If you take five runners who have raced 10km and add their race times together and divide the answer by five to calculate the average race time, that time will be lower than the fastest runner.
The Wisdom of the Crowd Theory works differently to this logic when applied to decision-making. It believes that the collective opinion or decision will be superior to any individual expert or specialist who works alone.
If you apply this theory and take five adults dealing with a complex issue, it suggests the quality of their solution and plan will be HIGHER than what any individual would decide alone.
Matt Syed’s book “Rebel Ideas” explains the diversity of cultural backgrounds and perspectives help people to view complex problems from a more holistic point of view. Together, a group can see an issue from many angles previously unseen.
Like the picture above, if you have only one person contributing their opinion to what they are touching, they will most definitely be wrong. However, if you get the six of them to discuss their points of view together, there is a much stronger chance of a more successful outcome.
When teaching children with social, emotional or mental health needs, adopting this theory is wise: no matter how experienced you may be. Listening to, considering, accepting and offering different points of view will lead to better decisions and outcomes for the child.
As the famous quote goes:
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
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We are living in a strange time right now. In Ireland and many other countries, we have been thrust into school closures with the advice of keeping children apart to ensure that coronavirus does not spread. This places sudden and sizeable stress on parents and children alike. Although we could see school closures coming, it came quite fast and children may be at home now with no real school guidance on what the best course of action is. Here are a few thoughts below that may be of help to parents or teachers:
The media sells fear. This is a known principle of how media drives traffic to their websites and purchases of their newspapers. Anxious children do not need to be exposed to a 24-hour newsfeed about a virus they do not fully understand. Adults do not either. Limit the amount of coronavirus related media that children (and yourself) are exposed to. Limit the amount of talk about the coronavirus around children also. There is no need for children to listen to speculation, repeated reporting and scare-mongering which can be sure to contribute to their anxiety.
Children are advised not to mix with other children as they can help spread the disease to the more vulnerable. If you have a child with ADHD, ADD or any abundance of energy, this does not mean that you have to lock them inside. The advice seems to suggest being outside is a safe environment. Go to big parks, fields, forests or anywhere in nature where you believe contact with others will be minimal. Teach your child the concept of social distancing like a bubble around other families and explore places that, otherwise, you might not have the chance to explore.
One of the best ways to maintain a calm, positive environment is to make sure a lively child gets an opportunity to burn off some of their energy. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure and preventing misbehaviour before it has a chance to arise is always a good tip.
Remember: there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing choices!
As this is an unprecedented event, teachers and parents have been left scrambling at what to do. There has been a noble effort by schools and teachers to direct learning remotely but I believe this is not the way to move forward.
The teacher may be able to provide some beneficial guidance on applications and websites to utilise or pages in books to complete but this is a wonderful opportunity for your child to experience one-to-one learning that they otherwise would not get.
I would suggest the following list of activities that would be a more beneficial way to spend the bulk of “educational time” while at home:
Play board games to teach strategic thinking and problem-solving.
Bake or cook dinners together to teach healthy living and weight in maths.
Writing out shopping lists for practicing spelling and handwriting.
Gardening to teach about science or geography.
Paint a fence or a wall to teach about fo
Get out into nature for geography and P.E.
Play with Lego, mechano or any other construction for science.
Get children to dress up in adult clothes for a fashion show for drama.
Clean bedrooms and re-organise the house to teach executive functioning skills.
Read to your child or have them read to you for English.
Listen to podcasts and talk about them for oral language.
Bring home a few empty cardboard boxes from the supermarket and let them loose with colours, sellotape and scissors for art.
There is a list of exciting opportunities to entertain, education and enjoy time with your children over the next few weeks. Creativity and energy are needed but the chance to teach your own child should be grasped with both hands. It’s also important to note that the whole world will be spending more time watching television and on screens at the moment and we should reflect this with our children. There is nothing wrong with binge-watching television right now to entertain ourselves in the evening when everyone is tired out.
Control the Controllables
There is very little in our control at the moment regarding the wider world but we can control our actions. The important things we need to impress on our children is that there is no need to panic or worry but there is a need to be careful. We should educate our children to:
Wash their hands with correct technique frequently.
