In this lesson, we are going to discuss the importance of relationship building and establishing the right mindset when thinking about students with disabilities.
Do you remember any specific teachers from the past that influenced you in a positive way? It’s probably not because of the content they taught, but because of the relationship you formed with them.
You probably remember the way he or she treated you, how you felt in their class and the types of interactions you had. Now how can you make students with disabilities feel the same way in your class?
• Liam is a 4 year old student in a pre-k classroom.
• He loves being around his peers.
• He has a vocabulary of 20-40 words and can only produce a one word phrase to communicate to his teachers and peers.
• He struggles with transitions across his day. He is currently using a visual schedule and visual timer to support activity to activity transitions.
• He loves all animals and dinosaurs.
We are going to reference Liam throughout this lesson.
Remember the three components that make up a pretty good life? Somewhere to go, someone to love, and something to do. It’s important that you keep this in mind when supporting students with disabilities.
To do our part in ensuring the individual has a pretty good life, we must presume competence for all students. Presumed Competence means that we should assume all students are competent and able to learn, because to do otherwise would result in harm.
If it turns out we’re wrong about a student’s ability to learn the same material as their peers – it’s okay, because we haven’t harmed the student by assuming they were incapable of learning. That’s why it’s called “the least dangerous assumption.”
The potential consequences of NOT presuming competence are much more dangerous to the student. They would miss out on so many learning opportunities that could greatly impact their life.
So what does “presuming competence” look like in action? How does it affect the way a teacher speaks to and about students? Here are some indicators to consider:
• You should use person-first language, which means you should talk about the person before the disability. You should talk about who they are, not what they have. For example, you should say you have a student with autism spectrum disorder instead of saying an autistic student. It’s important to remember that the individual you are working with is someone’s child and you want to use language that is respectful. Think about how you would want someone to talk about your child if they had learning, behavioral, or social difficulties.
• When describing an individual, focus on his or her abilities and needs. Avoid language that classifies a student based on functioning or developmental level.
• When writing IEP goals, they should be aligned to the Louisiana State Standards and the grade level the student is enrolled in. Often teachers write IEP goals that align to the grade level based on the students cognitive ability, but IEP goals should be aligned to the grade level based on chronological age. Consider looking the grade level standard, and scaffolding the goal by creating objectives. The Louisiana Department of Education website has many resources that can help you with this.
• Students are seen as capable of learning. Educators shouldn’t predict that students will never acquire certain knowledge or skills. All students will not learn at the same rate, but overtime teachers will learn the best strategies that work for individual students. It’s important for students with disabilities to be viewed as individuals who can participate in the classroom, share and gain knowledge from each other, and have the same access as their peers.
• Educators should speak directly to students rather than speaking through a buffer such as a para educator or other adults. Sometimes it’s in our nature to just respond for the individual because we know they may not have a form of communication or know the words to appropriately respond. That’s why it’s critical that all students have a way to express themselves. If you would like more information, view our communication course, Building a Communicative Environment that emphasizes the importance of giving all students their own voice.
• Privacy is respected. Staff members discuss personal care, medical needs, and other sensitive issues regarding students out of earshot of others and only with those who genuinely need the information. An individual who has a disability is a person who is entitled to the same dignity, consideration, respect and rights you expect for yourself.
Now that we have established the right mindset when thinking about students with disabilities, we will discuss the importance of establishing and sustaining positive relationships.
There are many important concepts to teach in pre-k, but building positive student relationships is one of the most important! The CLASS evaluation tool indicates that a high quality pre-k classroom reflects a positive emotional connection between the teachers and students. In addition, there must also be a positive emotional connection between students. This emotional connection must project warmth, respect, and enjoyment by verbal and nonverbal interactions.
So how do we establish an emotional connection with students? When working to build relationships with your students, think of it as building an emotional bank account. When we go to the bank, we either deposit or withdraw money from our personal account. Now let’s put that into perspective for building relationships. You want to make deposits into the student’s emotional bank account by creating and building on positive moments. The more deposits you make the better, since you may have to make a few withdrawals when times get tough. You will want to have some cushion to protect that emotional relationship you’ve worked so hard to create.
There are many ways in which you can build positive relationships with your students. You can find something in common with the student, create a unique greeting, follow the students’ lead during play, incorporate their interests into lessons and activities, and use a patient and understanding tone/body language when interacting with the student.
Think about some ways in which you can build positive relationships with the students in your classroom.
We know this is a lot easier said than done, but try your best to avoid making withdrawals. Think about a bad day that you’ve had, a day you didn’t feel good or didn’t feel like being at work. On a bad day, you may have displayed negative language or interactions with a student. For example, you attempt to control students by yelling threats at them, such as, “You better start behaving or you won’t play outside today.” The students emotional bank is now empty due to this one negative interaction.
For every one negative comment you make or negative interaction between you and the student, your student will loses five positive deposits! Negative comments sting a little less, when a student’s emotional bank is full of positive comments!
Now we’re going to watch an example of what building positive relationships may look like in the pre-k classroom. As you watch this video, look for how the teacher enjoys participating in game of charades with the students and notice how she shares in the student’s enthusiasm. The teacher and students frequently smile, laugh, and display enthusiasm as they participate in the activity together.