Friday, September 25, 2015

Year 6: Week 4 – Group Therapy Sessions

“Okay, that’s it, everyone out!”
A couple times this week, the atmosphere during a lesson got so tense that I just had to pause, and kick everyone out of the classroom and find another spot in the school for a group therapy session.

Even though I’m in my tenth year of teaching, things don’t always run smoothly in class and last week was an example of this. Now it’s not that I have horrible kids this year. I actually have some really awesome students that I’m really enjoying working with. The reason I feel I needed to stop my lessons and spend a significant sit-down, is that some of my classes have challenging group chemistry and I want to prevent little annoyances from developing into major issues later in the year.

It’s really hard to steer a lesson back on track that has completely gone off the rails. Sometimes the best way to clear the air is to get out of the classroom and have a talk in the hallway or in another place in the school. During the three times I did this last week, this strategy had the desired effect.

The change of space had an immediately refocused my classes. Physically getting them into a new space relieved tension and allowed my students to take a step back. Also the transition gave me a couple minutes to think and prioritize my kids’ feelings my own curricular goals.

With my younger kids, I lectured them and gave a couple kids a chance to have input. I told them that they were powerful and that kids their age have the potential to change their classroom, the school and society as a whole. I told them that I firmly believed that they wanted things to run well in the classroom and that distracting individuals were acting not out of malice. They just didn’t understand how a mistimed joke derailed the class. I told them that I would continue to give them choices in class as that is sign of respect to them. However I added the caveat that if they made poor choices I would take this freedom away and treat them like a younger student. I would believe in their positive potential until they showed me otherwise.

My 8th graders were a different story. I sat my students around a large conference table and I let them go at each other. I made sure that no one interrupted each other and I ensured that everyone got their voice heard. I forced my students to rephrase what other people said before they got to express their own opinions and after letting them get their feelings out in the open, I reiterated common positive themes that were evident, though sometimes buried, within the discussion.

In all of the situations, stopping the class, taking them to another space, pretty much meant that I had to give up on getting anything else done in my lesson. This was frustrating but the following lessons all went really well.

It’s not always the right call to stop a lesson and take the kids to another space in the school for a discussion. But sometimes it’s the only thing that can really clear the air.

In our desire to get music learned, sometimes we ignore social and emotional problems in the classroom. While addressing these issues can hinder curricular progress in the long term, you will get more done in the long run. Even if you don’t, your kids will feel better about the process because you took the time to validate their feelings and help them learns how to be better human beings.

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