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Sunday, March 15, 2015

Collaborating to Best Serve Challenging to Teaching Students

How do you and your colleagues collaborate to best teach challenging-to-teach students?

How do you identify a challenging-to-teach child?

At yesterday's Teaching and Learning Conference 2015 the theme of collaboration arose again and again. And as we think of our most difficult to teach students, I'm wondering how we can better maximize our collective efforts to create programs, schedules, and efforts that result in happy, successful learners?

Who are the difficult to teach children in your school?

Over time I've identified the following characteristics that difficult to teach children display:
  • Difficulty learning certain types of information.
  • Unhappy
  • Angry
  • Unable to settle down and relax enough to learn
  • Preoccupied with other troubles or concerns
  • Physically challenged in ways that make learning difficult
  • Exhausted
  • Hungry
There are many categories we need to consider as we work with these children.

What is preventing a child's success? At yesterday's conference panelists suggested that we begin by asking the child what he/she needs. Then I think it's important to contact the parent(s) or guardians and ask, What do you think your child needs for greater success? After that educators, assistants, and others who work with the child should weigh in by sharing goals, strengths, challenges, questions, and notes. Then there should be time for review, analysis, and prioritization. Too often analysis is not given enough time when it comes to the needs of difficult-to-teach students, yet this is a most important step.

Family Connections
The family should be full members of the service team, but every family requires a somewhat different approach. For example, an individual I know was recently invited to attend a team meeting about her child. This individual was both intimidated and unaware of ed jargon. I'm sure it was a difficult situation to sit at a large table of educators alone to hear about her child's needs and actions. I'm wondering if it's best to have a point person who advocates for, and works with family members when a child is difficult to teach. I wonder if that would serve as a more successful home-school bridge than having many educators separately work with the family. I'm sure that each case is different, but I believe it's important for the team to discuss how best to connect and work with the family to teach each child well.

Service Delivery
Who-does-what is an important discussion when it comes to difficult-to-teach students.  How do we prioritize a child's needs and services? Then what kind of program can we tailor so that the child makes progress in happy, successful, meaningful ways?  

Program Assessment and Revision
How often does the team meet to assess and revise a difficult-to-teach child's program? Long ago when inclusion started, teachers advocated for a one-hour meeting each week with the counselor, special educator, classroom teacher, and assistant. Should we employ the same schedule for difficult-to-teach students that fall outside of one-to-one special education resources?

How do we plan for difficult-to-teach students' transitions and new plans? Do we offer summer support so that the return to school is not difficult and like starting all over again? Do we incorporate these children's strengths and interests into the learning? Does this preparation happen at the end of the year or before the new school year starts? 

Taking difficult-to-teach students and their needs seriously and working collectively to do a good job by these children is imperative when it comes to successful learning communities. 

This work requires humility and vulnerability too since these children often challenge the status quo and our long held skills and beliefs as educators. In truth, these students are the ones that help us to grow the most as educators and leaders if we truly reach to serve them well.

How do you and your colleagues meet the needs of the most difficult to teach students? What systems and structures do you have in place at your school that serve to engage and empower these students? How do you streamline the program for these students so that they can build strong relationships and learn with success?

This older post explains why it's important to continue to review and refine the work we do.