Emergency Drills in School: Info for Parents

What happens during a fire drill?

It may seem fairly obvious, but, like most procedures, a school’s method for evacuation in the case of a fire is a thoroughly planned and practiced drill. Most schools must complete multiple fire drills throughout the yearsome announced and some unannounced to ensure that procedures are followed even when school staff is not expecting the drill.

Obviously, procedures vary from school to school. However, most of the following protocols apply when completing a fire drill:

  • When the alarm sounds, students quickly line up to exit the classroom in an orderly fashion. While we want to get students out swiftly, we do not want to risk injury in the meantime from pushing, shoving, tripping, etc.  
  • Each teacher will have a planned route to lead students out of the building. Typically, the closest stairwell and exit to that particular classroom will be utilized to evacuate students. The only exception might be when multiple classes are converging. In this case, the school will have assigned an alternate evacuation stairwell and exit so that hallway traffic keeps moving promptly.
  • Depending on when the drill is taking place, your child’s evacuation plan will be different from teacher to teacher and class to class. It is important that your child knows of the designated evacuation stairwell and exit method in each of his classes. In the instance when your child is unsure of where to go, teachers and other school staff have been instructed to scoop up “stragglers” on the way out of the building.
  • Once evacuated, teachers and staff will move students to their designated locations, at least 50 feet from the building, and take roll to ensure that all students present are safe and accounted for. Teachers will also alert administration of any students that they may have been scooped up on the way out.
  • Students will have likely been instructed to remain silent during the entire duration of the drill. This ensures that any important messages or directions from adults are heard and that order is maintained throughout the procedure. It also helps teachers move students quickly out of the building since children are not socializing or missing important instructions.
  • It is probable that school officials or fire marshals are present throughout the year to ensure that the school’s fire drill procedures are seamless and appropriately conducted according to laws and regulations.

What exactly is a reverse evacuation?

A reverse evacuation drill, aptly enough, is exactly as it sounds. When conditions outside the building are more dangerous than inside, students will be moved indoors to a predetermined safety zone. This type of situation might occur if physical education classes were outside for class when a sudden thunderstorm moved in, or if there was a minor threat in the neighborhood like a loose animal or fire nearby in the community. All of the same expectations would apply for a reverse evacuationstudents should remain quiet and follow their teachers’ instructions to move quickly indoors to safety.

What happens during a shelter in place?

A shelter in place is a procedure, previously known as “code blue,” which requires increased safety precautions in and around the school building. The most frequent use of shelter in place is if there is a medical emergency or a non-threatening police matter that requires a student to be removed from the school. If, for instance, a student had a seizure in class, the school might go into a shelter in place so that hallways are clear for paramedics and other emergency personnel and the student has privacy during their health situation.

Protocol for a shelter in place requires teachers to sweep the halls to bring stray students into the nearest classroom, limit hall passes, send attendance to the main office, and close the classroom door. Instruction continues, as there is no immediate threat. The main purpose of this practice is to restrict traffic in and around the school.

What happens during a lockdown?

A lockdown, previously known as a “code red,” means that there is imminent danger in or around the school itself. Most recently, because of the startling rise in gun-related school violence, many people refer to a lockdown as an active shooter drill.

When a lockdown is issued, teachers quickly sweep the hall outside of the classroom door and immediately bring any stray students into the room. These might be students returning from the bathroom or lockers; either way, the goal is to recover any student from the hallways.

The teachers will instruct students to move SILENTLY to an area in the classroom that is out of view of the doorway and windows. Teachers will lock the door, pull the shades, turn off the computer and promethean screen, and maintain silence as long as necessary. The point of locking down is to make each classroom appear as though it is empty. In the event of a genuine lockdown, not a drill, administrators or law enforcement will instruct students and staff when it is safe to lift the lockdown. Until teachers receive the “ok,” students and staff remain silent and hidden.  

What happens during a drop, cover, and hold drill?

