Students labeled as having emotional and behavior disorders (EBDs) often present multifaceted challenges for teachers, families, and the community. Indeed, academics and teacher practitioners are in agreement that the behaviors exhibited by these students can be so disruptive to a point where they can seriously strain interpersonal relationships with peers, parents, and teachers.
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Historically, students with an EBD have not only been labeled as the toughest to teach, the most segregated, and the most likely to perform poorly in the school setting, but are often judged harshly by others as being insolent, disobedient, and engaging in actions that interfere with the educational progress and obstruct the learning process (Fitzpatrick & Knowlton, 2009). Yet, these students must be assisted to get some education with the view to facilitate their self-sustenance and capacity to become productive members of society (Bennett, 2006; Regan, 2009). In light of these developments, therefore, the present paper purposes to outline and detail my personal philosophy of teaching students with emotional and behavior disorders.
Classroom Management, Use of Time, and School Climate
My guiding principle in my interactions with students with EBD in the classroom context is a deeply held conviction that all students, irrespective of the conditions and situations in life, should be valued, can learn, and have an intrinsic need to belong (Regan, 2009). I am aware of the fact that a lack of self-awareness and improper use of available time may actually reinforce problematic student behaviors and adversely affect classroom management and the learning process (Leko et al., 2012).
As such, I will manage classroom issues for students with EBD from the perspective that no body has the capacity to control behavior; rather, we as teachers are endowed through training with the capacity to manage student behaviors to facilitate the learning process. In this respect, I will develop and adopt strategies to subdue my own ego in classroom management with the aim to establish enviable levels of trust and common objectives with the students. Available literature demonstrates that personal ego not only hinders a positive classroom environment, but it sometimes validates teacher self-efficacy beliefs, leading to poor teacher-student relationships in the classroom context (Regan, 2009).
The contextual variable of school climate is of particular importance to my teaching philosophy due, in part, to the fact that “…school climate can impact teacher productivity, performance, collaboration, communication, satisfaction, and burnout” (Calderella et al., 2011, p. 1). Indeed, according to these authors, effective school climate has also been positively correlated with diminished incidences of student misbehavior, including alcohol and drug abuse, aggression, antisocial tendency, absences and suspensions from school, violence, internalizing and externalizing behavior challenges, and student delinquency. Consequently, I will use the school environment as a psychosocial phenomenon to positively influence the emotional and psychological factors of students with EBD in critical areas of the self-optimism, self-aspiration, psychological well-being, as well as academic self-esteem (Calderella et al., 2010).
Early Identification, Screening & Grouping Strategies
I will constantly access students’ behaviors to note points of divergence between those exhibited by average students and those exhibited by students with EBD. Indeed, extant literature demonstrates that “…when a teacher is struggling with a particular student behavior or an emotional concern, she should look critically at the behavior a student displays – assess the pattern of the situation and determine the function of the behavior, collect objective data, and consider replacement behaviors” (Regan, 2009, p. 61). Such an assessment, in my view, will go a long way to assist in early identification and subsequent screening of students suspected to be having EBDs.
As postulated by Davis et al (2011), school-wide screening and “…early identification of students who are at risk helps school teams provide timely intervention and support to address problem behaviors before they become entrenched and difficult, if not impossible, to manage” (para. 4). The task for me, therefore, is to be on the lookout for known characteristics of students with EBD, such as low levels of academic success, social alienation, lack of social competency, provocative demeanor, anxiety, sadness, unruliness, delinquency, aggression and fearfulness, among others (Cook et al., 2003; Davis et al., 2011).
Upon screening for repetitive trends of the stated behavioral orientations (Hieneman et al., 2005), I will group the students based on their immediate needs and the level of symptoms, with those most in need receiving more attention in a bid to reinforce positive behavior. However, care will be taken not to segregate students with EBD along the contours of their behaviors by encouraging free association and interactions with normal students (Leko et al., 2012; Scott et al., 2011).
Instruction & Learning Strategies
Teaching students with EBD is obviously a challenging task, but “…when teachers begin to take a proactive role in shaping their perceptions and subsequent behaviors toward a student with EBD, looking closely for the student hiding underneath these behaviors, a positive learning environment and a positive student-teacher relationship ensues” (Regan, 2009, p. 61).
