Five steps to eliminate challenging behaviors in your classroom.

Growth Mindset — One student’s story

He was labeled as the “worst” student in his school

Our new student would start in our program on Monday. I spent the weekend re-organizing and anticipating what he might need.

As a coach, mentor, teacher or leader the first step to help others grow is to develop the right attitudes within yourself. Once you have growth mindset skills you can teach them to your students. That is where it starts.

Autism is generally diagnosed before the age of three hopefully leading to the start of early intervention and support. By the age of five these kiddos have a well thought out IEP (Individualized Education Plan) to support them through their educational journey. Many start out in a school setting with the right environment where educators have training and skills to work with their unique learning needs.

However, in many cases early diagnosis does not happen and many of these wonderful students get lost in the system. Every year we would get one or more students into our Autism Program that no one knew what to do with.

Our new student, a fourth grader, had been expelled numerous times since first grade and was labeled as the “worst” student in his school. All of his teachers were very caring individuals and all found something wonderful to say about him. But what was amazing was why it took so long for him to get the specialized help he needed.

He showed up in our classroom on Monday morning with his parents, He walked into the class, very maturely hung up his backpack and curiously stated — “Is this my new classroom?” We welcomed him and showed him his desk. As he proceeded to start his day, it took us all of five minutes to realize that deep down he was a wonderful sweet caring curious individual.

Within the first hour it was apparent that he had significant sensory and organizational issues. He started the day with a laminated schedule. By the first hour he had chewed and torn it through without even knowing what he had done. At his other school he would have been in trouble for tearing it up. He just required that much sensory stimulation just to keep himself going. He was up and down constantly in the classroom and was prone to making random noises during the day. It took him so much effort to control his body that by the afternoon he was completely exhausted. He had little tolerance, so anytime something was too difficult he would tear up his papers. If confronted he may want to throw or hit something or someone nearby..

Too much baggage, he believed he was the “bad kid”

By fourth grade, all of his experience and internal programming led him to believe that he was the “bad kid”. We had lots of work to do. How fun we thought.

One of the first things we did was make sure that he got a therapist and the family was on board. The family needed to begin to see him in a new light. He really was a sweet curious caring soul. Not what the school system had labeled him out to be.

Our program was already based on Growth Mindset principles, so our students knew the language and the skills to coach each other. Our new student needed intense interventions and the help of all his classmates to shift his perspective to a more positive view of himself. He believed he could not learn and grow. He believed he could not change his destiny.

He learned he could change his outcome.

Our program supports daily lessons about how the brain works. Students role-play and write books about growth mindset principals. They write speeches for when they “win” the Nobel Prize in their respective fields. They read many biographies of successful people and how failure plays a key part along the way. They practice and rehearse how to coach each other in persistence and growth mindset language. Students even track their own progress on a Growth Mindset rubric.

If you have not yet read Carol Dweck’s Book — Mindset (The New Psychology of Success) you owe it to yourself and your students to do so.

Carol Dweck’s Growth Mindset Principals are

  1. Intelligence is not fixed but can be developed

2. We don’t have a desire to be smart but a desire to learn.

3. We don’t avoid challenges but embrace them..

4. Effort is a pathway to mastery.

5. We aren’t threatened by others successes but inspired by them.

We are all a product of our environment.

Here are the five key pillars to create a Growth Mindset Program.

1. Don’t Judge

Think about the why, not what the student might be doing. Our student was tearing up the schedule we had made for him. Not judging, allowed us to just observe the situation and identify how to help.

2. Welcome failure

Explain to your students that they learn more from getting the wrong answer than getting the right answer the first time. To F.A.I.L is the First Attempt In Learning.

Teaching skills to deal with not getting the right answer the first time greatly reduces stress and anxiety about doing something new. Outbursts and avoidance behaviors will be diminished.

3. Recognize Effort

Recognize the effort not the result when giving praise or encouragement. “You are working hard”, not “Look at how many you got correct”. This develops their perseverance and helps them realize that effort leads to results.

4. Have high Expectations

Having high expectations tells your students that you know they can do it. They will develop an internal confidence because you believe in them.

5. Small progressive steps

It is easy to become overwhelmed when learning something new. Think about what it was like to learn to drive a car. Allow your students to absorb one instruction at at time. Then add steps as they build mastery. This process builds trust and confidence.

Tell your students that the more they do something the smarter they get.

He thanked his Mom, Dad and Teachers along the way.

Our student went on to graduate fifth grade with the rest of his class. He continues to struggle with his anxiety, organization and sensory issues, but he has embraced the fact that he is able to change his outcome. He works diligently on his challenges and is able to self-coach himself and others using growth mindset language. I am now sure that he will go on to do great things.

In his Nobel Prize presentation he said that he created the first “Eco” flying car and he thanked his Mom, Dad and teachers along the way. Someday I might see a flying car overhead and think, maybe our student did that.

We are all a product of our environment. As teachers, leaders, mentors, coaches we always have a choice on what environment we will create for our students. It all starts with ourselves. Do we have a growth mindset or do we sometimes forget and get comfortable with the fixed way of the status quo?

Challenge yourself on Carol Dweck’s five principals, then think about your class culture? Does it support the five principals? If you have a desire to reduce the behavior problems within your classroom, these principals may just be the key for you. And you might even have some fun along the way.