Sunday, January 17, 2010

Mediating Hotheads

I was going through one of the many piles of very valuable stuff I have collected over the years and moved around from home to home and school to school.  I probably have 50 or more such piles squirreled away all over my dwelling.  I love the idea of being organized and having a catalogue with way cool labeling all in one location, but my brain does not work this way.  I used to loath that about myself, but I have way more interesting things to loath about myself, so I put this one away.


In EBDland, one must learn the art of effective mediation when two or more of her EBD cherubs go at it.  Sometimes these mediations include regular education peers.  Very tricky.  Tricky because sometimes the reg ed peers are scared shitless to come into EBDland and are not convinced you can control EBD Hotheads enough to keep them from beating them up.  (Bookmark this as I have something to say on this later.  Don't let me forget. It has to do with rapport)

OK.  It seems that most kiddos do better in the heat of the moment if they have a visual to focus on.  Most of us like to know our story is being recorded and really heard.  And every disagreement is really just a story of misunderstanding and such a teachable moment.

People!  We need to capitalize on teachable moments in EBDland... test scores and curriculum be damned!

So I turn mediation into a story telling of sorts.  We go through the story detail by detail, action by action.  How do I make this visual without being just a bunch of words on a the board?  Yuck!  Who likes that?

We sit around the table.  I strategically assign seats. I sit at the table also.  You all know where to sit.  And you know to have all objects off the table (scissors, pens, pencils, anything that can turn into a weapon).  Teacher brings to table commercially made laminated cut outs of kids.  You want them to be about 6 inches tall or larger, to be different from one another, and to have blank space on them.

Let each kiddo choose a cutout kid to represent themselves.  Use a dry erase or vis a visa marker to write names on each cutout.  Now each hothead feels represented.  It's pretty funny how they identify with their cut out representative.  Goofy, really.

Teacher also has on hand the following laminated cutouts.  A sunburst, a foot,  hand, thought bubble and speech bubble.  The sunbursts are used for recording the incident(s).  The feet are for recording movement.  The hands for hands on actions. The thought bubbles are great because that is where you recored what the person was thinking when they took the action they took.  Clever, huh?  The speech bubbles are for recording what one hothead says to another as well as what others say including adults.

Establish rules before you being the story telling.  They are as follows.
1.  I am the boss.  When I say stop, you must stop.  I decide who talks when and I am the only one to write on the cutouts.
2.  Everyone will get many chances to add to the story.
3. We will tell the story bit by bit and only move on when we all agree.
4.  We will be respectful and honest.

So, let the mediating begin.

Choose a person to start.  Use your best teacher instinct here. Sometimes it is best to start with the most upset person... because even though they are upset, if they can just let a bit out, they start to calm down and focus.  Sometimes you want to start with the calmest of the hotheads.  But the glory is YOU get to decide.  Trust your instincts.

You then manipulate the cutouts and record the events and the story gets told in sequential order.    But here is where it gets good.  As the story unfolds, you take advantage of every moment by color commentating, checking for understanding, helping kids understand how they represented themselves and communicated and how they interpreted what the other hothead was doing.  Here is where you can figure out where they misunderstood and help them make better choices.

Here are some examples.

Hotheads are brought to you from recess.  Both angry.  One banging around and swearing, the other pushing all the buttons necessary to keep the drama going.  EA that brought them in says that Hothead 1 shoved Hothead 2 in line and that prompted Hothead 2 to shove Hothead 1 right back which then caused a domino effect of kids bumping into each other and the line coming undone.
Check for injuries first.  Ask for a reg ed student that was effected by the bumping in line to join you.  See the teachable moment coming here?  Empathy!

Each hothead and peer from line chooses their cutout, you label them, state the rules and let the story unfold.

Hothead 1 says he was just standing in line minding his own business when he gets bumped from behind and he knows it was Hothead 2 shoving him on purpose.  STOP!  Remind Hothead 2 to not interrupt because you know he wants to deny the whole thing, right?   You take a sunburst and record, that Hothead 1 got shoved.  Ask every one if they agree that Hothead 1 felt he was shoved.  It doesn't matter who or how, just agree that Hothead 1 felt like someone shoved him.  Place that sunburst under the kid cutouts.  

Here you might insert (over the cutout of the appropriate kiddo) a thought or speech bubble as way of exploring what each person was thinking or saying.  Remember you want to catch and explore the thinking errors.  This is where you can ask if everyone understands why the person thought what they thought. I love this part because lots of AHA! moments happen here.

Choose another person to say what happened next.  Let's say that Hothead 2 says that Hothead 1 turned around and shoved him really hard and started swearing at him.  STOP!

Record that on the hand print cutout.  That was an hands on action.  Place that below the starburst, but drag the cutout of Hothead 1 next to it and restate.  Ask for agreement.  But here is where you can talk about impulse control, taking a breath before reacting, not reacting with physical aggression.... Use a foot if anyone ran away or charged another.

And so you continue to unfold the story and you will be amazed how quickly the kids focus on the visual story.  They have power to tell it from their perspective, but have to listen to others' perspectives as the story is recorded.  They often see their own thinking errors and great discussions happen!  Really.  They do. They learn that their perspective and experience is not the only one happening in any incident.  They learn that all bumps are not intentional.  This is huge for kids who are repeatedly subjected to physical abuses in their homes. Those bumps are always intentional and they don't know that bumps can happen accidentally.  Go figure. Who knew?

You keep your reg ed pal involved and he/she is usually really good at interpreting what went down and the hotheads usually listen and trust reg ed's perspective.  I know.  Hard to believe.  But it's true.

By the end you usually have a clearly told story that is played out on the table for all to see.  Misinterpretations are cleared up and I have yet to have the anger continue or the problem to remain unresolved.  There have been times when we have had to do the story on the floor as it goes on for several feet.

The most important elements include making sure everyone is heard, constant checking for understanding and agreement, recording it all and showing the action to reaction relationship and how often times our reactions to an action are inappropriate because we don't understand the initial action.  Make sure to take time to ask how someone's body language looked and why it was interpreted that way.  Often times our EBD cherubs don't realize the messages they are sending the world by the faces they make and the way they move in their environment.  This is your chance to help them see the light!

Everyone feels heard and fairly represented, apologies happen without you prompting and peace is restored.

For a bit anyway.

Ok, thanks for reminding of the bookmark I mentioned earlier.  It is crucial that we in special education are visible to ALL kiddos.  If we can build relationships with reg ed kiddos that interact with our EBD kiddos, we can help our EBD kiddos so much more effectively.  Tomorrow's post will be all about how to do that.

If you try this, let me know how it works for you.  This works with all ages.  No lie!

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Although I am dangerously opinionated, I am a flexible thinker and welcome your thoughts.