Succeeding with Difficult Students
While sitting at a diner for lunch, I overheard some educators enthusiastically discussing a session that one had attended. Their praises inspired me to sit in on Grace Dearborn’s humorous and captivating afternoon session, “When Consequences Don’t Work: Succeeding with Difficult Students.”
Dearborn had the capacity crowd laughing, engaging in lively group discussions with Maroon 5 as background music, and kept their attention as she explained how to work with difficult and struggling students, in any course, at any level.
“Kids are kids in my experience,” she told the audience while explaining that she has taught several different subjects over the years. She told the crowd that she wanted them to leave with some concrete information they could use to improve their classrooms, comparing her session to a buffet where the audience should leave with a full plate. “My goal is to provide you with some stuff you can use.”
While touching on various topics, such as teachers having inner authority and confidence and providing answers on how to provide conscious consequences, she noted how important it is for educators to form personal and positive relationships with students. She began with this because it's a critical first step to improving student learning.
Dearborn told the crowd, “Go!” and they began discussing what has helped them make connections with difficult students. The room became a boisterous hall of voices eagerly telling their peers their own personal stories. After the crowd ceased their discussion, Dearborn shared her own anecdotes and lessons on how to make a connection.
She once taught a student who showed up late, caused distractions, and generally did not perform well with her studies, but Dearborn noticed she always drank bottled water. One day she asked the student if she liked the flavored water as well. The student acted defensively and responded that she had not ever tried it, so Dearborn brought her a bottle of flavored water the next day. Following this, the student became more active in the class and less disruptive because she felt a connection with her teacher.
“Students must feel that you care about them,” she said. If they feel that connection, then they most likely will respond positively in the classroom.
She suggested that teachers use the “2 x 10” method, which is to take 2 minutes to get to know a student for 10 days; it will help them do well in school. Even if the student wants to talk about a subject that is unfamiliar, do it anyway, she told the audience. She used the example of a student talking about basket weaving, and how you can use Google to find out a way to talk with them about the topic.
The audience eagerly took notes, and there were nods of agreement throughout the session. It appeared that Dearborn had made a positive connection with the audience and achieved her goal of having the room of educators leave the session with some new ideas.
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