I intend to build a positive learning environment and a positive student-teacher relationship not only by initiating a personalized relationship with every student with the view to establish trust and a commitment to the established rules (Cook et al., 2003; Gagnon & Leone, 2005), but also by empowering the students with a sense of belonging and clarity in an environment in that has explicit roles for learning, instruction, playing, and participating (Cook et al., 2003). I will also be engaged in the provision of creative instruction resources to support the learning objectives and positive behavior development processes of students with EBD (Leko et al., 2012).
Academic and behavioral inadequacies of individuals with EBD are well documented, with available literature pointing to a strong bidirectional correlation between academic difficulties and unsuitable classroom behaviors (Fitzpatrick & Knowlton, 2009). To surmount this challenge, I will adopt evidence-based self-directed intervention strategies, such as self-management, self-reinforcement, self-monitoring, and self-instruction, to assist children with EBD not only to manage their own behavior and actions but also to achieve success with the general education curriculum in inclusive educational settings.
These strategies, according to Fitzpatrick and Knowlton (2009) , will not only avail students with EBD the necessary skills to adapt their own behaviors to environmental demands within the school context, but also ensure that they learn how to become aware of internalized and externalized behaviors that have been earmarked for modification. Interestingly, according to these authors, this methodology will also ensure that the students I teach are able to employ these strategies in the presence of different individuals or diverse environmental stimuli, or in diverse environments altogether.
Available literature demonstrates that “…students learning self-instruction strategies are typically taught one-on-one and are instructed in task-specific procedures” (Fitzpatrick & Knowlton, 2009, p. 257). Following this self-instruction strategy, my instruction philosophy will also revolve around modeling for the students with EBD, and then having the students openly and then clandestinely repeat a sequence of self-instruction prompts such as “Do I really comprehend the dynamics of what I am working on?” and “What is it that I actually don’t comprehend?” In implementing self-instruction strategy to students with EBD, I will follow a strand of literature that employs the following steps: a) identify the social or academic challenges affecting the student, 2) set up materials to attend to the challenges, 3) meet with the students about their exhibited challenges and present them with the strategy, and d) not only obtain a commitment from the students to learn and employ the procedure, but also reinforce the commitment to facilitate effective self-internalization (Fitzpatrick & Knowlton, 2009; Cook et al., 2003).
Social Skills & Working with Home, Community & Other Professionals
Borrowing from the Conflict Cycle Model, it can be synthesized that students with EBD come to the school environment with illogical beliefs and personal convictions, often grounded in their deeply disturbed personal experiences and poor self-concept (Regan, 2009). The beliefs and thought systems persist, causing heightened stress levels that not only affect the students’ emotions and feelings (Bennett, 2006), but also their interactions with peers, family members, teachers, and the community in general (Manning et al., 2009.
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Indeed, Regan (2009) is of the opinion that “…students with EBD are characterized by internalizing (e.g., anxiety, fear, depression, social withdrawal) and externalizing behaviors (e.g., aggression, overactivity, noncompliance, and delinquency” (p. 52). Through constantly engaging family members, the community and other professionals such as psychologists and counselors (Calderella et al., 2011), I believe I stand a better chance to influence the behavior of students with EBD and assist them to develop social coping skills that will be instrumental in helping them to overcome their frustrations in life (Hieneman et al., 2005).
I believe that directing more and carefully selected instruction to students with EBD, along with reinforcing their behavior modification efforts with praise (Scott et al., 2011), will be of immense value in attempts meant to develop social skills in this population. Indeed, according to these authors, research demonstrates that “…positive academic and behavioral feedback, or teacher praise, has been statistically correlated with student on-task behavior” (P. 623). Ill also work out a program that will incorporate the students, family members and the community in constant interactions with the view to avail to them more opportunities to shape and reinforce positive behavior change on the students.
Family members and the community will be encouraged not to use coercive means such as harsh reprimands and abusive language on the students to avoid reinforcing negative behavior (Hieneman et al., 2005). Involving family members, the community, and other professionals in the teaching and management of students with EBD, according to Scott et al (2011), will prevent failures that often result in emotional drain, burnout, and attrition for teachers involved.