Cough into their elbow.
Practice social distancing.
Avoid mixing with their friends in person (encourage calling their friends on phones).
After these four points, there is very little else we can do right now other than take the positives where we can and enjoy the extra quality time with our loved ones.
One of my favourite thought-provoking articles I have read is a research paper by Nardone and Portelli titled When the diagnosis “invents” the illness. It is a fascinating take on the world we live in and how we classify mental disorders. It proposes a move away from the rigid categorisation of disorders and toward viewing problems as dysfunctional systems of perception and interaction.
Its implication for teaching children with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties would be a shift away from trying to fit children into a specific box such as ADHD, ADD, ODD, EBD etc which lead to predetermined strategies and instead focusing on a strategic approach where the problem is viewed on its own very specific merits and interventions are designed to help the student function better in their environment.
The paper makes a great case for this alternative way of thinking. It argues that a diagnosis has the potential to end up causing self-fulfilling prophecy and gives examples where this has been proven.
It gives one extreme example where a patient was admitted to the hospital as a manic depressive and was sedated with tranquillizers. The following day, she was to be moved to an alternative location but refused. The hospital insisted and the patient resisted. As they tried to forcibly move her, she became violent. She screamed. The doctor was called and a further series of injections were used to calm her as every time she woke, she became more violent.
This story may appear unpleasant but perhaps you may think “it was for her own good as she was manically depressed and they wanted to help her.” Your opinion may shift when you discover the police pulled over the ambulance when it was in transit to inform them that they had taken the wrong person. They had been injecting and sedating a “normal” person.
This story blew my mind. The nurses thought she was manically depressed so when she violently protested, they injected her as the diagnosis was there and the behaviour was interpreted as typical of the condition. How is this relevant to the classroom and students with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties? The story above is an extreme example but there are takeaways for us as teachers.
Let’s take for example a student with a diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). A teacher who has a student with ADHD in their class may expect certain behaviours. They may expect the child to be disruptive, energetic, and inattentive and may treat them accordingly. The child – if they are aware of the diagnosis – may expect to perform these behaviours too. There is an element of diagnostic prophecy to the condition.
Consider a child who is considered “normal” in your classroom. If a teacher is teaching a lesson and this child is inattentive and disruptive, the teacher might come to different conclusions. The teacher might consider their teaching. Was the child inattentive because the subject matter of the lesson was too difficult? Was the child disruptive because the methodology used was too boring and sedentary? The teacher may change the way they deliver future lessons to try to increase their engagement.
Is it possible that medically categorising our students at a young age might not be the correct way to go? Potentially. If a child with a diagnosis behaves a certain way, it can be accepted as part of their diagnosis. If a child without a diagnosis behaves a certain way, it may be more likely considered as communication.
I would not suggest throwing out all forms of diagnoses in schools, but I would be slower to label children in primary school and treat them a certain way because of their diagnosis. Thinking strategically (as discussed in previous articles) is a way to steer away from pigeon-holing our children and helping them to function more effectively in the classroom. The teacher can observe the problem behaviour specific to its characteristics and context and attempt to intervene to help the child function better in the classroom or wherever the problem may be. Having a diverse range of strategies, interventions and supports available is key to this way of thinking.
I think this ideology is incredibly thought-provoking, how about you?
Tim Ferriss specializes in interviewing successful entrepreneurs, athletes and investors. He collated all these interviews into two books called Tool of Titans and Tribe of Mentors. Both books are a great read and in the latter book, Tim asks everyone the question if they had a billboard in a prominent place that they could write any message on, what would it be? What a great question this is and the answers that are given provide great insight into the mindset of the interviewee. I know if I am ever presented with this opportunity, I just want three words printed in black bold font:
DEFINE THE PROBLEM.
Such a simple statement with a simple meaning. It is as applicable to life as it is to behaviour management and especially helping meet the needs of children with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties. Yet, I feel it is a very simple step that can be overlooked because it is nearly too obvious. Of course, I know what the problem is. Everyone knows what the problem is. Or do they?
