a certain point, a child rife with anxiety may release the emotional energy pent up through an outburst which hurts others and damages friendships and relationships. This also takes an emotional toll on themselves in the aftermath.

Six Constructive Anxiety Management Strategies

These six strategies are necessities for anxious children. They are not rewards. The child requires them to engage with day-to-day life successfully. Analyse each one and consider if you are making the best use of each strategy.

  1. Physical Activity: Often underestimated, being physically active has a significant impact on anxiety. This can be through team sports, individual sports, movement breaks or walks. The options are endless and finding the medium that the child enjoys exercising through will aid them in coping with their anxiety.
  2. Relaxation: An anxious child has never relaxed just because they were told to. They have to be taught how to relax. This could be through a meditation app like Mindful Gnats (Android link here and Apple here), teaching the art of journaling, yoga or engaging in a range of activities depending on the child’s personality (Article: 6 strategies to help an anxious child here). A highly anxious child might never have learned to relax so it must be a priority to teach them.
  3. Special Interests: Allowing a stressed or anxious child to engage with their special interest is a powerful tool to relieve building anxiety. Depending on the interest, this can be easily implemented into day-to-day life. Allowing an anxious child with autism to engage with their special interest is not time wasted. It is time-efficient as they will be able to re-engage with activity after a short break.
  4. Favourite Person: An anxious child can experience relief when they are afforded some quality time with their favourite person. If the person is an SNA, teacher or child, this strategy can be utilised without extensive planning. If the person cannot be present, we can use audio messages, phone calls and emails. The child’s favourite person can be a great sense of comfort and relief.
  5. Diet: The benefits of a good diet go beyond the scope of this article. Needless to say that a balanced diet will have a positive impact on a child’s anxiety compared to a diet of junk food, sugar and refined carbohydrates.
  6. Sleep: Much like a healthy diet, we all can appreciate the positive effect of eight to ten hours of sleep on an anxious child. Weighted blankets, avoiding screen time before bed and a consistent nighttime routine can contribute to good sleep hygiene.

When you consider the child, ask yourself which type of strategies are being used to manage their anxiety. Are they destructive or constructive? Can we improve on how we use constructive habits? Which constructive habits can I control if I am a teacher or a parent? Focus on these and lean away from destructive behaviour.

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Behaviour Management Special Education

What Toltec Wisdom Can Teach Us About Behaviour

Building relationships is a complex business. When we talk about teaching, behaviour and students, we are talking about a relationship. There are theoretical perspectives and strategies recommended to maximise the productivity of this relationship. Teachers may decide to take a behaviourist approach and incorporate rewards systems or may decide to take a more humanistic route and develop self-esteem. These approaches work for the majority of students when implemented effectively and the relationship between the two thrives.

When a relationship is unproductive, however, things get even more complex. Negative cycles of behaviour can emerge and patterns can stagnate. A repetitive format of the teacher intervening ineffectively and the student behaving undesirably appears fixed. Neither will change but only one party is being cited as difficult.

If a surgeon came out of a theatre and informed us that the operation was a success but the patient died, we might have a query about their rationale. Similarly, teachers (including myself) can get stuck in a rut of claiming their strategies and interventions are the “right” ones even though they are blatantly ineffective.

An effective behavioural strategy is one which causes the behavioural change it is seeking to achieve. Do I have to include that it also needs to be within obvious ethical parameters? Probably, as this is the internet.

There is a need to have a diverse range of strategies and theories to draw from when seeking to change a dysfunctional relationship into a functional one. Marrying yourself to one theory is comparable to only having a hammer in your toolbox. When all you have is a hammer, everything becomes a nail. You can descend into trying to fit the child into the strategy as opposed to fitting the strategy to the child. To demonstrate this point, we can take heed of the Toltecs.

The Six Images of A Relationship

According to Toltec wisdom, everyone has an outer image. This is the image we try to project to the world. We also have an inner image that we have of ourselves. Teachers have this outer and inner image. A student similarly has an outer image they try to project and an inner image that teachers and others cannot see. We then have to introduce the image that the teacher has of the student from their point of view and the student’s image of the teacher from their perspective. If you have managed to keep count, that is six different images involved in the relationship between teacher and student. Let’s not even start considering the rest of the class.

The first thing I love about this analogy is I find it relatable. I certainly have an image I try to project as a teacher. I try to project a level of confidence and certainty in my actions. I also have an inner image that differs greatly. My inner image has far more doubts than my outer image ever displays.

The second thing I love is the simplistic way that it conveys the complexity of a relationship. There are so many factors that remain unseen in a relationship between two people. How can we ever say with absolute certainty that we “know” a student and it’s not the intervention being used that is the issue, but the child? How can your favourite three strategies for supporting a child with complex social, emotional or behavioural needs ever be considered sufficient?

This interpretation of a relationship would jar with a fixed mindset that there is one or two theories or strategies for success. I’m sure if the Toltecs were in charge of behaviour policies in schools, they would recommend that schools and teachers strive to build their knowledge base with a diverse range of theories and strategies so when they meet a child that needs the support, there will be a deep well to draw from. A strategy’s use is defined by the behavioural change it causes. The more strategies we have, the greater the chance of success.

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anxiety Behaviour Management Inclusion

How to build your child’s routine in 30 seconds

In a time of so much unknown, controlling the controllable things can have a huge benefit on our young children. I discussed in a previous article how the deterioration of family functioning can lead to anxiety disorders in children and how parents can mitigate the potential damages of the coronavirus on their children’s mental health (article here). Establishing a stable routine is one strategy that we can use to maintain family functioning and reduce the air of uncertainty in the household. Visually representing this timetable and showing it to your child maximises the benefits but how can we do this if we have no time to sit at a computer or lack a printer and laminator to ensure its pretty?