In the rare event of a sudden earthquake, teachers will instruct students to drop, cover, and hold. This means that students will quickly take cover under their desks. They will drop to the floor, pull their knees up to their chests if possible, and cover their heads with their hands in a crouched ball under the desk. If near a window, students will be instructed to crouch in the position with their backs to the window. This drill is typically practiced once per year to ensure that students know the procedure if there was ever a risk of an earthquake in the area.

What happens during a severe weather drill?

This protocol is followed when there is a threat of severe wind and weather, including a hurricane, tornado, etc., in the immediate area. Following the same evacuation guidelines as a fire drill, students will leave their classrooms in a swift, yet orderly, fashion and relocate to their designated shelter zone. Most schools have several severe weather shelter areas, typically on the ground level, in an interior hallway, away from windows. These zones are usually solid, reinforced areas of the school where students and staff are best protected from severe weather.

Once students reach the designated zone, they will be asked to sit or crouch on the floor with their backs against the wall. Again, students will be asked to remain quiet so that instructions can be relayed easily if necessary. Administrators will continue to watch and listen for weather updates or changes in the storm until the threat has passed.

Occupational Therapy Strategies to Enhance the Classroom Pt. III

Just as we explored occupational therapy (OT) methods that support fine motor control, balance, and coordination in the previous two posts, this third and final post will focus on OT methods for the classroom that support behavior management and attentiveness. Of course, depending on each student’s individual needs, the supports and strategies will vary. Likewise, a student’s age and developmental abilities will also determine which methods are beneficial and how to include them in the learning environment.

For children that need tactile strategies to promote their attentiveness in the classroom, teachers can employ some of the following activities:

Fidget toys, stress balls, and thinking putty/clay are great options for students that prefer to keep their hands moving while learning. Because of the rhythmic stretching, squeezing, or rolling between fingers or hands, students with attention issues are able to channel the urge to move, tap, or click into the object that they are holding. Just as the occupational therapist would do, however, be sure that students are using the fidget item discreetly, not as a toy or distraction.

When possible, plan to utilize 3D objects as models or manipulatives to introduce math or spelling concepts. For example, for elementary schoolers learning about multiplication via arrays, teachers can use Legos to build the array in place of drawing it or shading it on paper. The process of constructing and deconstructing arrays using Legos allows students to comprehend how 2+2+2+2 = 2 x 4 and what that representation looks like in 3D geometric form.

Using sand, paint, or shaving cream in aluminum baking trays, or “spelling trays,” allows students to practice their letter formation, spacing, and size with an engaging added sensory component. The practice is low risk as well; if a child messes up his letter, he can simply shake the sand or add more shaving cream and begin again.

For children that need movement strategies to promote their attentiveness and positive behavior in the classroom, teachers can employ some of the following activities:

Much like many 504 and IEP accommodations, frequent breaks are certainly beneficial when students become agitated or restless. A way to incorporate this method into the mainstream classroom is to promote brain breaks for all students in the room. Especially for classes that are run on a block schedule, teachers can break the instruction for 2-3 minutes to allow students to pace, jump on a miniature trampoline, stretch with resistance bands, do jumping jacks, toss a bean bag, play Simon Says, or simply stretch to release some pent up energy.

Teachers might consider swapping out their desk chairs for yoga/therapy balls, wiggle seats, bean bag chairs, stools, rocking chairs, wedge seats, or swivel stools. The different range of seating options allow students to bounce, alter positions, or swivel to expel some of their energy. With alternate seating, just be sure to provide clipboards or other surfaces for students to write comfortably.

There are also additional strategies to promote attention and positive behavior:

Much like educators differentiate by providing student choice, occupational therapists also utilize options and choices to promote engagement, attentiveness, and positive participation and behavior. When offering choices of activities, challenges, projects, practices, etc., occupational therapists try to provide at least one option or rotation activity that appeals to the child’s strengths and/or interests. When children have a hand in selecting their activity or assignment, they feel a stronger sense of ownership and independence, which increases effort and motivation.

