Editor's Note: The following list has suggestions for working with students with behavior problems, but the ideas are easily modified for any student.
Have bulletin board space in the room with each child's name on it for the display of artwork and academic papers.
Distribute notes to the children describing positive behavior you have noticed during the day, week, or month.
Make occasional phone calls or home visits to parents to discuss positive behavior.
Use words to describe unacceptable behavior. Refrain from using words that attack the child's sense of self-worth. For example you might say, "I do not like it when I see you kicking the chair. Tell me how you feel with words." This statement reflects respect for the child while describing the undesirable behavior. An ineffective statement might be, "Quit acting like a baby. I'm sick of having you disrupt this class."
Recognize students with a card, cake, or special activity on their birthdays.
Have a regularly scheduled time each day or week to discuss positive things the students have noticed about each other. In the beginning, model and define the appropriate responses. Structure the discussion around a specific theme such as academic strengths, work habits, or talents.
When a class is having difficulty accepting other classmates due to their inappropriate behavior, give them time to vent their feelings in an appropriate way by having them list specific behaviors they dislike. Respect their right to feel the way they do. Then enlist their cooperation in helping the ostracized student or students become part of the group. Rewarding the class for responding appropriately to the student who is acting inappropriately, along with repeating the discussion process as needed, strengthens the class's tolerance for disruptive behavior. They quickly learn to remain in control in spite of another's actions. Problems do not escalate as quickly, are resolved more efficiently, and take less time away from instruction.
Admit your own mistakes or limitations. Not everyone is an expert at everything. "I don't know," "Let's find out together," or "I'm sorry I snapped at you a moment ago" are phrases that show self-acceptance. Modeling self-acceptance is one way of teaching it to the students.
Mistakes are a valuable part of the learning process. Teach students to accept mistakes as away of gaining information rather than as proof of their decreased value as human beings. Use nonthreatening activities such as jigsaw puzzles, pencil and paper mazes, and games that use clues to illustrate that through trial and error, correct responses can be learned. Relate this to other social and academic situations.
Ask students to talk positively about themselves at least once a day using sentence starters such as the following:
I like myself because _________.
I am good at _________.
I handled _________ well today.
I learned _________ today.
I Improved at _________ today.
I feel great when I _________.
I have a talent for _________.
I'm a good friend because _________.
My best subject is _________.
People like the way I _________.
Excerpted from Tough to Reach, Tough to Teach.