No matter how well-behaved any of our classes might be, inevitably there will be times during the year when many children seem to be going through a rough stretch all at once. Having a bunch of students experience a bump in the road at the same time should not be taken as a reflection of our management skills. It simply means that our students are human. As teachers, we can't predict or control when these ups and downs will occur, but we can control how we respond to them.
Over the years, I have learned that when significant numbers of kids are having trouble focusing on their work in class or finding themselves getting into an unusually high number of arguments on the playground, the most effective response is often storytelling.
When telling a story, the key is to feature a student who isn't involved in the incident(s) happening at the time, who experienced something similar in the past, and who overcame that difficulty using an approach that others can emulate. That way, everyone can relate to and benefit from the story's messages, yet nobody feels as if they are being singled out, put on the spot, or made to feel guilty about something they just got caught doing. This approach is non-threatening, and kids can listen to our stories with some emotional detachment.
As the kids listen to me, they will naturally put themselves in the shoes of the featured student, think through the given situation, and absorb the lessons that I am embedding in the story. The storytelling approach is far more effective than lecturing, rewarding, or punishing. Next week I will present a story I once told my class in response to an issue some students were having taking responsibility for their actions.