OT methods also frequently incorporate tech tools to promote development of certain skills or practices. Teachers can provide links to podcasts, educational videos, scholarly articles or websites, and educational games for students to browse and play. The technology not only promotes engagement; the audiovisual component allows students to watch and listen as concepts and skills are modeled for them. They can also work at their own personal pace while using tech tools by pausing, rereading/re-watching, or completing additional practice games.

After a therapy session, many professionals ask children to reflect on and rate their work during the session. Questions can focus on the content, activities, behavior, focus/attention, etc. The key for this OT practice is to encourage students to reflect on the session and discuss areas of strength and areas for improvement. Teachers can plan mini-conferences with students to discuss progress. Stress the fact that genuine ratings and responses are essential for reflection and growth. Not only are students accounting for their successes and missteps, but they are also practicing skills such as summarizing, causes and effects, paraphrasing, memorization, critical thinking, and metacognition.

Occupational Therapy Strategies to Enhance the Classroom Pt. II

In addition to occupational therapy (OT) strategies that promote and strengthen fine motor control in the classroom setting, there are a number of additional techniques and practices taken from occupational therapists for younger elementary children that need a little bit of guidance with their balance, coordination, sensory processing, behavior management, or attentiveness.

Balance and Coordination

We often place these two concepts in the athletics realm; however, balance and coordination are necessities not limited to physical education programs in schools. These essential life skills stretch way beyond the field or court. Daily practices such as dressing, eating, climbing stairs, writing, brushing teeth, etc., rely on one’s ability to coordinate certain motor skills. Therefore, the roughly 5-7% of children affected by developmental coordination disorder, or DCD, will need to rely on OT practices and methods to develop more than a fastball or perfect jump shot. Their day-to-day practices truly hinge on their ability to develop coordination over time.

In the academic atmosphere, children with DCD or other difficulties with balance or coordination can benefit from the following modifications or strategies:

  • Desk chairs that are detached from the desk allow for more appropriate and comfortable positioning in terms of seating. The children can scoot or push their chairs in to their desired proximity to the desktop, which discourages slouching, reaching, and fidgeting.

  • Teacher notes or worksheets can be modified so that copying from the board is limited, as this can be a frustrating process for children with DCD. Fill-in-the-blank or paraphrased notes allow students to practice viewing the board, listening to the teacher, and writing an abbreviated version of the notes while maintaining focus. Because of the modification, the student is still receiving the content and is actively participating, but the workload is less taxing for him/her.

  • Provide students with paper that suits their handwriting style. If you know that a student’s main issue is size or spacing of letters, provide him with wider lined paper and lined paper that includes the vertical margin lines. If the issue is aligning numbers correctly in math problems, consider providing graph paper or grids to promote precise number alignment.

  • Incorporate tossing and catching into your memorization or test review lessons. Keep the rotation predictable, such as passing around the room in a circle or passing the ball alphabetically among the class. Use a larger, lighter item that allows for easy passing and receiving, such as a beachball or beanbag.

  • Games such as Twister and hopscotch allow teachers to incorporate balance and coordination with other content-area skills or practices. For instance, elementary schoolers learning their times tables can use hopscotch to demonstrate mental math while practicing balancing, hopping, standing, etc. A family favorite game, Twister, similarly encourages coordination while students reach and stretch left and right hands and feet.

  • Teachers can utilize painters tape as a way for students to practice making and categorizing shapes, then use the taped shape outlines to practice balance. Challenge students by having them walk the lines of the shapes “heel to toe.” You can add levels of difficulty by asking them to toss a bean bag while walking, recite the alphabet or math facts, or walk backwards.  

In the third and final edition of OT strategies in the classroom, we will focus on occupational therapy methods for the classroom that support behavior management and attentiveness.  

