An Inspirational Conversation

Recently I was blown away by the email correspondence between a general education teacher and the parent of one of my students who has social communication challenges. I have been intentional in my relationships with teachers and parents to facilitate dialogue that fosters understanding and compassion.  Wanting to be the invisible support for students is often a significant part of my day.  However, I am fortunate to work with some amazing teachers who are doing an outstanding job in differentiating instruction and going the extra step for our students to feel included in a mainstream classroom.  I was genuinely inspired when I was included in the following email exchange:

Teacher to parent,
Recently when we have been doing our science textbook reading, I have been very proud that James has been wanting to participate in reading aloud. Since this has become the norm, I asked him to read when it was his turn today. He sat there, and with some prompting, still, would not read. After we finished the section, I had a meeting with him outside asking why he didn’t feel comfortable reading today. I tried to give him some think time, but he kept saying he didn’t know why. If you get the chance and are able to talk to him about this, please share if there is something that can be done to make him feel more comfortable.

Parent to teacher,
Thanks for letting me know. I asked James tonight trying to understand what’s the reason but he said: “I am not sure”. When I asked him if it is to do with his PE uniform, he said: “probably yes”. Actually, he forgot to bring his T-shirt today and he has to keep his PE uniform on the whole day with his jacket zipped all the way up. He was trying to hide his PE uniform as he knows he should not wear it after PE. I think that made him not willing to read aloud in the class today. He does not want others to find out he is still in his PE uniform.

Teacher to parent,
Thank you for sharing your conversation with James and a possible reason for what happened yesterday.
As educators, we come across challenging behavior in our classroom. This creates difficulty as we are balancing instruction for students at varying levels and providing a safe learning environment for our students. What we often miss is that behavior is an indicator of something deeper than the observable behavior. This is even more so when the student has communication challenges.

I first learned to adopt this type of lens after hearing Ross Greene present at a Social Thinking Providers Conference years ago, “All kids want to do well in school. When they are not doing well then they either have lagging skills or unsolved problems”. I can still remember the moment I heard his philosophy behind the behavior. Yes, he provided the language that resonated with my own belief system when supporting students with social cognitive challenges in school.

Developing a collaborative lens with compassion and engaging the student in the problem-solving model is the heart of Ross Greene’s life changing work. The game changer is what happens next. Ross advocates sitting down with the child and discussing concerns others are having with the student and asking the student, “What’s Up with that?” This opens the door for the student to share their own thinking and provide insight what might be behind the behavior.

How can we effectively engage in problem-solving conversations if we haven’t identified the problem?
The outcome of the event that preceded the email exchange would have looked different if the teacher had responded to the student’s unwillingness to read the text as if he was choosing to be defiant or difficult. Responding to this child with compassion and understanding is building this student’ capacity to trust his teachers and be more willing to take risks and share more.
The parent lens is changed and trust bridges the gap between school and home.
You can learn more about Ross Greene’s Collaborative & Proactive Solutions (CPS) by visiting his website or checking out his books: The Explosive Child,  Lost at School, Lost & Found, and Raising Human Beings.
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Elizabeth Burke

Elizabeth is an educator with a focus on supporting students with exceptionalities. Teaching in public education for 12 years with specialized training in Social Thinking™; Masters in Differentiated Instruction, Doctoral Student in Education Leadership. She enjoys spending time with her family: daughters, son-in laws, son & 4 grandchildren.

1 Comment

  1. MeAnd2e

    Elizabeth…the story about the boy and his PE uniform hit right at home for me. My son has zero period PE and one day he forgot to put his school uniform in his backpack. The entire day he was a wreck. He was worried the teachers would send him to the office and the principal would get mad. He tried to avoid contact with anyone of authority the whole day. When I picked him up from school, he was so relieved that the day was over and that he had survived! I reassured him that mistakes happen and he didn’t need to worry. Another example of how black or white children on the spectrum view the world.


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