This is where the app picturepath comes to the rescue. This is a predominantly free app and is extremely quick and easy-to-use. You simply set up an account and input your child’s first name and you start to build their routine with the pre-made most common activities and symbols. If you’re missing an activity, you can create your own and add images or icons from the icon library.

Once you have created the routine, you can switch the app to child mode where they can view the timetable in its totality or a “Now and next” mode. The child can then tick off activities as they are completed and start to work their way through the day.

I would highly recommend this for children with autism or younger children who are missing the structure of school. I am an advocate of the phrase that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure and when it comes to behaviour, providing routine and structure is certainly a preventative measure.

For those interested, the links are provided below for both android and apple:

Android Version: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.acorn.picapp&hl=en_IE

Apple Version: https://apps.apple.com/us/app/picturepath/id1339643269

Note: I have no relation to or knowledge of the app developers. I just love things that make life easier and promote positive behaviour. This does both so I’m pumped!

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anxiety parenting

4 Ways Parents Can Protect Anxious Children During Coronavirus

Avigdor Klingman detailed how we can prevent children from developing anxiety to the point of post-traumatic stress disorder (PDST). Klingman had some interesting thoughts that have implications for the current coronavirus pandemic and how we can try and mitigate the dangers. He provided three variables that predict a child’s adjustment to trauma like the one we are experiencing and four ways that parents can help prevent the impact trauma has on a child.

Children are influenced far more by their environment than adults. Their adjustment and reaction to trauma will, therefore, be impacted by how parents and siblings respond to the coronavirus and the impact it is having. Children will take their stress-response cues from their parent’s and will interpret the traumatic event according to how their parents do.

Three parental variables predict a child’s adjustment – or maladjustment – to trauma:

  1. Separation from significant family members during a traumatic event.
  2. The parent’s traumatic stress reaction.
  3. Deterioration of family functioning.

Although the thoughts of contributing to their child’s development of anxiety could add to a parent’s stress, this could instead be viewed as a controllable factor when so many more factors are uncontrollable right now. The following actions are within your control and actionable right now:

Control your stress

Parents cannot pour from an empty cup and cannot reduce the stress levels of their child if they are stressed themselves. Implementing a self-care routine that will help you maintain a level head is paramount to helping your child. This can be as simple as an episode of your favourite Netflix show or as complex as a meditation/yoga/journaling routine.

Early Detection

Ensure you are available for your child throughout this crisis. If a parent is stressed, a child may lose adult support when they need it most. Keeping an eye out for early signs of traumatic stress can help prevent a small problem becoming a bigger one down the line. Communicate with your child openly, let them know that you are controlling everything you can, their reaction is normal and they are not alone in this.

Reframe the Event

It is easy to get stuck in a cycle of news that is negative and scary. Turn off the global news and start to reframe the event in the confines of your own home. Discuss it as an opportunity for more family time, a chance to practice hobbies they enjoy, gratitude that everyone in the family unit is safe and well under the roof. Reframing the event and communicating this to your child will impact how they view it. It might be challenging to change your mindset but this is important.

Portray Confidence

Communicating confidence to your child that you have the controllable factors under control is important to how they respond to the current stress. Keep as calm a routine as is viable. Demonstrate confidence that things will improve and this too, shall pass. Parents have a huge role in exacerbating or buffering the child’s response so conveying this confidence will help reduce feelings of anxiety that could grow as time passes.

Klingman’s research points to continuity and simplicity as successful traits of effective interventions when supporting children through traumatic events. Thankfully, simple strategies for anxiety are readily available even in the confines of our own home. I provide 6 ways to ease anxiety here along with a more fleshed out explanation of how to implement journaling with your child here.

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Homeschool Inclusion Special Education

For the teacher stressed about inclusion

A double-bind message is a message that sends conflicting information. An example would be when a parent tells a fearful child verbally that there is nothing to fear while their facial expression and body language is full of concern. A second example is when a teacher or a parent is told that mental health, calm and happiness is the number one priority while also being given a mountain of work to complete. Two different messages that are very much in conflict with each other.

I do not think education should be ignored right now, I just believe education needs to be streamlined for everyone involved: teacher, parents and students. I have already written about Pareto’s Principle and the idea that 20% of our actions produce 80% of results. This means the other 80% of our actions produce very little and should be stripped away to free up time to practice self-care and care for others.

Anecdotally, I know that stresses on teachers are slowly increasing as schools find their feet and begin to realise what is possible. Just because we can, however, does not mean we should. 

Inclusion and differentiation are, of course, at the forefront of our mind as we look to meet the needs of our students that require it most. Instead of looking for complicated and time-consuming strategies, I suggest we primarily look to UNESCO’s document Learning for All: Guidelines on the Inclusion of learners with disabilities in open and distance learning and Pozzi’s article The Impact of m-Learning in School Contexts: An “Inclusive” Perspective which provides simple ways to include that fall into the 20% of our action achieving 80% of results category.

These two documents suggest we include using the following simple strategies:

  1. Awareness: Find out where the children need help to be included so you can adjust to their exact needs.
  2. Communicate: Facilitate regular contact with parents to see where strengths and needs are arising.
  3. Personalise:
    1. Allow children to complete work at their own pace.
    2. Reduce workload.
    3. Set up online reminders or calendars to begin or complete tasks.
    4. Pre-record explanations so it can be rewatched as necessary.
    5. Send specific positive praise to students to reinforce engagement and effort.

The caveat here is that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. I do believe with these simple strategies, however, that we can cast our net around a huge body of students and meet their needs without having any part of the chain bending over backwards. There will be students that need additional support but using the above simple strategies to address the needs of the many will free up teacher’s time to address the needs of the few with the more detailed support they need.

This is a marathon and not a sprint.

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