Add Your School | Teaching Tolerance

This past year, the Mix It Up at Lunch was a major success in all schools that tried it. As far as I’m concerned, this activity should not be restricted to a school-wide lunchtime encounter once a year, but is something that can easily be used–with minor modifications–in every classroom as both a classroom management tool and, more specifically perhaps, a teaching tool. I said so in this blog when re-blogging Teaching Tolerance’s “How to Seat Students” back in October of 2011. The whole point is to get students–ones who would not normally make an effort to talk to each other–to get to know each other through a structured discussion. In some ways, that makes this activity a school-wide application of classroom-based collaborative learning techniques.

Specifically, however, the intent of Mix It Up at Lunch is to break down the walls of intolerance through discussion on about a safe topic in a safe environment. I loved the idea of it when it was first publicized, and I continue to love the idea of it today. It’s an activity every school should try, at least one day a year every year. Even if we can dispel some of today’s hate myths, there will always be new ones to address.

So let your school become part of the solution toward ending hate. Click on this link and get your school involved. Add Your School | Teaching Tolerance.

If the link does not work, copy and paste this URL into your browser. http://www.tolerance.org/mix-it-up/add

And for your convenience, here are the URLs for my blog about “, “mixing it up” followed by the URL for Teaching Tolerance’s original  blog on the event.

http://blog.emillereducation.com/2011/12/14/mixing-it-up-how-to-seat-students/

http://www.tolerance.org/blog/how-seat-students

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U.S. Department of Education Issues Resource Document that Discourages Restraint and Seclusion | U.S. Department of Education

My initial response to the title of this article was, “There go the last vestige of dealing with severely dangerous and disruptive behavior…” I was thinking about some of the kids I worked with–severely behaviorally disordered children who suffered from PTSD brought on by early childhood abuses. These kids needed to be restrained and moved to a time-out area where they could work out their aggressions on padded walls.

But these are not the students at which this legislation was targeted. That is, their disruptive behavior was not what brought about these new guidelines. Rather, the release of the document was in response to the cases of abuse and death at public and private treatment centers. I followed the link below to the announcement; then followed another link to the explanation and document itself.

U.S. Department of Education Issues Resource Document that Discourages Restraint and Seclusion | U.S. Department of Education.

When I downloaded the 45-page PDF, I was not certain what I would find. Rather than a set of “don’t do this” statements, I found a thoughtful and careful delineation of alternative means to eliminate seclusion and restraint. It does not say “don’t restrain.” Rather, it says, “These are the guidelines for when you must restrain, and these are the things you need to document when you do so.” Interestingly, there were few differences from what we had to do when I was teaching in a day treatment program, when the only way to guarantee both the individual’s safety and that of the other students (and classroom adults) was to take down and restrain. Of course, there were never any apparatuses used. These kids didn’t need physical restraints–just time to calm down. I didn’t even know it was legal to put restraints on a child outside of a psychiatric ward or institution, where supervision for the entire period of restraint was available.

The main focus of this document is for states to use it as a model for their own guidelines for restraint and seclusion. Personally, I don’t see that the US DoE’s guidelines can be improved on, but each state is different and has different needs. Which is why the guidelines also establish a recommended schedule for review of adopted guidelines. Needs change, after all.

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Building Teacher-Student Trust

Trust between teacher/instructor and the class is an interesting issue to ponder. Younger students are easy. As yet, most have no reason not to trust a teacher to help them learn. Older kids, on the other hand, come to class lacking trust in their instructor. Many have had negative experiences with teachers, and basically challenge the teacher to prove to them that he/she is worthy of trust. The same students also tend to make it difficult for a teacher to act in such a way as to earn trust.

So where does the trust start? It has to start with the educator.

But what is it that the whole issue of trust is about? How can the educator know where to start?

That’s easy. The educator needs to start by respecting every student in his/her class, regardless of the stories that precede the student into the room.

Here’s the hard part. The educator should assume that there is something good about the student from Hell, and find that good no matter how small that bit of positive energy is, or how hard it is to find. No matter how many times that student disrespects the teacher, the educator must ignore the negativity and keep looking for the positive. In addition, the teacher must do so for every student in the class while maintaining a positive outlook, generating ownership of the class by the students, and trying to come up with new and interesting activities or anecdotes to share with students so they stay (or get) involved in their own learning.

The bottom line is that, if the educator does not open up and offer trust, many students in the class will remain closed up and learn little–if they learn anything at all. Often, this is the sort of experience that causes teachers to burn out or lose hope. For those educators who continue to look for the positive in older students, however, the rewards are great–often translating into decades in the classroom with a reputation for excellent lessons instead of just two or three years and a reputation for not caring enough.

Interestingly, the teacher does not have to be a fascinating talker or presenter. The teacher can have terrible elocution skills and still become a favorite, and from whom students learn. It’s the caring and the continual strife for improvement that holds the students’ interest. It’s the fact that the teacher cares about what the students want to learn, or is willing to try means by which the students say they learn better. It’s the teacher’s work toward ensuring each students’ educational growth that earns him/her respect. Once there is respect, the foundation for trust has been laid.

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