I do not know how many of you follow me on Instagram or Facebook, but if you do you might have found out that last week I took a day off after not calling off for a Semester. 

Some of you may be saying, “Wow, how could you have done that”. Yes, it was hard, and there were times I wanted to throw the towel, scream and just raise my hands up in the air and shout why. 

But I really wanted to make sure that my students had a good foundation before I called off and they would keep their cool. 

Well I called off and the day didn’t go as planned, and the majority of the work that I left was not completed. According to the substitute teacher, they had a hectic day, and the teacher assistants told me that all the students missed me so there was an increase of non-compliance. 

The next day, my supervisor asked me how do you do what you do. I told her it is all about building relationships. Yes, the students that I teach can be challenging at times but they need to know that they are accepted and loved. 

A way that I do this is by focusing on the following 5 strategies. If these are consistent, the students will trust you and express their needs. The communication might not always be appropriate, but you need to remember that behaviour is communication. 


Provide Structure

The students in my classroom thrive on structure. They are so used to the routine, if something is out of the ordinary they have a look on their face that something is wrong. The structure is so important because it allows the student to know what is going to happen next. Structure sets up clear expectations and embeds classroom procedures.  It all makes the students feel safe, and active learning can begin.


Learning Is Fun When It Is Active

Have you ever been in a class where it is the same thing every day, and there is no way to incorporate the things that you want to do?  Student choice is so important, because it allows the student to actively pursue what interests them, and in return, they are engaging in the curriculum. This is one thing that I do in my classroom is to give my students choices. I am not saying that I let them do whatever they want, but the assignments are related back to what they love and their interests as well as lessons that get them moving. 

Many times we will have dance breaks in the classroom, the majority of the time they just look at me at laugh but if I put on one of the student’s favourite artists. They will get up and dance, and then after we dance. I would ask them for how long did we move? Can anyone calculate how many calories we would have burned if we danced for five more minutes? 

It is not about getting the right answer at that particular time, it is about engaging the students in active critical thinking, so they will take back what they learned and share it with others. I always know when a student is actively engaged when they tell others what they have learned and then show others how to do it as well. 

I have one student in particular, who will tell his peer mentors what he needs to do and how to do it after I have taught him a mini-lesson. Even though the peer mentors know how to do the task. It gives him a sense of pride that he is helping them to know how to help him, so he can understand the task. 


Connect With Their Interests

Each morning when the students are entering the classroom, I am having a conversation with them while they are unpacking their backpacks and hanging up their coats. I am not standing behind my desk. I am making observations and making sure that they are ready to learn, or assessing if they need additional minutes in the morning to get ready for the day.

So many of our students come to school with other issues on their mind and they need that time to decompress and get ready for the day. That is why it is so important to understand who they are and what they like. 

One of my students, love food so we connect on what he had for dinner and then he tells me all the things that he is going to have for lunch. He also likes sand and playing with water beads. Another one of my students love cars and knows every make and model as well as can tell you about how a cell phone works, so we connect over that. There is a student who loves animation, and we connect over cartoons and puppets. 

If you just listen to what your student is talking about, you can make that connection with them and then begin to build a positive relationship. Once you know what your student is class interested in you can create creative ways to include their interests in your lessons. If you take the time to listen to your students and build positive relationships you will see increased participation, higher involvement and an overall increase in learning.


Treat Them With Respect And Dignity

Yes, it is hard being a special education teacher and each day is different, but if you do not treat your student’s respect and dignity you are going to be constantly dealing with behaviour problems. 

Each day I begin the day anew when the students walk into my room they are walking in for the first time. I do not hold anything against them of what happened the previous day, we all just begin again. I know that this is very hard, especially when you are dealing with challenging behaviours, but if you do not do this your classroom will be in a constant state of flux. 

I remember one morning a student got off the bus looked at me and then gave me that look. I said ok, it is going to be one of those days. I followed him and then asked him what was wrong. He said are you mad at me for what I did. I said to him, no I could never be mad at you, you were just having a bad day yesterday. But today we are going to have an awesome good day. 

By just giving him that assurance, that I was not holding anything against him, and we start anew his whole demeanour changed and he was able to relax and get start his routine. 

At that moment I could have told him all the things that he did wrong, but instead, I set him up to have a successful day. 


Have A Positive Attitude

I am not a  positive happy butterfly all the time, I have my hard days just like my students. I wear my emotions on my sleeve, and at times the teacher bear just like the mama bear comes out. 

The one thing that is so important when working with challenging students, is to not let your personal issues interfere with reaching and teaching the students in your classroom. You need to leave your issues at the door. 

If you are positive, excited and energetic about what is going on your students will be too. No one likes to be around someone who is always being negative or bringing up how a student was the previous day. 

Challenging students will exceed expectations for a teacher that believes in them and does not hold anything against them, but they will put up that wall of resentment and have challenging behaviours with that individual who is constantly bringing up their past behaviour issues. 

Are you ready to develop positive relationships with your challenging students?

Join my Facebook group. If you want more individualized coaching, schedule a meeting with me and we can discuss your top 3 concerns, and make an action plan going forward. 


I look forward to working with you. 

Nicolette Lesniak, Ed.S

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