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Challenging School Environments

October 18, 2012

There is no doubt that many of you are in  challenging schools. Your student population may have challenges at school and often at home. Colleagues are often inexperienced and lack some of the skills needed to work in challenging schools.

It’s hard. I know it is. But you are there, so it is up to you to make the most of the situation for yourself, your students and even your colleagues. I would suggest there are three areas to begin your focus. You can be a force of change in your classroom and a model for others in your school.

 First: Take care of yourself.

Begin by taking care of you and recognizing what you have control over. You determine your attitude and you are responsible for taking good care of yourself.

  • Be and stay positive. This is one of my favorite quotes and I strongly believe it.

The Dilemma

I have come to a frightening conclusion. I am the decisive element in the classroom. It is my personal approach that will create the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher I possess tremendous power to make a student’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated, and a student humanized or de-humanized. ~ Haim Ginott

  • Start each day with a smile and do your best to keep it.
  • You make a conscious decision each day. You can have a pity party or you can be excited for life. The choice is yours. I prefer a smile to a frown and I’m sure your students do too.
  • Smile and greet every colleague and every student each day. You will be surprised at how much better you feel when you decide to let the anger go.
  • You cannot be angry with either yourself or your students. If you stay angry with your students, they will not respect you. Neither you nor they deserve that.
  • Believe you can do it and tell yourself that every day.
  • Believe your students can be successful and tell them that every day.
  • Make time for yourself daily. Are you a morning or evening person? You deserve 30 minutes or more every day for you.
  • Exercise! Physical activity has been proven to help with stress, and we know it will make you healthier.
    • Go for a walk.
    • Read poetry.
    • Soak in the tub. Rest. Relax. Renew.

Build relationships with your students.

You have to do this. It’s not easy, but you work on it each and every day. Start a new initiative to bond with your students.

  • Morning meetings. Set the stage for the day with a short meeting every morning. This is the time to work on those social-emotional skills that your students are struggling with. This time will prevent many problems in the long run and will support students in making positive change. (For more information try The Responsive Classroom.) More Information.
  • Get to know your students.
  • Make a class book.
  • Have students make an “All About Me” book.
  • Use the information you gain about students to plan your lessons and activities.
  • See last week’s blog post: Working with Challenging Students
  • Plan engaging and interactive lessons. Plan them well to provide the safety you and your students deserve. Notice the details. What can go wrong? How can I prevent problems?
  • Give your students responsibility and ownership. You will have to model this for them.
  • When things don’t go well, don’t get angry. Be patient. Teach students how to make better choices and how to handle conflict.
  • Teach The Problem Solving process and stick with it. (Watch for more on this next week.)
  • Plan a quiet time at the end of each day. Try to connect with students one on one and tell them when you have noticed growth.
  • Make positive phone calls home.
  • Remember to have fun every day and CELEBRATE small successes.

Build relationships with your colleagues. Be a leader.

  • Be supportive.
  • Collaborate.
  • Work on relationships. Invite your team to your room for lunch. You bring the desert. Suggest you do this one day each week.
  • Invite colleagues to go for a short walk at lunch. (Outside or inside. That exercise thing.)
  • Start a book club. (fiction or professional)
  • Get to know about your colleagues. Talk about things other than school and challenging students. Positivity is contagious.
  • Notice when someone does something positive, interesting, or fun, and tell them.
  • Celebrate personal and professional achievements and milestones of all staff members.
    • Wedding showers, Baby showers, Graduations, Anniversaries—both wedding and work
    • Birthdays
    • Locate a staff birthday calendar and put a small note or card in staff members’ mailboxes on their birthdays.
    • Plan a monthly birthday lunch or breakfast.
    • If there is not a birthday calendar, work with the building secretary to begin this tradition.
  • Notes of appreciation for help or support or just because.
  • Notes and cards of sympathy or concern when colleagues experience a loss or encounter a difficult situation.
  • Plan informal gatherings for faculty and staff to get together and connect.
  • Potluck lunches on teacher work days or Fridays
  • Coffee and treat days before school.
  • Friday Get-togethers – Meet at a local restaurant to share, celebrate, and de-stress
  • Secret Pals – Everyone likes to get a treat. Organize a secret pal program. It doesn’t have to be connected to a holiday.

In short, the relationships among the educators in a school define all relationships within that school’s culture. Teachers and administrators demonstrate all too well a capacity to either enrich or diminish one another’s lives and thereby enrich or diminish their schools. ~Roland S. Barth

You can’t do everything all at once. Make a plan with three goals: one for yourself, one for your students, and one for your colleagues. If it works, add another. If not, drop it and try something else. Keep a Celebration Journal and write down each improvement or positive action….no matter how small. You will be surprised how much you have to be thankful for.

You can work miracles by expressing faith in others. To get the best out of people, choose to think and believe the best about them. ~Bob Moawad

Never ever give up.

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