The other day I was chatting to the mum of a child with ADHD and she was telling me that her child’s teacher was ringing her every day telling her all the things her child wasn’t doing right at school. You can imagine how much the mum looked forward to that daily call! One day the teacher told her the “he refused to stop what he was doing and go onto the next task”. Now anyone with any knowledge of ADHD will know that some children with ADHD struggle to move between tasks because their brains just don’t allow it. Dr Daniel Amen calls this “over-focused ADD” and it is caused by low levels of serotonin and dopamine in the brain.
My personal crusade is to change the language people use around children, and adults, about their learning difficulties by educating them about what it actually is and why certain children behave in a certain way. The child who “refuses to change tasks” is actually unable to easily move from task to task like his neurotypical counterparts. Imagine hearing only negative words in relation to yourself and how you learn – eventually you are going to believe you are stupid or naughty! It makes me so mad!!! These children need our empathy, they need our understanding and as educators we have a responsibility to build children up not tear them down.
A few years ago I was managing an outside school hours’ service, which was going through a difficult time and a lot of staff unrest. There were also a lot of behavioural challenges between the children and the educators. The first thing I noticed was that they were not working as a team and that it was an “every man for himself” kind of mentality. With management’s approval, I instigated a 15 minute earlier start time for the afternoons and made everyone come together in a team huddle.
Initially, I found that the 15 minutes was mainly me talking and trying to motivate the team. Over time it evolved into a time the team could reflect on the day before, by sharing any challenges they had encountered and getting feedback from their peers about different ways of coping with them. This started to build trust within the team and they slowly started working together more effectively.
Because I like numbers and statistics I used to keep detailed records of incidents, like when and where they occurred as well as the child and educator involved. I used this information for rostering and training purposes. If I had repeated incidents with the same child and educator I would spend time observing their interactions.
What I noticed with most of the educators was that within their own interactions with the children, they were using negative language and telling children what they didn’t want to see instead of the behaviours they did want to see. The other observation was that during the team huddle, if one educator shared an incident involving a specific child with the group, the educator who had that child in their group that day, immediately reacted negatively and set themselves and the child up for failure.
One particular day, I made each educator say three positive things about a child before they could talk about a challenge or issue they were having. It took some time for the educators to think up three great things but eventually, as it became more of a habit, they automatically started thinking about the children in a positive way. This changed their entire interaction and relationship with the children.
I am fully aware that educators today have a massive, often under-appreciated job, with big classes and an ever increasing curriculum which includes standardised testing. Their job is tough but we need to find a way to work and talk together because the problem of ADHD, and other learning difficulties, in the classroom is not going away, in fact it is growing