How to Plan for Summer Learning Opportunities—Elementary

As the school year begins to wind down, summer learning opportunities may be the last thing on a child’s mind. However, now is the perfect time to begin to look at options for educational summer plans. Whether debating between formal summer school options, camps, or groups, or if you are looking at less structured options for learning, we have plenty ideas for your elementary schooler!

For students entering kindergarten, first, or second grade, Montgomery County Public Schools offers additional instruction and enrichment focused primarily on literacy and math skills. This free, fiveweek summer program is offered at over 20 elementary schools around the county. The typical 4-hour session has been extended to 6.5 hours and will include additional instruction involving the arts and sciences. The Extended Learning OpportunitySummer Adventures in Learning (ELO SAIL) provides free bus transportation to and from the elementary school from various neighborhood stops. The program also provides students with breakfast and lunch during the duration of the program. Parents can find out more about the ELO SAIL program and how to register through the MCPS website.

A similar program, ELO STEP, Summer Title I Enrichment Program, provides learning and enrichment opportunities in programming and advanced mathematics for students in grades 3, 4, and 5 who are enrolled in a Title I school. While selection is limited to a specific criteria of students, the free 5-week program offers rigorous instruction focused around critical thinking skills, advanced mathematical concepts, and hands-on learning experiences for elementary schoolers. Visit the MCPS website or call 240-740-4600 to obtain additional information.

A less structured summer learning opportunity for elementary schoolers might involve planning for Student Service Learning (SSL) hours. While students cannot begin to accrue SSL hours until they have exited grade 5 and begun middle school, the summer months offer great opportunities to get your elementary schooler thinking about what type of service projects he or she might be interested in for the upcoming school year. Volunteer work, even outside of fulfilling the SSL graduation requirement, allows families to investigate certain needs in their community and reach out to those organizations by offering or volunteering their time. If your elementary schooler is an animal lover or avid nature-seeker, consider contacting a local shelter, veterinary clinic, state park, or community group to see how your child could begin volunteering, even if on a casual basis. The key here is to allow your elementary schoolers to begin to seek out activities, causes, and needs that interest them. Once they reach middle school, and these hours begin to work towards their graduation requirement, children will have already had the experience of joining a new group, working with others for a common goal, and socializing with people of different age ranges and backgrounds.

Consider using chores or allowances as opportunities for older elementary schoolers to learn about financial responsibility, budgeting, and money management. Instead of simply handing over the cash or “prize” for completing their weekly chore chart, talk with your children about why they earned what they did. Talk about what actions it may take to earn more or what might cause them to earn less money. Then, ask them if there is something specific that they would like to save for. Help them plan out a saving schedule or system that helps them to accumulate their earnings toward that goal. Help them track their saving and spending so that they begin to understand how to plan for money coming in and money going out. Additionally, talk about how to keep track of or store cash. Where should your child not take cash? How should cash be handled or not handled? These informal financial lessons disguise summer learning while providing real-world applications and skills.

How to Manage Testing Time: For Elementary Students

With spring break here, the focus for many parents, students, and teachers alike is on the welcomed vacation from the daily grind. No matter the brevity, spring break allows families to rejuvenate and reconnect right before the final stretch of the school year.

Yet, as much as many students would like to avoid the topic, spring break also signifies the soon-to-be start of the testing season. The weeks leading up to and during testing can be rather stressful for students. However, there are strategies that parents and teachers can use to help younger learners prepare for and thrive during these tests without becoming overwhelmed by stress or pressure.

  • Testing can be especially stressful and even anxiety-producing for young students. Their desire to do well, outperform their peers, or surpass a previous score could create unnecessary pressure. To combat nerves, teachers and parents should focus on reassuring students of their successes beyond a simple test score. Talk about how a test score is simply one data point—it does not invalidate a child’s previous accomplishment or dictate the possibility of any future accomplishment.

