Challenging Perspectives and Attitudes: helping our students succeed

We often don't stop to think about how student success depends highly on the training and willingness of staff members working with them. Students with significant disabilities, specifically those with Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, are served by staff who report feeling unprepared to do so. Teachers also report overall negative attitudes toward inclusion models for students with behavior difficulties. These perspectives can make or break student success, which is why it is so important to understand how to target attitudes as a strategy for the implementation of inclusive models. The purpose of this blog is to provide professionals with a guide to perspective taking strategies to be paired with the training of teachers and staff in the area of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders. I would strongly recommend that if you choose to provide training and utilize perspective taking strategies, you do so simultaneously with prevention and intervention strategies in place for the targeted students showing signs of behavioral difficulties.

The 4 factors holding the foundation of negative perceptions regarding the inclusion of students with behavioral challenges in general education classrooms:

1) Additional Knowledge - Teachers across the nation report feeling overwhelmed and under trained to appropriately teach this population of students. 

2) Positive Experiences - Research shows that teachers not only need additional training, but practical hands on experiences with inclusive classrooms to feel comfortable. The teachers who had positive interactions and support with previous inclusive classrooms, which they felt increased their chances of having those positive experiences again. 

3) Support from Administrators/the special education team - Research suggests that the availability of therapists, administrators, and special educators affect teachers success in the classroom. In order to implement any inclusive program, the administrator must support the change as well as the teachers. Both the actual policies and the way those policies are implemented are also important factors to consider when looking at the success of an inclusive program. 

4) Input into decision-making process - Our teachers are the foundation of these inclusion models, making it pertinent that they are viewed as such and invited to be a part of the programmatic decision-making progress. 

Once foundational strategies for changing attitudes are in place, sometimes it is necessary to target perceptions using a direct approach. Factors in a students environment, such as teacher interactions, can influence behavior, both negatively and positively. Teacher and staff perceptions of students can affect how they interact with those students and change the quality of their relationship. Negative interactions with teachers can then play a role in how the students react and behave around those teachers.

Educators with negative attitudes toward students are often victims of "awfulizing"thoughts. This refers to a common irrational thought when someone continuously thinks a situation is "terrible" or "horrible". The bodily damage scale is a tool for combating awfulizing. The idea is that when teachers are able to compare a negative event to a physical injury, they will relate it in proportion to the real unpleasantness of the event. For example, when a student refuses to comply by crumbling up his paper and throwing it at the teacher, the teacher is then asked to place the event on the bodily damage scale.

The question is: how much physical pain would you be willing to endure to have prevented the student from displaying that behavior? This helps to put the situation in perspective. As an educator, I have found myself to be victim of awfulizing thoughts at times and utilizing the bodily damage scale has helped me to put my own thoughts on a more rational level. The Bodily Damage Scale can be altered to include more meaningful items or varying numbers depending on personal preference.

Tips: Direct Ways to Overcome Our Negative Perceptions 

  • Questions to ask yourself or staff members: What internal factors contribute to the behavior? What external factors contribute to the behavior? Why do you think the student displays these behaviors? What goes through your mind when you see the problem behavior? How do you then interact with the student? How do you generally feel about the student? Do you view the behavior as personal? If there was a way to help reduce the problem behaviors, would you be open to it?
  • Factors to understand about the behavior: The behavior is not personal, The student may have environmental factors to consider, the behavior may be based on how they interact at home, they may have unstable adult relationships, the behaviors may be considered culturally normal. 
  • Ask yourself to consider the following the next time the behavior occurs: how terrible or awful is the situation? What are your thoughts? What would you endue to have the student stop? (bodily damage scale)
  • Remember, have realistic expectations because students will display unwanted and undesired behaviors, but it is our reactions to these behaviors that will make the difference 
  • Praise yourself or others for being open to exploring their perceptions as well as for being an educator, since we all know it can be challenging at times. You work in potentially rewarding position and YOU have the gift of changing the lives of children. 


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