15 October 2008

Stop Sign

What if kids could simply say, "leave me alone, I'm having a bad time (or day)"? Would that reduce the crazy classroom pressures that make things worse for so many of our kids?

Last night in the class I teach my co-teacher, Barb Meier, was leading a session in "Low-Tech AT." She brought a million things to class, from slips of colored paper to a forty-pound bag of sand, and challenged these teachers-to-be to consider all the ways they might use these tools. One group of students, holding up a strip of red paper, suggested that a student having a bad day might put it in front of them, to signal "do not disturb."

How wonderful.

I often suggest to students that there are times when they need to escape. As human animals we all have our "fight or flight" reflex. And when pressures build in the classroom, or enter the classroom with a student who has struggled with the world on the way in to school (or at home, or in the cafeteria, et al.), a kid who feels trapped is a kid who will "fight" - one way or the other.

So, I try to tell students, "escape if you have to." "Don't make a scene, just quietly slip out the door, take a walk, get a drink, relax for a bit. Get yourself under control, then come back."

And if the school goes along, this works really well. With some students I've been able to do things like designating a tree - observable from the school office. If you need to, the rule is, go to the tree - as long as you're at the tree, no one will bother you. At other times it has been a corner in the school library, or the top of the bleachers in the gym - wherever, safe, observable, out of the way.

But most schools won't go along with this. They trap students and literally back them into a corner. This not only ends up in upset, completely distracted students, it disrupts the class, and it fails to teach students a basic life skill.

So, if your school will not allow actual student escape, let's try this "stop sign" - this "do not disturb" sign. Create a simple, student controlled signal that lets students back away when they need to. No being called on, no being asked to read, no involvement in the moment's class activities.

I'm not suggesting that you allow students to do this every hour of every day without intervening, that wouldn't be responsible, and it wouldn't be human, but I am suggesting that giving students this option might help take a huge bit of pressure off, allowing students a great deal more comfort.

Because only comfortable students really engage, really learn. Uncomfortable students are using half their brain dealing with the discomfort.

- Ira Socol


Cheri said...

This is an amazing idea. The way schools do it now teaches learned helplessness and hoplessness. This program would allow students the dignity of being human, and help them to learn effective coping mechanisms that they can take with them through life.

I love it, and I will definitely suggest it at my local school district.

Unknown said...

I am in awe that you have given voice to my life. I have questions for you, but am unsure how all this works. I don't know the protocol. All I know is I have documented my daughters life as well as my own, and you are writing it out here in your blog. In fact, I was just about to post another page from my daughters graphic journal that expresses specifically what you have just made note of.

You have a clarity that I can't seem to find at the moment.

loonyhiker said...

I had two stuffed animals: a pink happy dinosaur w/sunglasses for when I was in a good mood and a mean looking bull when I was in a bad mood. My high school students came in to see which was on my desk. If the bull was ever out, they were on their best behavior and didn't mess with me. I didn't use it often so they really respected it when it was out. I even told students they could borrow it if they needed it as a signal for us that they were having a bad day and needed us to leave them alone. Sometimes the kids borrowed it. They needed to see that there was a way to handle their emotions and this was one of them that I modeled. It worked well with my students.

Anonymous said...

Mornin Glorie....ah..here you are... the same principle works with dogs too...you just have to learn to recognize the do not disturb sign... why would anyone have a problem with this!

Miss Shuganah said...

I have many days where I want a Do Not Disturb sign, but I'd want to add, "Depends on who you are." Some people can disturb me even when I am in an exceedingly bad mood. I actually welcome it.

Maybe "do not disturb, but you can tell me a joke." Or other options. Sometimes I really do feel I am in a Greta Garbo frame of mine, but other times I want/need someone to disturb me or at least do a wellness check. "Are you OK?" "Yeah. Thanks for asking, now leave me the hell alone." Often I want to talk, but to a designated listener. Not just to anyone. And not to be confused with a counselor either but a particular friend or companion. That may involve a kind of social contract.

And maybe for us more sensitive souls... "Nothing personal" in fine print.

Years ago when I was a legal proofreader, the department and the company at large was so dysfunctional, I'd go around without my glasses on so that if people said Hi I could pretend that I didn't see them. Legitimized being able to ignore unwanted cheerfulness imposing on my space. My eyesight isn't really that bad. My left eye is pretty nearsighted but my right eye is almost 20/20. But it's a fiction and comfort zone I've created for myself. I tend to be overly mindful of personal space because I require a lot of it. Because of that I sometimes need to be clued into when it is OK to approach. A Do Not Disturb sign on others would help me.