George Lucas Educational Foundation

Our Students with EBD

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In every school around the country, we have them. Yes, students who may or may not be diagnosed with emotional and behavioral disorders. These students are violent, aggressive, and disruptive to our classrooms and student learning.

What do we do? Suspend? Expel? Have these approaches worked in supporting your most challenging students? My guess, the answer is no.

So what?

It is time for a mind shift. We need to look at these students differently. We can no longer afford to view these students as troublesome or a lost cause.

How do we go about creating this mind shift? What resources would you need? Can this be accomplished in our educational settings? How can we provide the social and emotional support these students desperately need? What strategies or approaches do you find most helpful for these students? I am curious to hear your input, thoughts, and ideas for supporting our students who don't fit the typical student persona!

This post was created by a member of Edutopia's community. If you have your own #eduawesome tips, strategies, and ideas for improving education, share them with us.

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Samer Rabadi's picture
Samer Rabadi
Online Community Engagement Manager

misscriullo, I read an interview with the comedian Wayne Brady where he talked about his struggle with depression. He mentioned that it often seems harder to "come out" about mental health issues than drug addiction.

Society has arrived at a place where we understand that drug addiction is a disease, but somehow a common, compassionate understanding of mental health issues still eludes us. That dialog you write about still hasn't happened (enough).

misscirullo's picture

I agree completely, and to be honest, I don't know how else we can make a significant change other than to continue encouraging the dialogue that our society has started. I think that, as a teacher and human being, one of my most important jobs is to show my students that it doesn't have to be this way, there doesn't have to be a stigma, and we don't have to face mental illness alone. Maybe in this way we can prepare our students to be the leaders in approaching mental illness with more knowledge and understanding.

Alex Shevrin's picture
Alex Shevrin
Community college teacher, former school leader, Edutopia community facilitator

This is what I'm most passionate about and I agree that the first step is a mind shift. We need to view all children with unconditional positive regard, a true belief that they have value and their behaviors don't change that. This sums it up:

As far as strategies go, there is a growing amount out there around how to support these students. I recommend Ross Greene's "Lives in the Balance" resources; the Social-Emotional Learning section here on Edutopia; restorative justice approaches; and learning about trauma-informed practice.

Happy to chat more about all this, especially if you had some more specifics around what you are looking for!

misscirullo's picture

Thank you for posting some resources, I will definitely check them out! Sometimes I feel like there is so much talk about the problems but not as much action taken or strategic support. I know in my case, I was unaware of the variety of materials that were available for use in the classroom. One of my biggest concerns is reaching out to those students whose behaviors may isolate them from the classroom community. Are there any resources/strategies you'd suggest in order to help students feel that sense of belonging again?

Alex Shevrin's picture
Alex Shevrin
Community college teacher, former school leader, Edutopia community facilitator

For students who have been isolated from the classroom, I look to help them show a different side of themselves to the rest of the class than their peers may have seen. For example, is the student handy? Invite them to help you fix that creaky hinge and let the rest of the class know who can take credit. Artistic? Ask them to design the bulletin board. And so on. When students can contribute in positive ways that others can appreciate, we can change the conversation around who they are in the classroom.

It's a great question, Miss Cirullo - curious if others have more ideas about how to reintegrate a student who has been isolated.

Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal, Author of Facilitating Authentic Learning, Director of the Antioch Critical Skills Program; Elementary Library Media Specialist

I think a huge part of the re-integration process is about creating situations that allow *everyone* to try on a new role, which requires the creation of a very positive, supportive classroom climate. It starts by helping kids get to know each other, then by creating situations in which they're dependent upon one another to succeed (which builds trust). This doesn't happen quickly but it can be done. You might find some useful stuff here:

Miss___Lorenz's picture

Working with EBD students can be extremely challenging. They can be violent and unpredictable as well, but fortunately there are things we can do to help address those behaviors in the classroom. However, I believe it all depends on the child and their needs. Specific students may just need a place to go in the classroom (a "cozy corner" for example) when they get upset. Some where they can escape to when necessary. But, if a child's main reason for displaying the poor behavior is to escape or avoid doing something than that may not be the best option. Therefore, it is vital that teachers determine the ABC's of the students behavior in order to better understand how to assist that particular student. One thing that will aid all of these students is by creating a welcoming, secure, safe, and judgement-free environment within the your classroom. It is imperative that these students know you are on their side and are willing to fight for and support them, because unfortunately that may not be true about every person in their life. Does anyone else know of any other ways to enhance the classroom atmosphere and teacher's rapport with students that have EBD?

As for creating the mind shift, society as a whole needs to be more vocal about EBD and mental health in general. We need to understand that although there may not be any physical signs of these disabilities they do still exist. Teachers are clearly aware of their presence in the classroom, but the rest of society (except those touched by EBD) believe that these students are just overreacting, melodramatic, or just rude. It is our job as teachers to help advocate for these students.

walterf's picture

This is an extremely important topic in special education and in our society today. Students with EBD are over represented in the juvenile justice system. The 'School to Prison Pipeline' is an alarming trend that can be observed as young students, particularly those who are either diagnosed with an EBD or African American are being disciplined in school, and eventually ending up in the juvenile justice system. When these students are placed in the juvenile justice system, they encounter a wide variety of issues. There is a lack of continuity in education in the detention centers in which they are placed; many students transition from center to center frequently, and without a set curriculum, their education is severely disrupted. Students who are placed in the juvenile justice system are likely to return once they are released, and they are also at risk for dropping out of school due in part to the fact that they are very behind academically.
There is no easy solution to this problem, but a key in helping to solve the problem is working to prevent placement in the juvenile justice system in the first place. Recognizing the triggers for students with EBD is crucial in preventing the behaviors in the classroom that will result in suspensions. Effective crisis management and strategies for talking down students is essential for teachers to help minimize the extent of behavioral issues.

msyeager's picture

I believe this a very debated topic not just special education but also general education. Those are always two sides of the coin on this issue. There are those educators who believe that these students should receive harsh punishments for the actions they are displaying, such as detention or even worse yet jail time. Then there are those educators who see the compassion and want to help these students in any way possible giving these students every opportunity to succeed.

I read an article recently that brought me to tears and made me realize those breakthroughs you make with those "difficult children" shape those students lives more than we will ever know. In the article it talked about how parents worry about the problem child in the class and how their behavior will affect their normal child's behavior. The article is in the form of a letter to those parents stating the things that are good that go on in the classroom for THAT child. An example is that the teacher cannot tell the parents the child sits in their lap just because they want to hear their heart.

These students experience so many things and are looking for that love and attention in the classroom to be reciprocated. Always have a positive outlook and try and talk things out. No matter what never blame a student for the actions that take place! Make sure to always show that you are available and will never judge for their actions or displays of behavior. Each day is a new day!

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