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The teacher, as a support system and as the primary guide in the classroom, must model the behaviors and strategies to be used at all times in the classroom; behaviors that will be imitated and applied by the students. The teacher is who sets the level of acceptance, safety, and support of the classroom as a whole. The process, although is a shared one, begins with the educator first and foremost.
When educators receive information about an emotionally-impaired student mainstreaming in the regular classroom it is imperative to immediately establish what is known as the classroom "tone".
The group tone is a combination of mood, atmosphere, and structure. It involves talking to the group, setting up rules, establishing rewards and consequences, deciding communication strategies, and creating the esprit the corps.
When a new student with emotional issues (explosive fits, anger management, depressed, suicidal, etc) enters a room where there is a clearly-identified group tone, he or she will immediately sense the structure of the classroom because all students will demonstrate that there is a common understanding between the student and the teacher. In well-structured room with a set tone, students treat each other politely, speak in a low tone, know that there are several options to complete a task, and understand the behavior and grading policy. They also know what actions will give them rewards or negative consequences. Having a group that is strong in understanding these facts will help the emotionally challenged student transition and fall back on a solid social foundation.
The best way to create this tone is by visually showing a chart or web that the students and the teacher will fill out together. This is the constitution of the classroom. List the behaviors that will help EVERY student become successful.
Make also a list of behaviors that will enforce respect and tolerance among all students. Decide together on ways to respond in case another (ANY) student misbehaves in class, and what are the direct consequences of their actions. Often a "Say this instead" list comes in handy for all students alike. Put information about actions and rewards/consequences in a flowchart. A flowchart often works very well because it visually shows students how just one action can lead them to success or to failure. Once the room tone is set and the charts are completed and drafted, post the charts around the room as a visual reminder to the students, including the emotionally impaired student. Often, the understanding and reminder of rewards and consequences aid in the process of making choices.
Understanding expectations, recognizing consequences and setting up the tone of the group will make every individual student feel like an important and essential part of the group as a whole. Automatically, they will know how to treat each other in a way that they can all help each other succeed. This will not happen otherwise, because it is up to the teacher to set up the mission and vision of the class as a whole. An emotionally impaired student will feel safe, appreciated, and part of a team in a room that is set up this way. No matter what plans are in place, the overall sense of safety and acceptance is what will make the classroom succeed.
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