Emotional and Behavior Disorders in the Classroom
There is growing recognition that early intervention is necessary to prevent troublesome behaviors from escalating in the classroom. Prevention and best practices for dealing with behavior disorders can create a safe school environment for accelerating school performance, increasing readiness for learning and reducing problem behavior. Rather than leaving the responsibility to the individual teacher, it is being proved that schoolwide structural strategies are the key to success. Positive behavior management and social skills instruction should be implemented in each classroom, with a school culture of unified discipline and shared expectations of success based on academic enrichment.
Effective classroom practices such as good organization, engaging lessons with high student response, positive attitudes, and accommodations to match students' ability levels, rewards for appropriate behaviors and consequences for misbehavior, usually lead to appropriate outcomes from most students. Teachers need to define acceptable behavior clearly, tell students what they are doing correctly and praise them, and make sure that rules, consequences and enforcement procedures are clearly defined and articulated. However, this may not be enough for many of today's students who require additional support.
Positive Behavior Management systems may need to be formally instituted. An important element is teaching students to self-monitor with a strategy for observing their own behavior, recording it on checklists and evaluating for progress and reinforcement. This becomes a powerful strategy in teaching students how to behave. A practical example is the Good Student Game which can be introduced during periods of independent studies to keep students on task. Behaviors to be rewarded are identified as for example, stay seated, raise your hand if you have a question, work quietly, raise your hand when you finish. Rewards such as ten minutes of free time at the end of the day encourage students to self monitor their behavior.
Social skills can be taught to improve social interactions and reduce problem behavior. There are hundreds of available programs, lesson plans and worksheets , but many teachers prefer to integrate social skills instruction throughout the whole curriculum because most formats such as discussion, cooperative learning,peer tutoring, group problem-solving etc require social as well as academic skills. A useful resource is Project Success, a youth-development organization that works with students from middle school through high school, offering goal setting workshops to help students develop life-skills that can transform their lives.
Students with learning disabilities who continue to exhibit behavior problems probably need on-going remedial programs, but peer tutoring can be a cost-effective alternative and benefits the tutor's social development as well. A school wide Conflict Resolution curriculum and Peer Mediation Program helps students develop interpersonal skills in understanding and managing anger, understanding conflict and constructive communication techniques. Above all, students benefit most from messages that are consistent across school, home, family and community. Parents and teachers set mutual goals for the child's progress through the school year, helping to provide better outcomes.
Schools can also play a vital part in ensuring that students and their families receive health and social services, mental health counseling and all non-educational services which are vital to a child's educational progress. With this holistic approach, the classroom will no longer be a battlefield for students with behavior and emotional disorders and teachers will no longer have behavior problems as a major concern and can get on with educating students instead.