Friday, February 26, 2016

Should you ever be Offended?

One thing I watch transpire right in front of me, in every work place I have ever been at is the idea that children are bad.  That they are malicious, and that they want to hurt you as an educator, and as a person.
I have worked with angry kiddo’s, when I say angry, I mean kiddo’s that see red when they lose their temper, and could easily kill you and then go for a milk shake afterwards. The anger blinds them, it freezes their memory, and it creates a barrier between logic, and reason, and rage and carnage. These kiddos are not bad.
I don’t believe there are any bad kiddos.  I believe that there are impulsive kiddos, reactive kiddos, explosive kiddos, but not bad kiddos.
I learned very early in my interactions with children with anger issues, that rule #1 is DO NOT TAKE ANYTHING THEY SAY OR DO PERSONALLY, OR OFFENSIVELY.
I’ll let that settle in for a bit.
When you start thinking that the kiddos you work with are out to get you, you automatically transform from support and helping hand, to trigger, or worse, adversary.
Here’s my logic. As usual, I will tell a personal story to get my point across, and then elaborate deeper on the idea.
I worked with a student that was very aggressive. This kiddo was about 15 years old, he wasn’t a very tall kid, but very bulky, and his hands were very heavy. When I began working with him, he was throwing close to 1000 punches a day at school. This was the second or third kiddo I worked with, that had similar issues. Now when I first started, with a different kiddo, I was green, and had no approach or experience, all I had was instinct. That got me beat up quite a lot. When it came to this specific child though, let’s call him, Bert. When it came to Bert, I had a plan, I had a strategy. I was determined not to get my nose broken, or teeth shoved down my throat. So I did everything by the book. Stood at an angle as to not seem threatening, spoke in short spurts as to accomplish economy of language, I had an open stance whenever I addressed him. I had it all under control.
So there I am, five feet away from Bert, open arms, side stance, “My name is Nelson, How are you?” Bert stands up, looks at me up and down, and before I could even blink an eye, he starts going ballistic. He connected with probably 30 punches to my face and chest in the time it took me to get my hands up and around his arms. My therapy is to stand toe to toe with these tantrums (not a very smart therapy) So there I was trying to weather this storm, getting beat to a bloody pulp, all the while thinking where did I go wrong? I didn’t go wrong, It’s this kid! He’s a bad kid, couldn’t he see I was in an open stance, and non threatening. What the hell was his problem?
I was offended. Really offended. I went back to his file, I read it, and scoffed at some of the things I read. I could not for the life of me,
Find. Something. Good.
So I spoke to my colleagues, and my case manager, and I wanted suggestions, and answers. I didn’t want to get beat like that again. Then I got some great advice from someone who never worked with children before.
If this kid doesn’t even know you, if you just met him, then how can he hate you already? He doesn’t hate you, he just doesn’t understand you, or maybe you don’t understand him.

Ding Ding Ding
A light bulb went off in my head just then.
This kid didn’t have a damn reason to hate me. He didn’t hate me. This wasn’t about me at all.
The next time I met with Bert things went a little differently. I watched him from more of a distance, and discovered just how sensitive to sound he was. I noticed that he didn’t like people to be too close to him, and that whenever someone crossed that personal bubble (his was about 6 feet away from him all the way around) he lashed out. The look on his face when he hit people, was not an angry one, it was not a face that wanted to hurt you, it was fear, and sadness, and most of all it was confusion. He didn’t understand that what he was doing was affecting other people so much. He didn’t understand that when I stood so close to him, and spoke slowly, I was trying to make him feel comfortable.
After 15 minutes or so of just observing I was ready to make contact. I walked and stood about 10 feet from him. When I spoke I covered my mouth to lower the volume of my voice, and I narrated every single thing I did. From walking, to why I was looking at him, to guessing how he felt. He looked at me with a very pleased look on his face. I asked him if I could come closer and sit next to him. He looked at me, very intensely, and then said yes. I walked up slowly, and quietly. I sat next to him, hands out in front of me, palms up.

