Themes this year: school culture, student behavior and inspiring teaching

“Houses aren’t just a thing you do,” said Jennifer Kloczko, principal of Stoneridge Elementary School in Roseville, Calif. “It’s really the whole culture of your school.”

Nina, a boxer/beagle comfort dog, spends most of her days socializing, sitting with students during counseling sessions, and relaxing the mood at Abraham Lincoln High School in Brooklyn. (Courtesy of David Robinson)

Other schools are experimenting with using comfort dogs to make students feel more comfortable with difficult academic and emotional tasks. Some counselors have found students more willing to talk about their lives when a dog is present. And teachers see students who hate to read happily pronounce words to a doe-eyed dog who isn’t judgmental and doesn’t get frustrated at their pace.

“They don’t care if you’re good at basketball, or a good reader, or popular,” said Burgundy Farm Country day school principal Jeff Sindler. “They just want to be liked – equal opportunity.”

Of course, bringing dogs to school raises questions about allergies and ensures that those who are afraid of dogs also feel comfortable. Trainers deal with this by choosing hypoallergenic breeds, limiting dogs to certain predetermined spaces, and ensuring that puppies are always kept on a short leash and accompanied by an owner.


Although many factors influence student behavior in the classroom, behavior is often tied to school culture. Each student is an individual with a personal story and a unique history of their peers, which makes the challenge of responding to students’ disruptive behavior one of the hardest parts of teaching. And as educators begin to realize how many of their students have experienced significant trauma, they are quickly realizing that the job can no longer be just about delivering content.

The medical community has begun to document the significant and often chronic negative effects of trauma on a person’s health. San Francisco pediatrician Dr. Nadine Burke Harris has been a leader in this field – using her clinical experiences to connect the health and education challenges she sees in patients to the adversity they have encountered in their young life.

His book, The Deepest Well: Healing the Long-Term Effects of Childhood Adversity, Burke Harris chronicles the history of trauma studies, noting that the initial study correlating trauma to negative health outcomes took place in a predominantly white, mostly middle-class community. She has helped educators realize that trauma-informed teaching approaches are needed everywhere, not just in schools serving very poor populations. To reach all children, this is where teaching must go.

Principal Michael Essien helps ensure a smooth transition period at Martin Luther King Jr. Academic Middle School, which included the temporary confiscation of a ball from a student. (Samantha Shanahan/KQED)

At Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School in San Francisco, principal Michael Essien took a close look at how trauma has touched the lives of his students. He and his staff redesigned their support services recognizing that teachers needed more help in the classroom to deal with disruptive behaviors that made teaching difficult. Rather than sending disruptive students out of the classroom, counselors “push” into the classroom, either by helping to lead the class while the teacher talks with the student or by working to defuse the situation and restore the situation. student on the task.

“We were asking teachers to do too many things,” Essien said. “They must be rigorous in their teaching; they must be big brother/big sister; they must be advisers; they must be therapists. And how are teachers supposed to do all of this while delivering a quality lesson? There were simply too many.

The push-in system helped teachers feel supported and less burnt out, but also brought counselors and teachers closer together; they learn from each other. Students have learned that acting in class will no longer get them out of a difficult lesson and behavioral issues have decreased. Even better, it made all school staff feel like they were part of the same team when it came to helping students manage their emotions and keeping them engaged in classroom learning.

While educators are hungry for strategies like the one used at MLK Middle School because it could be replicated elsewhere, they also recognize the crucial role parents play when it comes to student behavior. Adults often complain that children’s behavior has changed over the years, pointing to changes in society and parenting as potential culprits.

Katherine Reynolds Lewis has written a book about what she calls a “crisis of self-regulation” she sees in her own children and in schools across the country. She blames a decrease in play, an explosion in technology and the use of social media, and says children need to feel like full members of a larger community.

“They are not asked to do anything to contribute to a neighborhood, family or community,” Lewis said. “And it really erodes their self-esteem – just like it would with an unemployed adult.”

