When we exclude students, parents or each other from the learning process of life, a tremendous amount is lost.
In the wake of the tragic event in Parkland, FL, I am reminded of a high school student I worked with years ago. The school administrator called me shortly after I met him, informing me he had been expelled for threatening to harm another student who had been relentlessly teasing him. He had autism. I asked if anyone in the school was teaching a more positive way to interact with each other, for all students.
In the fall of this school year, a teacher asked me if a student, repeating seventh grade, who had perpetually been on "social probation" should be allowed to attend a field trip with his peers. Yes! I replied. I have no idea how a student on perpetual social probation learns to better interact with others when he is not allowed to be in their company.
And just two weeks ago, I advocated for an eight-year-old not to be expelled for threatening her dedicated aide. I provided suggestions of how she could more appropriately advocate for her independence, and how others could accept her requests, as an alternative.
When will we as a community of support for youth understand that the words and actions of children who are struggling are a plea for help, and not a reason to exclude? I am a firm believer that there is always another way.
In my recent lectures about the need to understand why students do what they do, and how we can better teach them to do something different, I now beginning to refer to my students with challenging behaviors as the "light workers." While I agree that their behavior is often not appropriate for school, I am opposed to the idea that excluding them from learning, or looking to move them down the hall, or across town to a different school will teach them anything about what they are doing and what they could do different. I believe their actions, albeit challenging and "inappropriate," are the best learning opportunities... for ALL.
They are shining the light on what we, as school communities, can do better to teach, encourage, motivate and shape positive behavior of everyone. As I share often, "Behavior is not just Johnny throwing a desk..." Everything we ALL do is behavior, and when we begin to own our actions in a different way, so will Johnny. That is the science of behavior.
The behavior of students with learning challenges, emotional and mental health needs, and those simply outraged by the state of our broken communities, will not improve until the behavior of those responsible for leading them (educators, law makers, community members, etc.) improve.