He lifted his left hand, and put it in my right hand. When I spoke, I whispered he appreciated that. These little adjustments, made this kid go from a malicious, offensive jerk, that was out to ruin my life… to a sweet, loving, and calm kid, who felt happy that someone took the time to understand his needs.
I worked with Bert for 6 months, and graduated him from the program. He learned how to control his impulses, and use his words, or cues to ask for what he needed, instead of aggressively pursuing.
We worked together and went from 1000 punches a day, to 2-3 a week. He flourished, and when I told people about his little intricacies, they also were able to interact successfully.
What changed? How did this kid go from malicious jerk one day, to loving sweet heart the next?
Did he still hit me? Yes! Quite a lot, but my reactions to his aggression is what allowed me a window into motives and triggers for him.
For me, that case was an eye opener. I vowed to never take anything a kid says or does to me as an attack or offense. I worked hard on wording circumstances a certain way to spin it positively, I narrated a whole lot more, and I never reacted to any aggression again.
The difference between getting your nose broken, and just getting a smack on the arm or shoulder, really comes from your reaction.
The child feeds his or her energy from you, and the calmer you are able to assess each situation, the smoother and more successful it will be.
Every child is different.
This may not work for some, but in my experience this method has proven very effective.
Kiddo’s do not want to hurt you, they don’t want to injure you, and they do not want to offend you. They aren’t out to get you. Kiddo’s act aggressively, and behave badly to serve a function. They need extra support, and they need the adult in the situation to be just that… an adult!
You have to set boundaries, you have to stay strong. Some adults may interpret this as having an iron fist, and being very strict.
But the reality is, setting boundaries and being strong, can also come with a fair share of nurture, and a majority share of understanding.
There’s a reason that kid is punching you, or biting you, or screaming horrible phrases at you.
Find that reason, try to understand why.
The first step is not being offended. When a kid tells you they hate you, they are expecting a negative reaction. They are expecting you to validate that they are bad, or that you hate them back.
I’ve watched kiddo’s reactions when they tell me they hate me, and I respond with I love you, and I’m not going anywhere.
Their eye brows immediately go up, and their stare softens. They don’t expect you to say that, they don’t expect that anyone feels that way about them. They are very surprised.
After the initial surprise, they begin to test you, to see if that’s true.
Eventually they realize that you mean what you say. The relationship built after that, is one that will allow you to correct behaviors, and avoid being beaten to a bloody pulps.
The aggression is still there, and you may still get hit here and there, but the level at which it occurs and the intensity and even the length of time will become a lot better.
You will begin to realize how much this kiddo actually loves you, and needs your support.
Better still, you will be equipped with the right mentality and approach to really make a difference in that student’s life.
Please feel free to reach out with questions, or comments, or opposing opinions. Thank you so much for reading!

Next week, I will write about Teacher Voice, and about Whole Group classroom management.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Nurture vs. Hammer

In this first post, I am going to share with you my thoughts on nurture vs. hammer.

Essentially what I am talking about is, when are we being too nice, and when are we being too hard?

Personally I am a big believer in the power of connection. When I meet a kiddo for the first time I like to do everything I can to connect to them. This can be through playing, or making some jokes, or even through bringing up things they are interested in.

For example: when I first started at Rocketship I was excited to meet all my new kiddos. The first kiddo I met was a wonderful, beautiful, intelligent 5th grade autistic girl. She had come to the school a few days early, because we had changed the colors of the walls, and she was no longer going to have the same special education teacher as she had for the last few years. When she got there and saw all the new that surrounded her, she began to cry, and run in search of her beloved teacher Mr. San Martin. I watched her hug him, and cry, and I watched him bring her from a panic, to a calm collected and brave young woman. Once she was calm, I stepped forward and introduced myself. "Hey, I'm Mr. Brasil." She ignored me. I tried again, but again she wasn't interested in my pleasantries. So I tried something else. I had noticed that she had a My Little Pony shirt on, and so I asked, "Do you like My Little Pony?" Her eyes lit up, and she turned to me and began spewing the history of every pony on the show. The rest of her visit, as her mom got to know the amazing new Special Ed teacher Mr. Shook, I continued speaking with the pony enthusiast. This was a week or so before the first day of school. I felt confident that, at the very least, this student would remember our conversation. I figured this would at least give me an opportunity to calm her down on the first day of school. A week came very quickly, and on that first day of school I anxiously awaited our new kiddos. That morning this 5th grade girl walked into our ISE room, she was shy, and hiding her face. Her mom was telling her to say good morning. I'll never forget what happened next. I opened my mouth and said, "Good Morning (Student's name) Ready for your first day?" Her head popped away from her moms side, a huge smile on her face, and she said, "Mr. Brasil!" she ran up and hugged me, and we started our day. The year passed us by in a hurry, and graduation day was upon us. I helped her be brave and walk the stage, and collect her diploma. I watched her as she hugged, and thanked me. At the end she asked, "Mr. Brasil, will you be at all my graduations?" I replied "Yes, of course"

This story may not seem like much. You may be saying, big whoop, a kid liked you. The fact is, that initial reaction, that initial impression is the make or break it when it comes to connection. The one thing I hold very close to my heart is my ability to connect. I use this ability to help my kiddos succeed. The balance between nurture, and hammer in my day to day life at school is very consistent. Kiddo's know exactly what to expect with me. They know that we can joke around and laugh, but that when it's time to work, we get serious. This is a line I have played with for years. Too much nurture, or too much hammer leads our kiddo's to feel like they can walk over us, or it makes them fear us. The trick is to find a balance.

