Mindsets for Teachers of Children with Emotional and Behavior Disorders: #3 Have Hope, Give Hope


“I have hope, I can give hope to others.

When I first started teaching in a behavior classroom, I thought I had to make my classroom a virtual prison. It was designed to be a structured, organized, and efficient classroom, and I accomplished all those things. What it lacked was personality, warmth, and empathy. My students were successful, but they performed more because of what they would get in return and less because they really wanted to.

It is so easy in this day and age to simply use token systems and rewards as our sole basis for reinforcing behavior and performance. However, what we end up teaching children using this methodology is “If I do what you want, you are going to give me something I like”. That is okay in the beginning, in fact I often times start out using tangibles as reinforcers, but long term we want that student to learn to be intrinsically motivated. Remember, the student isn’t at that point yet, but that is where we want them to be. So even though I might give a tangible reward in the beginning, you better believe I’m piling on the social praise each and every time. Even a small success like being able to stand in line becomes a party at the Hard Rock. Eventually I’m making a bigger deal of the social praise than I am the tangible. I say things like, “Wow, you must be so proud of yourself!” or “I’m so proud of you, but who cares what I think, how you do you feel?” By doing this, I’m setting the stage for the student to make positive statements about himself. Even the most troubled child can’t help but feel good once he starts thinking and talking about himself in a positive light. It’s the beginnings of hope.

A teacher with the right mindset will build on this. It is time to go into Arnold Schwarzenegger Terminator Scan mode. This teacher will seek every opportunity to catch the student doing more positive behaviors and “catch them in the act”.When we are distressed it’s easy to miss the positive things students do.  We feel “he never does anything right!” But a teacher with the right mindset will generate a laundry list of positive actions the student can talk about and refer to. Those students who previously had no reason to succeed will develop desire. Empowered by hope, they begin to feel better about themselves. Any tangible reward they might receive for doing well is nothing but a bonus, because in the end what they gained is greater than any prize they will ever earn.

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