Monday, April 11, 2011

Keep Your Hands, Feet, and Dart Guns to Yourself

Another one of my big challenges is the culture of violence that students bring into the school building with them. One of our universal rules housed under our Positive Behavior Intervention Support (PBIS) program is keeping one's hands and feet to one's self. Yet, all day I hear about kids who try to solve their problems with their hands instead of their heads. Fourth grade students bring in dart guns and BB guns to school. The police get called to take a student home after he throws a table in the lunch room. Middle school girls fight each other on the bus loop. Kids Hulk out and fling chairs across my office. What gives?

 I think the problem exists at two levels. First, students are told at home and on the streets to defend themselves. If I had a dollar for every time I've heard a student say, "My [mom, dad, brother, uncle, etc. etc. ad. nauseum] told me that if someone hits me, I hit them back," Boyfriend and I would be touring the UK this summer. Students learn from their families, the media, and their communities that it's okay to use violence to solve your problems. Did you ever see the Coyote trying to talk out his differences with the Roadrunner? Negative, and look where it got him.

Second, my students lack the necessary coping and problem-solving skills to resolve conflicts more effectively. These kids are reactive and rely on instinct because their culture has made them. They act without thinking nine times out of ten, which usually ends them up in hot water. We'd be adding Germany to our summer vacation if I had a dollar for every time I recite the following mantra with a student: "If he puts his hands on you and you don't hit back, who's going to get in trouble? But if you put your hands back on him, then who will get in trouble?" (Seriously. I can say with complete surety that I have said this at least one 95% of the days we've been in school. The other 5% is when I'm sitting in CSE meetings).

So what to do? Do I open up a School Psychologist Meditation Center where we can all be in peaceful bliss, poised in yoga asanas, chanting my mantra? Not likely, though that would be quite relaxing (I would nap). You have to start small, by encouraging and rewarding instances of positive conflict resolution and teaching the skills needed to make appropriate decisions. Easier said than done, however. You can teach and model and roleplay for 30 minutes every day, but Ronnie might still walk out of the building and jump someone on the way home. We can't change how they react outside the school building, but we have to do our best to reinvent how they behave inside it.

Any suggestions, tips, etc that have worked for others on this topic would be greatly appreciated!

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