Every once in a while I come across a book that I think every educator should read. LOST AT SCHOOL by Ross W. Greene is one of those books. The subtitle, Why Our Kids with Behavioral Challenges Are Falling Through the Cracks and How We Can Help Them, promises a lot, and Greene delivers.
According to Greene, contrary to what some adults might believe, students who find themselves frequently in trouble do not necessarily WANT to be in trouble (You’ve probably heard this one: “They just want the attention—any attention”). In fact, much like adults, children would rather be praised than punished. So it is not that they lack the desire to behave well. Nor do they fail to understand the rules. It’s this: they lack the skill. Or, in some cases, multiple skills—cognitive, emotional, and/or social. This is why typical school discipline systems don’t work for them: because these students don’t know HOW to do what we want them to do. While someone might say, “How hard is it not to push your classmates while standing in line?” for these students, it’s not so simple. There is more to their story.
Greene argues that instead of punishing students for repeated infractions (making the same mistakes over and over), we should teach them how to behave properly (how to avoid the mistakes in the first place). Note that “teaching” in this case definitely does not mean “telling.” It is more complicated than that, which is why lecturing and cajoling often fail to change behavior (and more often than not, build resentment).
Greene notes that most schools for discipline utilize what he calls “Plan A,” which is characterized by consequences and punishment (and sometimes rewards). At the other end of the spectrum, simply caving in to students’ demands would be “Plan C.” Greene offers his own alternative: “Plan B.” He describes a set of steps to engage behaviorally-challenged children in collaborative problem-solving, and he illustrates the process with several compelling, quite believable, case studies.
The results are eye-opening. If you have time to read this book before going back to school, it could change how you deal with your most challenging students. In a really positive way.
PS—Many thanks to Claudia Zuorick of Soaring Heights Charter School for bringing this book to my attention!