Having personal conversations makes students feel seen as a whole person, not “just” as a student.
Putting students at the center of addressing their misbehavior creates more accountability, and is more productive in improving of future behavior.
Making alumni of the program visible and accessible allows students to see the potential they have by sticking with the program.
How do you set a model for students to manage their own conflict resolution when possible?
Bringing it back to group conversations as well as making sure that everyone has the same expectations. A big one for the summer is that all of our students need to have t-shirts, and so all of our staff also have t-shirts. It’s trying to make sure that whatever rules the students are adhering to, then the staff is sort of modeling that behavior and leads when it comes to the way that you should portray yourself. That especially is important for our teaching assistants, because they’re the ones that are closer in age and experience to our students.
Two-thirds of our programming happens on a college campus throughout the year, and that gives this sense that we’re in a learning space and we have to behave a certain way. We as administrative staff make sure that we are providing good examples for our teaching staff, and make sure our teaching staff are providing a good example for our students.
It’s also about being open to having honest conversations with staff and students. One of the initiatives that we’re working on a little bit more this summer is having smaller group conversations geared towards different social and emotional learning skills that are broken up with a teacher and a TA with different groups of students. Being able to have those more in-depth conversations and tying them back to the program, and more importantly to their experience outside of the program, is helpful. We want to make sure that students are taking with them the skills that they need in order to be successful.
We have those conversations with our staff before the summer starts; we’ve always had either staff retreats or staff workshops and meetings. And in those meetings we address things that we would address with students. So the types of conversations we’d have with students about behavior in the summer, we have beforehand with staff. We take scenarios of different situations that could happen during the summer, or during the school year, and we role play what that would look like and how we should approach that situation. We might watch videos of situations happening in classrooms, and have a conversation of what is an appropriate response to a given situation. We are really a family, and we try to model that idea of family with our staff and with our students.
What is the biggest piece of advice you have for programs trying to foster self-regulation in middle school-aged students?
I think being able to have a conversation with them, in a way that you may be a teacher or a TA or an office member, but you could also be friendly. It’s important to have those boundaries, but at the same time, it’s important to remember that the student is a human being. They are a person, they are important to us. So if there are things that are going on in their life, or any behavior situations, we try to be understanding.
I think within communication, being a good listener is very important. To be able to not just tell the student, “Don’t do that.” But rather to say, “How are you feeling? How was your day?” Asking the simple questions first, and being able to see if maybe the behavior they are displaying has to do with how they’re feeling and with the events in their life.
So a lot of it is, as a staff, being able to communicate. Being able to listen. Being able to have an open mindset. Being able to be very understanding towards the students, and not be reactionary. Instead, having a conversation, using a tone of voice where the student can know that we really do care about them and we want to support them the best that we can.
I would also say that it’s important to create an environment where students feel comfortable learning skills like self-regulation. So providing them the space, if an issue comes up, to be able to reflect on it while also having opportunities as small groups and as a program to think critically about what’s working and what’s not working, and what we can do better. And being open to any suggestions that students have, being good listeners and really taking things to heart. I think that is the biggest piece: creating that environment where you have a student feel like they want to be in the program and they understand the impact it’s having, so they have the time and the space to really reflect and feel that the adults around them really care about them enough to sit down or walk with them and listen, and to tackle their problems as if they were their own problems.
- When a student is struggling, a staff member will provide a safe space away from peers where they can actively listen to the student’s problems. Students can write a reflection of the situation to brainstorm solutions, while the staff member gives guidance and advice.
- Having students and families sign a behavior contract at the beginning of programming helps to make sure that everyone is on board and has the same expectations.
The Talented and Gifted Latino program is a year-round program serving middle-school aged students, with the goal of helping them grow academically, socially, and personally. Through both school-year and summer programming, TAG works to improve students’ abilities to succeed at the high school and post-secondary levels.