Friday, March 11, 2011

The Cross-Country Team

One of the biggest frustrations/obstacles/WTHeck issues in my building are what my colleagues and I like to call "runners." Runners are kids who either refuse to enter the classroom or leave the classroom during instruction and roam/run the school building. Why do kids "run"?

  • They came to school "off" from something that happened at home or on the bus.
  • They are upset over something that happened in the classroom.
  • They don't want to complete assignnments.
The concept of "running" completely blows my mind. Maybe it's the expectations I have from school environment I went through as a student. No other building I've worked in has had this issue. I've worked in suburban, rural, and urban schools before being hired here and I can count on one hand the total amount of times a student left a classroom. It was unheard of! Now, I can count on TWO hands the number of times students leave the classroom A DAY.

The biggest issues that runners pose is the fact that they are extremely disruptive and they are missing instruction. Not only do many of our runners actually run the halls, they also bang on lockers & classroom windows, throw materials into classrooms, yell, and slam doors. No, I am not joking. Yes, I work in a public elementary school building, not a day treatment facility. These kids are also out of the classroom during key instructional time. They either wander the halls, sit in or just outside the main office, or spend time "cooling down" in my office. In a building that is already "at-risk" in terms of state Math and English Language Arts (ELA) test scores, these kids need to be learning.

I'm not entirely sure why it has become acceptable for students to run. Is it something to do with the teachers? Is it the community and home life? Is it a lack of coping skills? All I know is that it can't continue if we want our building to function efficiently.

Any suggestions on how to not only help the kids, but to help the teachers and staff, are uber welcome.


  1. Hi Aimee,
    I just happened onto your blog. Over two consecutive years, I had the most adorable, sweetest set of brothers. The first brother grappled with serious psychological and learning issues. His home life was AWFUL, but thank GOD he was in a school system that really focused on his needs and provided him the support that he needed. One day, his life became too much for him during lunch and he decided to run OUT of the school and into the street. The policy is, as several teachers found out afterward, adults cannot chase a child. The police were called to search for him since we cannot search ourselves and that started a pattern of running. You would think that the parents would assess their own situation and address issues accordingly. I know in the classroom all of his support teachers and I made extra efforts to make school a safe, inviting, and entertaining environment. However, that did not stop him from going home, coming to school, and feeling the need to run away. He made great improvements by the end of the year. The following year- enter brother #2 who had no learning disability or apparent serious psychological issues, aside from the crazy household. The year for him started out in an amazing way, until about February when mom called the cops on him for stealing (did I mention I teach 4th grade), other family members magically appeared, state testing loomed over his head, etc. To get away from it all, he started to run. He only got out of the building once and apologized to me and other teachers involved.

    Basically the point of these stories is that running is a child's way of really running from their situation. Teachers and administrators should be aware of a child's home life and school districts need to provide adequate counseling and other resources. Some of our kids today do not feel as if they have many options and need an escape every now and then. As a teacher, if I know a kid is having monumental issues at home, I quickly refer them to therapy and find ways to support them in the classroom. The classroom needs to be an inviting place that kids enjoy entering even with boring test prep. That's not to say that running is acceptable at all. Kids have lost some of their boundaries if many of them are running, even in the hallways, often.
    Could your school reevaluate expectations, referral methods, and classroom/school focus?

  2. Hi Christina, thanks for your comment! I come from a building where many (most?) students also have difficult, broken, and unfortunate home lives. I agree completely that what happens at home can have a VERY negative effect on what happens in school. When all that pressures of home, school, and life in general builds up, running seems like a good "escape."

    We are very lucky to be one of the buildings in the district that has community mental health support staff in-house (on top of myself, the counselor, and school social worker). We have 3 1/2 full-time mental health counselors or social workers who assist in crisis and provide counseling for our students. All of our "runners" are being seen by someone for counseling, some multiple individuals. Some of them are also seen by outside agencies. Some of them are in special education, and are in self-contained classes. Somehow it doesn't seem like enough.

    Our school is also getting a bit of an overhaul. We had a new administration come in who is cracking down on the crazy and making the focus on academics. However, the principal is getting some backlash from staff that has been in "comfortable apathy" about education for the past few years because the building and students can be a little rough and it can be easier to “not deal.” But when your building is one of the lowest in the district and is at-risk by state standards, things need to change, big time. Plans are being made for next year to increase the use of PBIS in the building, increase rewards for appropriate behavior, and really work towards universal enforcement of expectations (not all staff reinforce to the same degree). The principal is hoping to create a more positive, reinforcing, inclusive, engaged school climate.

  3. Some things to look for....what are the students doing when they are not running. How can that be imitated in other situations from which they typically run? Also how can their desired behavior (running) be used in a planned manner? If seen running in the hall, is there a gym that they can be transferred to where they run several laps in a directed manner and for which they earn points to return to the classroom or some method to shape inappropriate behavior into more appropriate behavior? These are methods that have worked elsewhere, where interventions start "out of the box" but then are shaped back "into the box". Good luck!

  4. Thanks for your comment, my Anonymous friend! I agree about targeting the reason why they run and using it to our advantage. Sometimes students leave the classroom to escape to something better, i.e. they leave the classroom to visit a preferred adult. If this is the case, we definitely involve that adult in a plan to keep the student on-track and in the classroom, and use time with that person as a reward. It gives the child what they want, but only if they do what is expected first.


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