Monday, July 13, 2015

Programs that Work with Chronic Kids, Part II: Characteristics of Effective Interventionists

In Part I of this topic (Programs that Work with Chronic Kids: Adequate Staffing and Support for Staff), I identified the critical component of adequately staffing your program and the critical component of providing sufficient support for your staff members who work with your most difficult students.

In this post, I will present some of the key characteristics that are important in individuals who are assigned to work with our most challenging young people. We can't always determine from an interview whether a candidate has the essential characteristics. But identifying these characteristics can help us communicate an expectation for the individuals we hire to develop and exhibit these traits.

The Desirable Candidate

The most important characteristic of an adult working with chronic students is an even-tempered personality. Usually, this means the person can speak quietly and move as if he or she is in full control of his/her body and mood. This does not mean that the adult will have a low-energy level, but it does mean that they won't appear so hyper that they have to hear themselves talk all the time or insist on lecturing kids.

The ideal candidate for this position will be able to speak the truth in love to young people. He can articulate an understanding of how young people tick, and he demonstrates the ability to address habits and emotions that lie under the outward show of behavior. He can resist adrenaline floods of frustration because he is confident in his final authority as the teacher or adult, and he realizes that students' ugly behavior usually indicates deep pain or a cry for help.

The suitable adult realizes that building trust takes time and consistency and that blaming or criticizing the student destroys trust. He can model using his words to communicate his needs.

The ideal candidate for a position like this is a coachable individual. He is self-reflective and eager to participate in any training that will increase his knowledge and skills for reaching traumatized kids more effectively. He desires professional development and applies all he learns to his daily interactions. The teachers on my team are highly motivated to research solutions to problems or to initiate ideas for reaching kids.

The Undesirable Candidate

A person who shows any characteristic that is opposite to an even temper should not be selected for this kind of job. A person who demonstrates opposite characteristics is easily offended or frustrated. He holds a grudge against students. He can't stop himself from using criticism or sarcasm, and even resorts to predicting life-long failure for the student. He uses a bossy parental tone, a lecturing mode that incites chronic kids to anger or sullenness.

These individuals hold unrealistic expectations for chronic kids. They seem to think that because the student has a specific behavior plan, or has reached a certain level of intervention, that the student should now be able to control his behavior and should act just like kids who do not have behavior issues. These adults, then, neglect to perform their part of the student's intervention plan, effectively undermining our entire program and setting the student up for more failure. Just as bad is the adult who lets kids run over her, who resorts to bribing kids for minimal compliance, or who lowers standards for behavior.

Most adults do not understand how long it takes to change a kid who has entrenched reasons for his or her chronic behavior issues, much less how to coach the acquisition of life skills for as long as it takes (sometimes years). Eventually, you will hear these individuals say things like, "I've had it. I'm through with this kid. I can't take it. He's hopeless."

"Why Do You Want to Work with the Most Defiant Kids in School?"

At the core of this issue is the individual's motivation for wanting to work with the ugliest-acting, most unproductive, most hopeless kids in school every year. "I need a job," cannot be the only reason an adult wants to do this work.

The suitable adult knows she has something that young people need - persevering love for and belief in kids, especially when the kids cannot yet love or believe in themselves. These adults believe that what they do is too important to quit on kids. They welcome collaboration with like-minded peers to assist students as much as they can. What they do is too important for them to spend their time protecting their turf or seeking attention and accolades for themselves.

Many of the kids my SAFE HOUSE team serves do not come back to thank them for helping them to turn their lives around, to accept themselves, and to appreciate others. These youngsters' improved mental and emotional health is the teachers' reward. They revel in their students' progress and success. It goes beyond conformity to school behavioral norms. These adults care about their students' lives, current and future. They are FOR them and WITH them in their hearts, and their students know it. That's what chronic kids need in adult partners.

Is our Program Replicable in Other Schools?

I sometimes hear that other schools cannot get the same results my SAFE HOUSE does because they do not have adults of the same caliber or expertise for their programs. Actually, the qualities that make good candidates for working with chronic kids make good candidates for working with all kids. School leaders have to motivate and inspire all adults in our buildings to develop character traits and expertise that enable us to make a significant difference in our students' lives. Our program is replicable in any school where people are committed to make it work.

Now that we have described the mindset and personality of the adults who are successful with the most difficult students, we will present the components of the program that result in most of our chronic students staying in school and reconnecting with their peer group as well as with other school personnel. Look for my next post:  Programs that Work with Chronic Kids, Part III: Key Components.

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