There is no script to follow.

There is no right or wrong.

Here is my steps to finding that line.

#1: CONNECT! Find something, anything that brings the student closer to you. Maybe it's my little pony, maybe it's a game, or a funny joke. Make them feel comfortable and safe. Allow them to show you a side of their personality they are not accustomed to show in school. Allow them to successfully tell you about an aspect of their life that they aren't struggling with. Once you find what it is that will bring you together, go out and learn more about that topic. It will help you when this kiddo is angry, or escalating and isnt listening to anyone or anything.

#2: Set high expectations, but allow for your students to feel successful whether or not they are mastering the material in front of them. It takes a long time for us to fill in the skill or knowledge gaps. Maybe that first day of small group instruction doesn't go perfect. Maybe the student doesnt get one question right. At the end of the group, when you can literally see their head bowed, and their shoulders slumped. Bring up that topic they know everything about. Watch a sad, shame filled kiddo, spring back to life. Watch their confidence grow. If they walk into your group happy, and leave your group happy, I promise you the content will get learned.

#3: Once you feel that your connection is strong, don't be afraid to drop the hammer. Kiddo's need boundaries, and they need to know what will happen if things go wrong. In my groups, I always narrated everything, thus giving my students insight into what consequences may arise if certain behaviors continued. If your connection is as strong as you think it is, they will not want to let you down. They don't want to let you down, but sometimes misbehaving is easier than making the right choices, and consequences are essential in continuing your relationship. After giving your kiddos consequences, you will feel horrible inside. I know I did, when I first started. I felt like they wouldnt want to come back to my groups, or even talk to me. The wonderful thing about connection is just that though. If that connection is built right from day one, they will respect you, and love you more because they'll realize you hate giving consequences just as much as they hate receiving them. You become a team, whether or not you see it that way. Your kiddo will understand.

#4 Always debrief! Always! Always! Always! This is a part that a lot of teachers, and adults in general tend to ignore. This is perhaps the most important part in the sequence, because it turns a consequence into a learning opportunity. Whenever I delve out any consequence, I allow time for the student to stew, and to reflect by his or her self. After the consequence is almost over, I always come over, and talk to them. I explain why the consequence was needed, I talk about the behavior that led to the consequence, and I give the student the opportunity to speak about what he was thinking about, or any clarification. I always ask if they feel the consequence was fair. If they say yes, or if they say no, we still elaborate and speak about it. I validate the students feelings and emotions, by explaining calmly, what I need to see in the future to avoid these consequences. This gives our relationship a check point for the future. Later if they are doing the same thing as before, or are misbehaving, I have something to reference when narrating, or giving a warning.

These 4 steps are easy, it isn't rocket science. But you'd be surprised at just how difficult it is to follow these in the moment. When a kiddo is frustrating you, and you have 29 other kiddos in class, and time is running out. It gets very difficult, but for me anyways, I have trained myself to react like this. These steps are second nature to me, and I have seen a lot of success in my career using them.

Next week I will be discussing something that I feel is the single starting point to having a successful career with children, or a miserable unhappy one. I will be writing about whether or not you should ever be offended by anything your child does or says.

I hope you enjoyed my first post, and if you have any questions about this post, or general behavior questions please reach out.

Thank You for reading!

Sunday, February 7, 2016


Hello all!

My name is Nelson Brasil and this is "You're Their Teacher Not Their Friend." In this blog I will discuss topics that pertain to the world of students and kiddos. I am very passionate about behavior, and have many tips and suggestions for those of you that struggle with tougher kiddos on a daily basis. I hope to partner this blog with a podcast in the next few months so please keep an eye out for that.

Essentially if you have any questions or queries regarding behavior, whether it be for your students, or your own kiddos, I would love to share some tips, and suggestions.

I hope you enjoy this little blog, and I also hope that you find some helpful tips in my writing.