Lewis says there are simple things parents can do to help children self-regulate and have more control over their own lives. Giving them time to play with friends in an unscheduled way, ensuring they have chores that contribute to family work, giving them a little more power over their lives, and resisting the lure of rewards for behaving well are just a few strategies. she recommends.


Building community at the school and classroom level, teaching content in an effective and engaging way, and recognizing student behaviors as symptoms of other problems are all emotionally draining tasks. And, for some teachers, these types of caregiving are not what they thought teaching would be, so taking on these roles requires a shift in identity. All of this weighs on teachers, who care deeply about their students.

Many teachers experience the type of secondary post-traumatic stress disorder documented in other care professions like nursing, firefighting, and social work. Symptoms include withdrawal from friends and family; feeling inexplicably irritable or angry or numb; inability to concentrate; blaming others; feeling hopeless or isolated or guilty for not doing enough; difficulty concentrating; being unable to sleep; eating too much or not enough; and caring continually and constantly for the students, when they are at home and even in their sleep.

When educators read this list in Jessica Lander’s article on secondary post-traumatic stress in schools, there was a collective “ah-ha” on social media. Many people wrote that they finally had a name for what they had felt and expressed a sense of relief that these were common reactions to working with children who had been traumatized over a long period of time.

Recognizing the problem is the first step, followed by strategies to build supportive communities and mitigate the effects. Educators must take care of themselves in order to continue to be a positive force in the lives of students.


MindShift readers are always on the lookout for new ideas to push their practice and up their game. welcome to class and to new challenges, starting with learning the correct way to pronounce their name.

Teachers have to learn names quickly at the start of the year, and some have over a hundred students. Taking the extra time to pronounce all of the students’ names correctly can go a long way to validating their cultures and identities. At school, many children will not see their culture reflected in the story and reading materials; they will not see teachers and administrators who look like them; and they may not hear their first language spoken. All these signs are not so subtle for children that the space does not belong to them. When teachers cannot bother to learn how to pronounce their name correctly, it can exacerbate this sense of isolation.

“How do you want me to pronounce your child’s name?” is the specific wording recommended by Dr. Rita Kohli for parents, and the following for students:

“I can’t say your name yet, can you explain it to me?” I’m working on learning it, and it’s important for me to say it like it should be said, like your parents say it.

Then try the name. Ask if you are right. Try again, “no matter how long it takes”. Once you have the correct pronunciation, repeat it out loud. Eighth-grade science teacher Carry Hansen, who also coaches cross-country and track and coordinates the counseling program for Trinity Valley School in Fort Worth, Texas, recommends using children’s names as much as possible, almost as obnoxiously as a telemarketer would. , until they sink.

But the identity of students is not only defined by their culture. Personalities also differ, with the introvert-extrovert divide topping the list of ways students interact differently in the classroom. School is a social place, a paradise for an extrovert, but full of potential minefields for an introvert. There are many strategies teachers can use to ensure introverted students feel safe, comfortable, and able to participate in classroom life.

But even as educators seek to make students feel like the classroom is theirs, that they are welcome, and that they belong, it is also important for teachers to push students to try new things. In many schools, educators recognize that their students have not had the opportunity to direct their own learning and have grown accustomed to following instructions. This creates a calm and orderly classroom, but it’s not necessarily the best way to prepare students for a world in which problems are complex and jobs require self-directed people to identify problems and work collaboratively to develop. solutions.

Many teachers create opportunities for students to ask questions that interest them, investigate the answers, and create demonstrations of what they have learned that excite them. But the transition from a teacher-led classroom to a more student-led classroom is not always easy. That’s why Trevor MacKenzie and Rebecca Bathurst-Hunt recommend a gradual release from responsibility so that students learn the skills they need to “dive into inquiry” without getting frustrated to the point of giving up.

Carol C. Reed