  • Instead of focusing on reaching a specific score, hitting a certain benchmark, or creating unnecessary competition among peers, help young elementary schoolers set goals for growth or practice positive test-taking habits. Help children by setting goals like aiming to get adequate sleep, eating a healthy, filling breakfast, and spending some time exercising each day—these are positive habits that can help motivate students in the right direction while taking the focus off of the grade or score.

  • Discuss the true purpose of a standardized test and, in turn, remove some of the burden from elementary schoolers. Of course, parents and teachers do not want to convey the message that these exams do not matter; however, we can ease the anxiety by reminding children that a test score is meant to provide data for the school—it is not meant to target or torment the children that may happen to underperform. Again, keep them focused on aspects or contributors that they can control, like sleep, nutrition, self-motivation, and positivity.

  • Parents and teachers can help elementary schoolers by providing them with several different test-taking strategies or tips. Since children in elementary school are just beginning to get a taste of exams or standardized tests, they are likely less familiar with all of the different strategies and practices that they can employ during a lengthy assessment. Encourage them to use the following skills:

    • Tell them they should consider reading the questions first so that they know what they are to be looking out for ahead of beginning the reading or excerpt.
    • Encourage students to take their time when working through the assessment. If they are concerned about running out of time, skip difficult questions or sections and answer the easiest questions first. This will not only help students to knock out portions of the assessment, but it will give them a dose of motivation, self-assurance, and positivity in knowing that some of their answers came easily.
    • Have children practice eliminating answer options that they know are incorrect. This practice helps to remove the distractibility factor that multiple choice questions can have.
    • Teachers should tell students ahead of time that they will provide time updates or occasional countdowns during testing so that students can gauge how diligently they are working throughout the exam. A time check not only tells students how much time is remaining in the session, but also allows students to modify their work pace. This information helps students complete all questions and take more time reading carefully and checking answers if necessary.

Cultural Competency in the Classroom

A beneficial, yet challenging, factor of education today involves the increasing diversity in our schools. Because of the ever-growing demographics, teaching cultural competency has become a major focus in the classroom, especially for a public school system as vast and diverse as Montgomery County. It’s not only students that are getting instruction on cultural competency. These lessons start at the top with administration, curriculum writers, and educators all participating in this movement in favor of cultural awareness and appreciation.

Because culture involves a deeply personal, ingrained set of beliefs, behaviors, practices, and values, most people are at least somewhat unaware of cultures to which they do not prescribe. This is especially the case for young children who are just beginning to explore the world around them. Culturally-responsive instruction truly begins with a look at one’s self through reflection—it isn’t until we truly understand ourselves that we can begin to understand others around us.

Build a classroom environment founded in cultural appreciation by abolishing the word “normal.” Just because a behavior or characteristic might be our cultural norm, this does not mean that it is the “normal” or “right” way. Likewise, just because a behavior or trait may be unfamiliar to us, this does not mean that it is weird, wrong, or abnormal. Remind children that, just as we are all unique beings, our beliefs and values may cause us to speak, dress, and behave differently. Reinforce the mindset that cultural diversity provides learning opportunities that a culturally-homogeneous classroom would not necessarily have. Because each student comes from a different upbringing, with different customs, traditions, family structures, etc., the perspectives that we can gain by embracing our peers’ cultures are limitless. If we hold one another’s culture in high esteem by valuing it as a chance to gain knowledge about something new, we no longer see our peers as “odd” or “different.” Instead, children learn to place the emphasis on the fact that a peer’s culture has provided them with information and knowledge that they would not have known otherwise.

Beef up the classroom library with culturally diverse options for students to explore. Keep in mind that a culturally-relevant text does not receive its credit simply from the author’s culture. A novel about a child growing up during British imperialist India could provide plenty of opportunities for culturally-rich discussion—or it could oversimplify a culture or lack an important perspective all together. The key is to explore an abundance of different styles of texts, by many different authors, on a plethora of different subjects and themes. After doing plenty of research, and taking your students’ cultures into account, set up a culturally competent classroom library.  

