Are you using empathy in your classroom management plan? Starting the new year off, the focus begins with building relationships. Working with students with behavior and emotional disorders this becomes even more imperative. I have to know my students. I need to know who they are, why they choose behaviors, and what is really going on for them behind the scenes. If I don’t know these things, I am looking at blank slates and assuming all my students are alike and will react and choose identically. That isn’t the case. Students have buttons that get pushed, students may decide they have had enough, and quickly you are in a place of upset. Knowing their details can make all the difference.
If a student is going to blow, they need someone they can trust to aid the diffusion. When a student does not have that trust or connection, there is no safe path for them to deescalate. How does a student know you are there for them? Because you cared enough to get know them, for the reason they know they are not the blank slate with a generic student X on their desk. Oftentimes, I find my room is a place to deescalate. This week alone, I made it a point on several occasions to let a student know I was on their side, that I was there to support them and ask them, “Hey, what’s going on?” This isn’t a free pass to do as they please. Yet I also can’t change what a student choses to do or say; I can only influence the space around them. That space isn’t visible. And it is different for each young person. I sometimes recommend to another teacher, “just pretend they are wrapped in bubble wrap.” Meaning, they are fragile and will quickly break out of your expectations if handled incorrectly. What is that bubble wrap? It’s empathy. Empathize before you react. They need to feel that, to ever come back to the fold.
My principal came and spoke to me about a student on Friday. She was looking for a new place for him to be during study hall. I ended up thinking about him all weekend. I wondered why I was going to be haven this student needed verses the classroom he was currently in. Reflecting on the stories she shared about his current placement, I realized what I had for this student was empathy. The student was having an issue with another teacher and what he wasn’t getting from her was listening and understanding. For whatever reason, the latest incident ensued and she didn’t want to hear his side and he wasn’t willing to work with her after that. He had a reason, he then wasn’t heard. He was done.
Don’t get wrong. I still expect his behavior to be in check. Always. Nonetheless, I have a keen sense of empathy for the lives, troubles, moods, and the thing that is going to set them off. I may be ok with ear buds, if I stop and listen to why they need them. I may not even question it, because I know this student works better when using them. I may allow a student to use the restroom at a time that may be less than ideal, simply because I can see the alternative. I can see they need that mental break from what is going on in class. That requires empathy, but you can’t have empathy unless you know them. Unless you understand your students.