to her previous behaviors. She moved to the back
rug area to jump over chairs and roll on the floor.
She disrupted her peers’ learning by making animal
noises and calling out. She lay on her stomach across
several chairs, hiding herself under the table. Her
family reported that Jane had started to take medication for her depression, but it was unclear whether
she was taking it consistently or was receiving therapeutic counseling services.
What were the root causes of Jane’s behavior or of
the setback she experienced? Although we looked
deeply into her situation, we never fully knew.
But a word about causes. Certainly, various
situations in a student’s life—a violent home life,
the death of a family member—can trigger such
behavior, but the true causes of a student’s difficulties often stem from deficits in emotional, social,
and academic skills, which prevent him or her from
working through and dealing with those events.
Sometimes schools look to life events as reasons for
a student’s behavior, and they fail to look at possible
areas for skill building. Although information about
possible events and situations is helpful in providing
context as well as needed supports, such as counseling, it doesn’t necessarily drive intervention. In
Jane’s case, although we continued to search for
answers, we saw how we could support her through
her challenges at school.
Perplexed by Jane’s sudden shift in behavior, the
administrators called an after-school meeting. No
fewer than 17 staff members gathered around a large
conference table to discuss and coordinate supports.
These included administrators; classroom teachers;
special educators; the specialist teachers; the nurse;
the school counselor; the school psychologist; and
me, the behavior specialist. Everyone sat down,
focused on the needs of the whole child. Although
the sheer size of this team may seem surprising, it
didn’t consist of any special resources or personnel;
any staff member with whom Jane interacted was
invited to the meeting.
I adapted the plan to respond to Jane’s new
behavior and created several action steps. I broke
down each period of Jane’s day into three to five
parts. This enabled teachers not only to check in
on Jane more frequently, but also to break down
required tasks into more manageable steps. For
example, instead of asking Jane to complete an
entire page of problems in her math book, the
teacher might ask her to complete problems 1–4 and
check in with her during that time, then ask her to
complete problems 5–8 and check in with her again.
A primary goal was getting Jane to use a “turn
it around” strategy to reengage with the class, so
we awarded those double points. We also engaged
all staff members in explicitly teaching Jane self-
monitoring and self-regulation skills and in helping
her notice what was happening with her body during
times of both dysregulation and composure.
For example, when Jane was upset, a teacher
might say, “Jane, I see that your shoulders are raised,
your eyebrows are furrowed, you’re not making eye
contact, your heart is racing, and you’re breathing
really heavily. You look upset.” But the supports
didn’t end there. The nurse communicated with
I’ve wanted to be a teacher my whole life. Everything about me
was about being a teacher. I love the idea of
learning. I love being in school. I love being
part of school. I love being the teacher. I
love being the learner. It’s amazing when
your brain can add “stuff.” I like to watch it
in my students, and I like to watch it in me.
I also had a person in my life who was
super-important to me—my 10th grade
English teacher. He said, “You’re a good writer.” He’s the first
person who ever told me I could write. Before that, I just never
knew. He made a comment that changed my life.
I thought about that when I became a teacher. I have to be
careful with what I say because that comment could influence a
student’s life forever.
Douglas Fisher is professor of educational leadership at San Diego
State University and a teacher leader at Health Sciences High and Middle
College, San Diego. His latest book, coauthored with Nancy Frey and
Alex Gonzalez, is Teaching with Tablets: How Do I Integrate Tablets with
Effective Instruction? (ASCD, 2013).
Becoming a Teacher
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