The Problem with an Undefined Problem
From my experience, teaching children with behavioural difficulties can be stressful and challenging for everyone involved. The principal, parents, special needs assistants, special education teachers, class teacher and classmates as well as the child themselves can become frazzled, frustrated and disillusioned if progress is not forthcoming.
Stressful situations can lead to a blame game. Parents may believe the problem originates in school. Schools may believe the problem originates at home. The problem may be perceived as the teacher is not good enough. The problem may be perceived that they’ve got a diagnosis of ADHD, ADD or ODD etc. Or my personal favourite, the problem may be perceived as the child is just “bold”. What do all these problems have in common? They’re all pretty much useless.
Truly defining the problem is simple but not easy. It requires the class teacher to sit down and reflect on what they are seeing and hearing whilst discarding emotions and perceptions or, even better, it requires all the parties involved to sit down as a team and coherently decide what is the problem they are trying to solve. If you find yourself using phrases like “they always do it”, “they’re annoying” or “they never do it”, you may benefit from taking the time to pause and reflect as these statements are often factually incorrect and driven by emotion and frustration.
There is an old adage that if you don’t have a goal, you can’t score. The same can be said of a problem. You can’t solve a problem you can’t define.
Defining a Problem: How To
Gather as many of the people as deemed possible or necessary and set the goal of the meeting as defining the problem. This could cause surprise should the child in question be receiving a high level of support already or perhaps, is already subject to several different interventions. It is worth undergoing this process, however, as there is a body of literature to back up the assertion that defining the problem leads to more successful outcomes so persevere.
Asking a group this question could result in a few different responses. This is a great demonstrator of how different perceptions exist. Perhaps the responses are like the ones I touted as unhelpful above. Perhaps, they are extremely helpful but different from the other peers at the group. I would suggest that it is rare that everyone at the table will have the exact same answer. Different problems need different solutions and if everyone is trying to hit a different target, you could well end up hitting none. One could surmise that it is best for the group to focus their aim on an agreed first target before moving on to a second. The power of the many exceeds the power of the one. A group all pulling in the one direction will get to their destination quicker than a group pulling in different ones.
Below is a list of questions that I would make sure the group can answer clearly before leaving the meeting:
What is the problem?
Why is it a problem?
When is it a problem?
Who is it a problem for?
Where is it a problem?
If you can’t write a simple, two or three sentence answer to each of these questions. You haven’t defined it simply enough. Applied behaviour analysis recommends limiting behaviour as anything that can be seen or heard and creating operative definitions that are crystal clear and upon reading them, the reader would be able to accurately repeat the behaviour. This is worth keeping in mind when following through these questions.
Following this process can be helpful as it starts to clear your mind and narrow your vision. Suddenly, it might not be “always” as it’s only during math and science or in the afternoons. Maybe, the behaviour is only present when a teacher is assigning silent individual work. Potentially, the problem might only occur when they are sitting beside a certain classmate. The problem may not be spoken about anymore as they have ADHD which doesn’t help as much as when it has been clearly defined as “banging their pencils and shouting out when the teacher is issuing instructions”. Answering these questions can create a eureka moment for a teacher without any further steps as they recognize patterns and can start to experiment with interrupting them. If the problem arises during prolonged silent deskwork, maybe try ensuring that an energetic lesson has preceded it to see if it will help them settle. Ask them to do small jobs every few minutes to get them out of their seats before they realise they need to disrupt the class for their usual break. It may still be trial-and-error but with a clearly defined problem, at least it is clearly known how to gauge success.
This process proved beneficial to me previously as a five-year child I had was renown for jumping on tables and chairs. I had inherited the information from a previous teacher to keep anything that may be desirable up high as it needed to be kept out of his reach. This problem continued for quite some time with no success. I tried reward charts, social stories and other incentives along with stern words to no avail. It was only when I took my advice and sat down and clearly defined the problem, I realised that he jumped on tables and chairs to get to and see the stuff that needed to be kept out of reach. The following day, I removed all the objects from high places and stored them in locked presses. The child who “always jumps on tables and chairs” was no more.
A simple tip: define the problem. I always think when I read this, that I know this already. But do I do it? There is a difference between knowing and doing…