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How to Connect with a Challenging Student

Learn how to connect with a challenging student from education consultant Grace Dearborn in this Howcast video.


How to positively connect with a challenging student. There are a lot of different ways to do this. A lot of them rely on, or most of them even rely on getting to know the student on a more personal level or creating some kind of personal connection with the student. Simple things might be light going to see them in a sports game after school that they are involved in or a recital or a performance that they are involved in. At the elementary level one way to do that is to join them at recess when they're playing Foursquare or Wall Ball, join in the game so they can feel a little bit more personally connected to you not as the authority figure, but more as a concerned friendly adult. That will often break down their feeling of resistance towards you if you're struggling with that particular student.

A more structured way to bring about personal connection with students is to try a strategy we call the Two-by-Ten strategy. This is a strategy where you look for 2 minutes a day, 10 days in a row to have a personal connection with a particularly challenging student on anything the student happens to be interested in as long as the topic of conversation is G rated. Two minutes a day, ten days in a row. The research on this was done by a man named Raymond Wlodkowski and his research indicates that if you do the Two-by-Ten with a particularly challenging student their behavior can improve by up to 85%. They aren't the only ones that will improve, right? The whole class will improve because when this particular student does better, everybody does better if they're that much of a disruption initially.

What's happening there, at least in my mind, is kids that are super challenging for us have a constantly cramping muscle and that muscle is cramping because they want but they don't have a personal connection with an adult authority figure. For most students, that desire for personal connection is paramount to learning content. When they act out it's their way of saying this need has not yet been met. When that need is met, when they do feel connected to us, that muscle relaxes, they relax and they are more able to focus and pay attention and do the things we want them to do in the classroom.

One other way to connect with students is to find ways to be funny with them. Tell jokes. Have them tell jokes. Set it up in a super structured way so that you don't get inappropriate jokes but bringing levity, humor and laughter into the classroom really lowers the defenses of challenging students and can help us really positively connect with them and the whole class at the same time. Those are some ideas for positively connecting with students.

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