Brene Brown, Ph.D. is a researcher who has focused her studies on the topic of vulnerability and shame. You may have read her books or watched her Ted Talks. Her research on shame is thought-provoking. She says, “Shame is the most powerful, master emotion. It’s the fear that we’re not good enough.”  She talks about shame being used in schools and how detrimental it is. When you consider that shame keeps us from whole-hearted living, which is the place where we believe we are worthy of love, you understand the significance of shame.

I recently saw a video where Dr. Brown applied these concepts to classrooms, and I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt, that she was spot on.  She explained the impact shame has on students.  She said, “Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change.” This is powerful when you consider the punitive measures typically taken to try to shape the behaviors of people with special needs. An obvious reason many educators struggle with this, is because its hard to relate to a problem you personally don’t have. It seems like it should be easy to stop poking your neighbor’s arm. Many of the behaviors are very annoying. Some of the behaviors include appearing to not to care, have trouble getting started on a new task, struggle to transition, being disruptive,  disorganized,  impulsive, and moving about too much. IT CAN MAKE FOR A LONG DAY.

But we have to help the students. These behaviors have a significant impact on the lives of these students, and our job as educators is to understand that these behaviors are something that the student needs to work on, and should be taught with compassion and your instruction should be free from shaming.

I experimented with ‘teaching from the heart’ when I taught in a self-contained program.  Dr. Brown’s work was not yet published, but I was very interested in personal development at the time. I had just gotten divorced and was working on myself and I wanted to apply what I was learning to my work as an educator.  Each morning during my last 5-10 minutes of my drive, I listened to positive music. My favorite CD was by Bliss, and the song I liked to play was Hundred Thousand Angels. The music elevated my mood. Then from that space, I would state positive affirmations about how I wanted to ‘show up’ as my students’ teacher. I would say things like, “I make a difference in the way my class feels. My students love my class.  I empower my students. I know what my students need, and I deliver it. My students need me. I make a difference.” AND… lo and behold, it worked like magic. I felt good about my work, and I was calm and kind. I helped them with their behaviors, and they all improved. I never used any of the behavior monitoring charts or changed any colors. No frowning faces next to their names. I didn’t need them. I calmly worked on their behaviors, and none of them annoyed me. Now, I  did get a few laughs out of some of the behaviors, because some of the things that the kids say or do can be quite funny, but I was not angered by them. I was grounded and calm, and my students behaviors got better and better.

Here are some examples of how I handled behaviors:

Example: In an encouraging tone I would say, “I know you are trying to remember to walk to the line. I know you can do it. All of us support you, don’t we class? Let’s try it again…..Wow, that was perfect. YES!” (This helps all students learn to be supportive.)

Example: “I like how you are trying so hard. You are getting better and better at not getting into Jodi’s backpack. Yesterday you did not even touch it!! I see progress!  You don’t want Jody to get angry with you for getting into her backpack.  What do you think would help you remember to stop when you want to look in her backpack?”  (This is an example of coaching the student to figure out what to do. If they can’t think of something, suggest something like squeezing a ball. Coming up with suggestions is easier if you have a feel for what need is being met by  rummaging through that backpack. Keep trying to come up with ideas. Ask the parents for suggestions. BUT- Don’t get mad. Stopping something like this is truly difficult for the student. He/she is learning to resist the impulse to do this.)

Example: ” It’s hard to get started on math, because math can be a real pain in the neck. You have 5 problems to solve. If you can get 3 of these math problems done, we can take a break, and  I will talk with you about the rain in Michigan. If you can get all 5 done, I will even tell you about a blizzard we had one winter.” (I acknowledged that the work was hard, and then threw a reward in. This student loved the weather. I could get him to finish his work by dangling a weather story that would take me a minute or so to tell. He absolutely loved the story of my dad slipping on the ice in front of the bank in down town Big Rapids. LOL)

Lastly, be kind to yourself. We don’t have all the answers. No one does. You likely became a teacher to make a difference.  Like Maya Angelou said, “When we know better, we do better.” All throughout our lives and careers we keep learning. We apply what we learn, and we explore ways to improve upon what we are doing. We are reflective practitioners. There is always more to learn. Breathe and be calm.

Here is the link to  Brene Brown’s video : Video