When students struggle with behavior in the classroom, most of the time, it’s not about you. It’s not about your methods or your class. Students bring so much of their own past to the classroom including childhood trauma and anxiety. Sometimes having a break over the winter months helps alleviate anxiety, but for many students, the holidays can heighten problems at home and you may see them in the classroom. Even if the year has been tough, it’s so important that you start fresh with your students, especially in the new year. When your students are back to school this year, bring out the attitude of new year, new kid. Try these tips to help your students start fresh in January.
A FRESH START FOR STRUGGLING STUDENTS
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Just like many adults use the turning of the year to start fresh, it is important that we use these dates to give our kids a chance at a fresh start. Light that spark that gives them hope, ignites their dreams and helps them see how they can use a fresh start to grow and become an even better version of themselves.
Often children can feel stuck in a rut or an endless loop of negativity, criticism and judgement. Using these tools, and the roll over into a new year, we can show these children how they can have a fresh start.
Start with goal setting
For students who have struggled behaviorally or academically in class, setting goals can seem pointless. Year after year, they may have had the class goal setting conversation without follow through from teachers or home. This year, change that. Have personalized conversations with students who need it most. Help them set goals that let them become BIONIC (believe it or not I can) and repeating that mantra by setting goals that are challenging yet achievable.
I’ve created a New Years Goal Setting sheet that is available for free to members of STEAM Powered Family. Encourage your children to use this sheet to celebrate their growth from the previous year, and build their hopes, dreams and goals for a better new year. Some students will need a lot of help with this document. They have become so entrenched in the negative talk around them, they have internalized it and will have trouble finding hope and celebrating. This is where you can help mentor and guide them.
Stop the negative talk
When teachers get together, it’s inevitable that some venting and complaining may happen. Unfortunately, that complaining often turns to ”that kid”. You know the child. The one who is “tough” for multiple teachers. When these conversations start though, you’ve already set the child up for failure. How will the child learn and grow from their struggles if teachers are focusing on the negative? If you must share your struggles with this student, share in a way where you are problem-solving. Ask other colleagues for help and find what works. You may be the only adult in this child’s life that they feel cares about them. Be their safe person by giving them a chance every single day.
Conversely, work with students to help them put their negative thoughts in neutral. Sometimes just a little rephrasing or a change of wording can turn a child’s negative self talk into neutral, problem solving discussions. This approach will help develop coping skills and foster growth.
When focusing on neutral thoughts we encourage children to honour their truths. The simple way to do this is ask questions about a situation and how the child is feeling and what they are thinking. Then together, think of alternatives, and draw the attention to what the child can do and their options. The goal is to encourage the child to review the situation objectively and consider the possibilities.
By focusing on neutral thoughts and problem solving, you help to keep the child functioning and engaged without minimizing their feelings or letting them spiral into a well of negativity. You are teaching them to see the reality of the situation, not how they wish things could be or how the anxiety is colouring the experience. But how they can control certain aspects and make the most of a situation.
Greet them at the door
Greeting every student at the door each day is ideal, but make a special effort to have students who struggled in the first half of the year see your face smiling and welcoming as they start the new year. As a teacher, you have a lot on your plate. It’s easy to sit at your desk and grade papers or do paperwork as your students enter the classroom. Trust me; it makes such a difference when your students know that you missed them during breaks or even just over the weekend. When they know you care, they’ll know they have a fresh start every day!
Tell your students that a new year means a fresh start
Whether the focus is on improving grades or behavior, verbally indicate to your students that a new year means a time to start over. Your students may have adults or peers in their lives that hold their past mistakes or struggles against them. Even if you do everything that’s mentioned above from goal setting to positive talk and morning greetings, your students may not recognize that you are not focused on the beginning of the school year. Share your own stories of how the new year is a chance to start over. Tell your students that you are excited for them to be BIONIC and get a fresh new start in January.
The new year is coming, and it’s so important for your students to know that they have a chance to start fresh with you, their peers, and other adults in the building. Give them that shot by focusing on their future goals and opportunities rather than their past struggles. Remember: new year, new kid!