Encourage courageous conversations surrounding cultural norms and where they originate. For instance, when examining the protagonist throughout the course of a novel, prompt the class to ask analytical questions about the character’s motivations, thoughts, and decisions. What do we know about this character’s values, background, upbringing, family structure, etc.? How are our lives similar or different because of our own cultures? How might our own beliefs impact the way that we view or characterize the protagonist? What more would we need to know or discover about the main character in order to fully understand why she behaves a certain way?

If we take steps to expose students to diverse cultures and guide their exploration of different customs, traditions and perspectives, they will learn to embrace new ideas and better navigate our world.

 

How to Discuss Current Events: Elementary School

To be quite honest, the news these days can be downright scary. Even for adults, the nightly news and breaking headlines have the potential to shift our entire mood and sense of security. If this is the case for a grown adult, what might a child think about the current events that splash across the screen? As impossible as it may seem, there are strategies that parents can employ to help their families navigate the current climate.

For young elementary schoolers, about age 6 and under, the negative news stories have very little to offer that can benefit young, impressionable minds. For the most part, unless the story is an inspirational piece, perhaps involving people overcoming obstacles, the younger kids should be shielded from the news.

If your child happens to hear, see, or come across the news during your absence, perhaps at school or a friend’s house, be open about answering their questions. Don’t discourage or downplay any concerns they might have by shutting down the conversation or glossing over their worries.

If they have already heard some troubling news, shift the conversation to a more positive route by providing reassurance that your family is not in danger. However, if the news happens to hit close to home, talk about how to stay safe and secure. Provide them with reassuring information about how to handle different emergency situations–severe weather, fire, separation in a public place, etc.

For the young ones, especially, wrap the conversation up by shifting to a happy, cheerful topic. Perhaps you read a silly book together or watch your favorite family show. The point is to move the conversation and potential negative thoughts out and replace them with more pleasant things.

For older elementary schoolers, it is likely that they will be exposed to more information, current events, and political topics. While you cannot shield them from everything, you should be careful to consider their level of maturity and sensitivity when allowing them to watch or search certain news topics. Parents should be especially careful to limit or filter information about news or events that relate to their child’s age group. For example, school violence or teen suicide are topics that hit way too close to home for older elementary schoolers. The more they can relate to the news story, the more traumatic or frightening it can be for children.

Consider setting filters and restrictions on certain channels or websites. Be open with your children about why certain material may be inappropriate. Emphasize that this is not about distrust or a punishment in any way, but an effort to do what is best for them emotionally. Again, respect what questions they may have, but be sure to highlight the good news going on in the world around them.

Be cognizant of your own opinions, as these are likely to become your child’s opinions. The trust and reliance that a child has in their parent’s point of view is undeniable. Children truly do absorb everything around them—including the belief systems that you voice in and out of the home.

Be careful when making statements that lump groups of people together, create a divide among certain groups, or portray others in a negative light. Phrases like “they always…” or “we would never…” are sweeping generalizations that can slowly mold your child’s beliefs about entire groups of people.

By meeting your children where they are, developmentally and emotionally, and keeping the lines of communication open, you can help them navigate the news they hear and come to terms with the world around them.

National Handwriting Day: A Spotlight on Dysgraphia

Contrary to the common misconception, dysgraphia is a learning disability that signifies a more serious problem than a simple inability to write neatly or color inside the lines. Yes, dysgraphia often manifests itself in the form of “sloppy” or illegible handwriting; however, the difficulty arises before the pencil hits the paper. Dysgraphia is actually a processing disorder, meaning that the deficiency comes from the inability to receive input or construct output of information from the senses.