Assessment, Accountability, & Self-Reflection
It is detailed in the literature that a teacher charged with the responsibility of teaching students with EBD should be a reflective practitioner; that is, she should take time to access and evaluate her mindsets, biases, and personal perceptions of students with EBD (Regan, 2009). From training and experience, I have developed the capacity to reflect from within and to closely assess the established mindsets and perceptions that I may hold regarding a student who seems less engaged, more likely to exhibit off-task behaviors, and more impulsive, uninvolved, and inattentive (Hieneman et al., 2005).
Upon reflection, it is important to remove my preconceptions and ego on students presenting with such symptoms, in large part because of the fact that children with EBD often display their hurt outwardly but not necessarily directed to the teacher (Manning et al., 2009). In my interactions with students presenting with EBD, therefore, I will be guided by the principle that “…focusing on [my] own reaction is manageable and productive in effecting change in others” (Regan, 2009, p. 62).
Ill employ self-evaluation and self-reflection techniques to teach students with EBD not only because of their capacity to deepen the teaching experiences and consequently the pedagogical knowledge of teachers by having them evaluate and reflect on their teaching episodes (Snyder, 2011), but also in the structuring of the lesson (Bennett, 2006), and in paying greater attention to exhibited behavioral and emotional challenges (Scott et al., 2011).
Landrum et al (2003) effectively conclude this topic by suggesting that the “…relatively negative assessment of the current state of affairs for students with EBD demands some qualification and, in fact, should not be taken as evidence of an inability to intervene effectively” (p. 148). From my philosophical standpoint, I do not intend to diminish the constellation of challenges experienced by most students with EBD to a simple issue of contingencies; however, I am positive that effective practices and interventions, such as positive behavior reinforcement, precision request, behavioral momentum, continuous monitoring, direct instruction and observation, self-monitoring, and reinforcing individually targeted behaviors (Benett, 2006; Hieneman et al., 2005; Landrum et al., 2003), will indeed make a huge difference in teaching students with known EBDs.
Bennett, P.L. (2006). Helpful and unhelpful practices in meeting the needs of pupils with emotional and behavioral difficulties: A pilot survey of staff views in one local authority. British Journal of Special Education, 33(4), 188-195.
Calderella, P., Shatzer, R.H., Gray, K.M., Young, K.M., & Young, E.L. (2011). The effects of school-wide positive behavior support on middle school climate and student outcomes. Research in the Middle Level Education Online, 35(4), 1-14.
Cook, B.G., Landrum, T.J., Tankersley, M., & Kauffman, J.M. (2003). Bringing research to bear on practice: Effecting evidence-based instruction for students with emotional and behavioral disorders. Education & Treatment of Children, 26(4), 345-361.
Davis, S.D., Young, E.L., Hardman, S., & Winters, R. (2011). Screening for emotional and behavioral disorders. Web.
Firtzpatrick, M., & Knowlton, E. (2009). Bringing evidence-based self-directed intervention practices to the trenches for students with emotional and behavioral disorders. Preventing School Failure, 53(4), 253-266.
Hieneman, M., Dunlop, G., & Kincaid, D. (2005). Positive support strategies for students with behavioral disorders in general education settings. Psychology in the Schools, 42(8), 779-794.
Landrum, T.J., Tankersley, M., & Kauffman, J.M. (2003). What is special about special education for students with emotional or behavioral disorders? Journal of Special Education, 37(3), 148-156.
Leko, M.M., Brownell, M.T., Sindelar, P.T., & Murphy, K. (2012). Promoting special education preservice teacher expertise. Focus on Exceptional Children, 44(7), 1-16.
Manning, M.L., Bullock, L.M., & Gable, R.A. (2009). Personnel preparation in the area of emotional and behavioral disorders: A Reexamination based on teacher perceptions. Preventing School Failure, 53(4), 219-226.
Regan, K.S. (2009). Improving the way we think about students with emotional and/or behavioral disorders. Teaching Exceptional Children, 41(5), 60-65.
Scott, T.M., Alter, P.J., & Hirn, R.G. (2011). An examination of typical classroom context and instruction for students with and without behavioral disorders. Education & Treatment of Children, 34(4), 619-641.
Snyder, D.W. (2011). Preparing for teaching through reflection. Music Educators Journal, 97(3), 56-60.