Case Study

Engaging in action research and building networks among educators

Creating better supports for students with distracting behaviors - TJ's story

TJ is a strong teacher with seven years of experience; he knows the curriculum and standards extremely well and has strong relationships with his colleagues and school leaders. Partially due to this expertise, he’s been asked to take on three students with high needs, all of which have IEPs and 504 plans that must be strictly monitored. In many ways he’s well-suited for the task and has a previous co-teaching relationship with the reading interventionist and many years of experience working with the sped staff. Despite all of these qualifications, he was having a difficult year and it was showing up not only in his work with the three students with special needs, but in his classroom culture overall. The procedures, tasks, and incentives that worked in the past weren’t having the same impact this year.

TJ described how he worked closely with a sped teacher and reading interventionist, so his coach Amber suggested they join the ELO observation. Following the ELO observation, all three observers noted that most students that weren’t learning as effectively were distracted by other students. The team helped TJ create a theory of action that those students that were distracted could be reengaged by creating better supports for the four students with the most distracting behaviors (identified through the ELO data collection).

To better understand the root causes of the distracting behavior Amber proposed they shadow the four students throughout the day. The team observed their interactions, patterns, and behaviors in lunch, PE, reading intervention, writer’s workshop, and STEM. These were the five portions of the day that students were not with TJ, but rather led by other educators. The data collected on all four students showed similar trends – PE, reading intervention and writers workshop structures supported their needs, while lunch and STEM did not. This correlated with the times of day that the most disruptive behavior occurred. The team also noted how many different adults those students interacted with and were surprised by the inconsistent expectations, approaches, and relationships across that team of eight adults.

TJ’s initial reaction to that data was feeling overwhelmed – he was the classroom teacher, but he didn’t have the time or authority to tell seven other adults how they needed to interact with students. Amber started by asking TJ who he collaborates with regularly and he noted the reading interventionist, counselor, and special education staff. She noted that he was already meeting with a variety of people effectively and suggested that was a good model to apply to new collaborative relationships. Yes, but the time! The time was another issue and through deeper conversation with his coach TJ realized he was meeting with each of these stakeholders separately and ad hoc, as opposed to meeting all together on a regular basis. Out of this conversation, a new structure began, by agreement of those eight staff members, who turned out to have similar frustrations and concerns. Those meetings naturally led to other conversations about high needs students in different grades and laid the ground work for a Student Support Team that now exists across the school.

The impact on learning in TJ’s class was not a quick fix. It took time to rebuild trust and consistency with the students that had been struggling to have their needs met – they were accustomed to ever-changing expectations, and the freedom that came with them. Initially they pushed against the new structures and consistent messaging, but two months later there was a notable difference in TJ’s class, not only for the four student we’d shadowed, but for the learning in the class as a whole.

The individual coaching was one of the most powerful experiences for me as a teacher. I was able to receive input on my teaching and dig deep into how my students were learning. I was able to learn from my experiences, both positive and negative. Professional development is great and there are so many opportunities out there for teachers, but to work with a coach to go over your own teaching, that is transformative.

 - TJ Serrianne, Teacher and Instructional Lead

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