Tuesday, March 7, 2017

When Is a Kid Like a Soda Can?

by Tracy Allen

Recently Amanda Padden and I attended a conference on helping students with anxiety. Having had a number of professional development opportunities around anxiety, I was unsure that I would get anything new. One can hope for that one or two gems that you didn't know or hadn't thought of in that same way that you can bring back to work. Jessica Minahan (Behavior Analyst and author) sent everyone away with very practical and proactive tips for educators to help our increasingly dense population of anxious students. Here are some of the strongest takeaways that can help reframe interactions between adults and those suffering from anxiety.

1) The Soda Can Metaphor
Imagine that I am walking into a meeting with you, the reader. You have two cans of soda and offer me one. I do not know that you have vigorously shaken one up prior to my arrival. I open one and it explodes. Both cans looked the same so it would be impossible to know that one had been shaken. This often happens when walking into our classrooms. Students may all look the same. We don't necessarily know what has happened in a child's life prior to entering the classroom or even the school building that day; nor do we know if a student's anxiety has been triggered. What may become clear after we start the lesson or conversation is that they are not in a place to learn. This could be expressed in defiance, in crying, in lack of participation, or in trying to leave the classroom several times. If we go into each interaction with a student understanding that there is a possibility things have not been "normal" for them prior to our meeting, we won't be caught off-guard if the class is disrupted.

2) Communication
Another great reminder for me was that anxious behaviors, as well as challenging behaviors, are a child's way of trying to tell us something. Not doing any written assignments is not necessarily a sign of a learning issue. It could be anxiety interfering with executive functioning skills like planning the work and organizing the thoughts. Another possible message from the student is that the student is having a hard time transitioning from what the he/she was doing before to a task that is not preferred - writing. We have to ask some more questions in order to address the real issue.

3) Random Acts of Intervention
Most educators want to fix problems, especially if those problems concern struggles our students are having. As fixers, we don't often fully listen or evaluate a situation before we offer a solution. Jessica Minahan reminded us that this system of drive-by interventions or as she called them Random Acts of Intervention don't work. We need to pause before responding. This is a difficult task but important in finding a solid sustainable solution.

Jessica Minahan shared many more interventions but what struck me about these these key points is how they tie into my study of mindfulness. If I am not present in the moment, I can not be ready for what each class or meeting or practice may bring. If I'm not present, I can not really hear what a student, parent, colleague or administer needs or is asking for and focus on the tone or manner of delivery. And if I don't pause and make sure I'm present, I am more likely to fix something with a band-aid solution and not what the situation really calls for. Her strategies are very much worth sharing with our colleagues and hopefully will help all our students, not just our anxious ones, more successful.

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