Monday, August 9, 2010

"What are you trying to tell me with your hands?"

At our Snail Trails Camp, we deal with kids with all kinds of needs. We have kids with behavioural things, communication stuff, physical quirks, developmental differences. While last year was the year our program focuses on special needs, and I learned a lot then, I am learning buckets and tonnes and heaps and I can't even tell you.

So it's nice to know that all that learning is actually shifting things and settling in, in different ways.

I am lucky to have had some really amazing models - in my placements, in my reading, in my courses at school and in my mentors. I have found myself really thinking and questioning the way I communicate with the kids that I work with and how to do so clearly and descriptively, rather than directively, vaguely, bewilderingly or demandingly. I have been working hard and changing how I talk with kids for the last two years. So here's a story about how I'm coming along with it.

One of our kids, a boy who no doubt would be labeled a problem kid in a regular setting, has some processing and communication differences, as well as having almost no impulse control. The little guy basically goes from 0 to 100000000000 in a REALLY short amount of time. He strikes out, out of frustration or not being able to say what he wants or process what he's feeling or for scads of other reasons, and we've been working to model other ways of getting what he wants.

One day last week, our friend spun out of control outside on the playground and was doing his regular jumping and twisting and smacking routine, and as I moved between him and another bystanding child, he swatted and smacked me a couple of times. Without really thinking, that question just came out of my mouth - "What are you trying to tell me with your hands?" As I led him over to a quieter part of the playground, I helped him get calmed down and organize himself again. I've been thinking about that question since last week, and really wondering about it. I meant it when I asked him, which means that my assumptions have really shifted on a foundational level about what motivates behaviour and what might have been going on. I also didn't yell, or say no, or ask him to tell me he was sorry, or any of a number of unclear and not useful things I could've said, and have probably done in the past. I really wanted to know what was going on for him, and was modeling a tool he could use when he started feeling internally unbalanced, which seems to happen often for him.

That feels awesome. I am really working hard on my communication, and it's paying off. I'm sure I'll flub it up again in the future, but it feels good to know that I'm digesting these things I'm learning. It's lead me to imagine a classroom environment that sees conflict as attempted communication, and gives me a lot more room to work with it. And it makes me think about all kinds of other questions, disarming questions like that, thoughtful questions that we can ask ourselves and the kids we work with, to dig deeper into the how/why we do the things we do.

nerd out.


  1. You're becoming a very wise teacher Noah. You should feel really proud of yourself ... You ARE going to make a difference my friend!
    Donna :) :)

  2. I'm so glad you're a teacher, Noah.

    And of course you'll screw up again. Everyone does, every day. I once heard a parent educator tell one of my parents, "If you're the kind of parent the books describe 30 percent of the time, you're the best parent in the world." So let's say that goes for teachers as well!

    Nerd out yourself, my friend!