written by Sarah Nowack, DMS 5th Grade teacher
The last two school years provided me with opportunities to deal with some challenging behaviors- more so than in my previous two decades of teaching. Over the summer, I ran across this book title and mentioned it to Shannon Horton. Well, I had long forgotten about the book, but the librarian-extraordinaire hadn’t forgotten. She not only bought the book for our school professional library, but she delivered it to my classroom. I’ll admit, the hullabaloo of the new school year (combined with coaching a fall sport and taking grad classes) meant I didn’t really get around to reading the book right away. But, now that I have read the book, I can’t wait to tell others.
Here’s the short version: if you are a teacher, you should read Lost at School by Ross W. Greene!
Okay, okay...you need more convincing? Here’s the longer version: Lost at School by Ross W. Greene addresses why our kids with behavioral challenges are falling through the cracks and offers suggestions about what we can do to help them. Dr. Greene explains that students inherently want to behave. Children don’t really want to be naughty (or get in trouble for doing so), Rather, those students are lacking important thinking skills – think of it as a non-academic learning disability. Through an easy-to-read text, Dr. Greene presents CPS (collaborative and proactive solutions) as a means of reaching those students who have social, emotional, and behavioral challenges and helping them to develop those lacking skills. Using CPS looks very different than our traditional reward and punishment discipline plans. He calls the reward/discipline approach Plan A- it doesn’t teach students the skills they lack or help them problem solve possible solutions. Using Dr. Greene’s Plan B looks very different as it works with the student to develop the skills they are lacking.
Lost at School breaks down Plan B into three steps -- the “empathy step,” the “define adult concerns step,” and the “invitation step.”
The most powerful parts of the book for me were the case studies. In chapter after chapter, the reader is given examples of teachers having conversations that follow the three steps of Plan B, and through these examples, we are able to see the power of the skill-building conversation.
One concern, of course, is that the process takes too much time, but it can actually save time in the end by eliminating the need to repeatedly deal with problem behaviors. In fact, there is data to support that taking the time to do this can actually improve test scores. Dr. Greene discusses how teachers spend time focusing on academics but not behaviors of challenging kids. One possible reason for this is that we don’t have to report behavioral data. But- BUT- these are the kids we are losing. Haven’t we all noticed that many of our students who struggle with behavior are the same kids who also struggle academically?
Another concern is about the other students- “The other kids aren’t behaving themselves because of the discipline code, they’re behaving themselves because they can (p. 175).” To that I can only say that we don’t teach every student academics the exact same way, especially if they are struggling, and applying rigid behavioral consequences to everyone in the exact same way may not be the most effective approach.
Please let me be clear- Dr. Greene is not suggesting that schools eliminate all traditional discipline methods. Detention, loss of privileges, and other traditional consequences can all be effective in many circumstances. When traditional methods fail us, though, it might serve us all well (teachers, students, parents, and administrators) to have a model we can turn to that can help us teach students the behavioral skills they are lacking. Our school mission statement says that “individual needs are addressed,” and Plan B as described in Lost at School offers us one more way to meet the individual needs of some of our most challenging students.
Feel free to reach out to me if you have read Lost at School or are interested in talking about trying Plan B! I’d love to keep the conversation going...
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