Each learner is different, so dysgraphia can present as a struggle to perform the physical, motor-controlled aspect of writing, or the mental, expressive aspect of synthesizing thoughts and organizing them on paper. It may help parents or educators to think of dysgraphia in terms of a quarterback on a football field—the disability might cause the QB to physically struggle to grip, hold, pass, or hand off the ball. However, he might also struggle with the mental or decision-making aspect of when to throw a pass versus make a run. Either way, the deficiency in sensory input or output can disrupt his success on the field, much like a student’s academic success in class.

Here are a few suggestions for addressing the physical aspect of dysgraphia:

For young writers with dysgraphia, the physical act of writing can be cumbersome. The deficiency does not come from a lack or care or effort. In fact, many students with dysgraphia are putting extra effort into their handwriting, but may still be coming up short. To help those who struggle with their motor skills when it comes to letter legibility, spacing, size, etc., parents, teachers and therapists can employ multiple strategies or best practices to help the child’s writing.

Some young learners may benefit from using paper with raised or perforated lines to assist with letter size and spacing. The tactile element helps to make children aware of the physical boundary lines between which their letters should remain. Similarly, tracing practices with raised outlines are also available. When students practice tracing either on paper or in the air using “imaginary letters,” encourage them to form letters the same way every time. For instance, when practicing the letter C, make sure that children start with their pencil at the top, arching counter-clockwise and down to form the letter. Repetition of movement is key when strengthening muscle memory to improve writing, so remind them to construct the letter C the same way every time.

Consider providing multiple shapes and styles of pencils or pens. Sometimes rubber pencil grips can help with the discomfort that children with dysgraphia experience. Some students find that hexagonal or three-sided pencils feel more stable than perfectly round pencils, or vice-versa.

Writing can be extremely frustrating, so motivate children by keeping writing practices or tasks brief and to the point. When hands and fingers become tired or cramped, writing can range from uncomfortable to painful—take a break long before any discomfort sets in to maintain effort and motivation. Encourage students to focus on one aspect of their handwriting at a time. Perhaps for one assignment, this means that a child will work primarily on his/her letter spacing within and between words. Next time, he/she might focus his attention on the sizing of capital letters and lowercase letters. Breaking up the writer’s goal can help make handwriting less daunting.

How to Solve Problems with Peers: Elementary Schoolers


Conflict resolution is a skill that children, teens, and even adults encounter on a daily basis. From minor tiffs or disagreements, to outright arguments, conflicts can arise quickly and seemingly out of nowhere. For elementary-age students, conflict resolution is a key component of socialization that prepares children to make, strengthen, and salvage friendships and peer relationships.

Employ communication skills

Elementary schoolers may find themselves unprepared to deal with certain conflicts. This happens largely because of an inability to communicate their feelings without allowing emotions to take over the conversation. Help young students by providing them with “accountable talk” sentence frames to get a positive conversation started.

“I feel ___________________ because ___________________.”

“What I meant by saying that was ___________________.”

“Instead, I should have said ___________________.”

“The real reason I reacted by ___________________ was because ___________________.”

These sentence frames allow children to own and explain their feelings without blaming or attacking the other party. It also encourages students to talk about how certain actions can cause problems for or have an effect on others. Teachers, counsellors, and parents may want to consider modeling a pretend conversation or skit in which they practice using the accountable talk model. Also, be sure that elementary schoolers have a mediator present for these conversations. This adult can ensure that students stick to the script, so to speak, so that the mediation continues in a positive, productive manner.

If things escalate, allow time to cool off

Because of immaturity or lack of experience in dealing with conflict, elementary-aged children can allow their emotions to take over quite abruptly. When tempers flare between peers, provide students with time to calm themselves and collect their thoughts. The last thing that we want is for arguments between students to turn physical. Provide students with quiet places, removed from the rest of their peers. Reinforce the fact that this is not a punitive “time out,” but instead an opportunity to relax and settle.

