We need to work together

Perhaps you’ve seen this Facebook post, it has been shared heavily in the past few days.  I’m interested in your thoughts?

I’d like to begin by sharing a few of my initial reactions to this post.  To begin with, the children that are being referenced here are elementary school children, likely with special needs, keep this in mind as you read it.  The post equates the behavior of these children with abusive relationships – this is troubling. While I agree that teachers should have a safe working environment, we should not “run away” from the children that need our help the most.  It concerns me that stories like this encourage the ideology that “these kids” don’t belong in our schools. “These kids” should be in alternative placements for violent children. I would contend that children who are exhibiting challenging behaviors are likely not having their individual needs appropriately met.  Behavior is communication, we need to listen.

I want to make it clear that our mission at The Alliance Against Seclusion and Restraint is to support safer schools for students, teachers, and staff.  We believe that to create safer schools we need to better support behaviorally challenging children and provide them with a free and appropriate public education in their least restrictive environment.  Inclusion is not only the right thing to do but when done properly it benefits all children. The author suggests “standing your ground and finding alternative placements” is part of the solution. There is, of course, a process for determining the needs of children and determining their least restrictive placement the process is defined by Federal law (IDEA/ADA).  The answer to the issue of behaviorally challenging children in our schools is not discrimination or segregation. The answer is not disproportionate suspension and expulsion, these solutions do not address the underlying issues that lead to challenging behaviors. While consequence and reward may help adults feel that justice has been served it will not solve the underlying problem.  Have we learned nothing from the era of zero-tolerance policies, which feed the school-to-prison pipeline?   

As readers of our page (The Alliance Against Seclusion and Restraint) know, restraint and seclusion lead to injury, trauma and even the death of children.  We also know that the use of restraint and seclusion leads to trauma and injury in teachers and staff. However, there is often the false narrative that restraint and seclusion are tools that keep teachers safe, the data simply doesn’t support this conclusion.  However, the idea is supported by teacher unions and superintendent associations. If we want to make our classrooms safer for all we need to better address challenging behaviors through proactive approaches.             

The post asserts that “because I’m a teacher and my heart is made of glitter and marshmallows and happiness and rainbows”.  I would agree that there are many amazing teachers out there doing their best to educate and inspire our children. Teaching is an important profession.  However, like in any profession, some of our teachers are amazing, some are average and some are bad. As I learned from Dr. Ross Greene “children do well if they can” and I would support the notion that “teachers do well if they can” as well.  Many teachers lack the resources and training needed to meet the individual needs of some of our children. When teachers lack the appropriate training and methodology they may inadvertently escalate behavioral issues rather than resolve or de-escalate them.          

What is the solution?  We need to do a better job supporting children that exhibit challenging behaviors.  We need trauma-informed approaches that are based on modern neuroscience. As suggested by Dr. Mona Delahooke we need to look beyond the behaviors and understand brain science.  We need to work with children proactively and collaborate to solve problems. We need to understand that “kids do well if they can” and if a child is not doing well realize that they may have lagging skills and unsolved problems.  We need to help children develop skills and solve problems to be successful. I believe in approaches like the Collaborative Proactive Solutions (CPS) model developed by Dr. Ross Greene and the Lives in the Balance organization can help us address challenging behaviors in our classrooms.  I believe, as I’ve learned from Dr. Greene’s work, that most problems are predictable and can be solved proactively. This means we should have the ability to reduce the use of crisis management techniques that ruin relationships and put students, teachers, and staff in danger. While ideally, crisis management should be rare, there are crisis management options, such as Ukeru, that are trauma-informed and do not rely on restraint and seclusion.                  

I agree we’ve got to do better!  Our classrooms should be inclusive and safe for all.  We need to work together – students, parents, teachers, advocates, and school administrators. 

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