Some students benefit from writing down, sketching, or drawing their feelings or their side of the conflict. Place sketch paper and pencils in the cool down area to encourage students to journal or draw. Some teachers have found that cool down reflection sheets with guiding questions about the incident have been beneficial for mediation. Teachers may also consider providing students with a visual to gauge their level of composure. Use a number scale or color wheel to help students identify how much time they need to cool down. If they register a “5” or red on the color wheel, they certainly need more time to calm down. Allow students to reach “1” or blue before rejoining the class or starting a mediation.

Practice perspective-taking using summarizing or paraphrasing skills. Many conflicts, if not all, arise from a difference of opinion or different recollection of an incident. A child’s brain is practically hard-wired to accept only one perspective—his own. It is not until maturity that people develop the ability to take another’s stance, see an alternate perspective, or enact empathy. Therefore, children need practice and prompting in order view the situation from their peer’s perspective. Practice this by using listening strategies, in which peers will listen to, paraphrase, and respond to their peer’s account of the incident. Remind students that their summary or paraphrasing must hold true to what their peer said—they cannot deviate from the classmate’s account, or add their own interpretations. This is difficult for children to do; however, reassure them that they too will get the opportunity to speak and be heard by their peer.   

Teaching Inclusion in the Classroom

General education teachers are tasked with keeping many balls in the air, which is half the fun of working in a classroom—there are so many constantly moving and evolving pieces for which to account. One of these essential pieces to ensure equitable learning for every student is inclusion. Of course, this term is nothing new to educators—we work to create an inclusive environment on a daily basis. What might be new, however, are the many ways in which we teachers can look at inclusive practices. Since every child is different, we must continue our exploration of strategies and practices that best suit the needs of all students.

One best practice that supports inclusion is to vary the output of information. By this we mean that teachers should relay content and instruction in different ways. Some students, especially those with auditory processing difficulties, find that verbal instruction is hard to grasp. To ensure inclusion for these students’ special needs, teachers should try to present information in visual or tactile ways, in addition to the verbal instruction. Depending on the class or lesson, this might take the form of a demonstration, video, or hands-on activity. Some skills or lesson objectives may even lend themselves to a more kinesthetic or tactile approach. Even students without an auditory processing deficiency would find it confusing to listen to a verbal explanation of cursive letter formation. A demonstrated approach to writing using clay, beads, shaving cream, etc., makes more sense.

Similarly, when teachers are introducing concepts like grammatical conventions or figurative language devices, an audio or visual approach might work better than a written explanation of how a properly formatted sentence should sound. Teachers should also practice inclusion by encouraging students to demonstrate their learning in various ways. This means that, not only is the presentation of information different for each child, but the means by which a student exhibits mastery should be individualized, as well. Some students might prefer to write a formal, organized research paper to convey their knowledge of a subject, while others might feel most comfortable presenting a visual demonstration of their topic. The key is to provide multiple opportunities for students to display their knowledge so that everyone’s learning styles are being incorporated.

Another way to look at inclusion is to utilize multiple means of engagement. For students with attention issues, memory difficulties, or other learning disabilities, engagement in the classroom can make all the difference. Engagement might mean listening to music to identify metaphors, similes, or narrative voice. A film study might help students understand a new culture or part of the world. An analysis of a slow motion field goal might help students understand kinetic energy, velocity, or other properties of physics. The point is, when students are engaged, learning not only flourishes, but behaviors and attentiveness increase, as well. Engagement also assists with moving information from short-term memory into long-term memory. Inclusion, with regard to engagement, means that teachers are not only teaching with methods for each type of learner, but also appealing to each learner, so that memory of the information or skill can solidify. In order to provide engagement, there must be a level of interest on the student’s end. As different as each student’s learning style may be, so may be their interests.

This is where building relationships with students becomes essential for inclusion. Cultural inclusiveness provides students with a platform to express themselves on a more personal level. This also promotes a positive classroom environment, one in which students feel heard, understood, and accepted. Cultural inclusion allows students to see beyond themselves, as well, which fosters perspective-taking.