Engaging “Break The Mold” Kids
Guest article written by: Michele Timmons
Engaging break the mold kids
- Engage their hearts to engage their minds
- Wiggle room
- Lighten up
- Don’t give up
- Learn how they learn
How many times throughout your career have you looked at a student and thought (or maybe even said), “when you were made they broke the mold”? Occasionally it was said with wonder or even awe because the youth was so amazing. Most often, though, this phrase is said in exasperation or frustration. I should know because I was a break the mold kid who turned out to be a break the mold adult, who married a break the mold husband and …wait for it… gave birth to three break the mold kids.
Personally, I think break the mold kids ROCK. They were always my favorite when I was a teacher and school leader. In fact, in 2003 I opened a charter school just for break the mold kids. The state called it a dropout recovery school and we served the students who just couldn’t be successful in other school settings.
Over the years, I discovered there are six major strategies to successfully engaging break the mold kids. Some strategies are easy and others take more effort. Some strategies seem to just be common sense and others push teachers to think outside the box. Try them anyway and see how it works.
Six Strategies to Engage Break the Mold Kids
Engage their hearts to engage their minds
Break the Mold kids thrive on connection – to you as a person and to the content itself. Once they believe you care about them, they are more willing to engage in learning.
- Make an effort to get to know something about them. Have conversations with them about non-school activities that are important to them.
- Take time to listen to what they are saying aloud and what their body language says.
- Give them responsibility, even when you think they don’t deserve it.
- Use inquiry based learning rather than following the text page after page.
- Make them THINK, INNOVATE and solve real world problems.
- Give them choices in how they learn the content and how they demonstrate their learning.
Learn how they learn
In today’s world, every school spends a gazillion hours (or so it seems to teachers and kids) assessing student learning. Yet, very few use some of that time assessing how students learn. There are many quick and easy learning style inventories or leadership inventories that can be done in classrooms. All it takes is a quick internet search and a teacher can find tons of these activities. Building instructional tasks based upon student learning styles is great for all students but especially critical for break the mold kids. Teachers do not need to make every task aligned to all students’ learning styles, because students it is important to stretch students’ abilities to adapt. However, by intentionally integrating strategies which meet different learning style needs, teachers increase engagement and long term learning.
Give Them Wiggle Room
Break the Mold kids need both figurative and literal wiggle room to succeed.
- Desks with attached chairs limit movement. Consider using tables and chairs or desks with separate chairs. These options allow kids more movement while still staying in the same general space.
- Flexible space and seating. It’s OK to require all students to be in their designated seats during direct instruction. Encourage them to move around, flex their seating and space once they begin independent or group activities. I’ve seen kids sitting on floors, under desks, in bean bags and all over the hall. As long as they are engaged in their work, it shouldn’t really matter where the work occurs.
- Limit Lectures and Direct Instruction. Chunk out the class period so lecture or direct instruction is limited to age appropriate times. Chunking a period into 3-4 time blocks helps increase engagement for every student, but is especially important for break the mold kids because they need movement and variety. Consider using this model (or adapt it to your grade level and/or time block)
- 2 minute brain warm up (while you are taking attendance) activity – alone or in small groups
- 5 minute introduction (day’s outcomes and why it’s important)
- 10-15 minute direct instruction
- 20 minute inquiry activity to reinforce or practice learning
- 2-5 minute wrap up (quick formative assessment)
- Set up procedures so major wigglers can quietly take a walk or bathroom break without disrupting flow of the class. Give them stress balls or other toys (even paper clips) that allow them to fidget quietly.
- Break the Mold kids are often a bit disorganized. Their lockers or back packs are often so messy they struggle to find work. Allow them to turn in work online. Spend some time with them regularly getting organized – and reorganized. Oftentimes the work is actually done, they truly just can’t find it.
Forgive and Forget
Kids do dumb things. Break the Mold kids just tend to do them a little more often. This frustrates teachers and sometimes teachers continue to hold mistakes over their head. What’s been done – is done! Let it go. Start every day as a new day. This is a huge challenge because sometimes the mistakes are big ones. We need to teach kids perseverance and grit. It is OK to make mistakes, even big ones – as long as we don’t make the same mistake twice. When kids make bad choices there are consequences. Once the consequences are complete, process the mistake and help the student learn from it. Once processing has been done – its OVER. Move ON!
- Give students the opportunity to get to know you as a person.
- Share a little about yourself, your hobbies and interests.
- Tell jokes and laugh when kids tell jokes.
- SMILE! Teachers don’t have to be mean to have control of their classroom.
- Delegate responsibilities to all students – not just the ‘good’ ones.
- Give students some control over their learning.
- Let them create the rubric for class management or assignments
Don’t give up
Many of my break the mold kids also experienced trauma in the home or community. They spent most of their childhood watching adults pretend to care or letting them down. As a result, they expected adults to give up on them. They oftentimes did bad things purposely because if I quit after they hurt me, it was easier than if they built trust and then I quit. This is tremendously hard to do, but never give up. When kids are most unlovable is when they need our love the most.
Sometimes, all it takes is one caring adult who uses a couple of these strategies and the student will thrive. Other times it takes a team of very special people who refuse to give up and refuse to give in – and show they are in it for the long haul.
- Clock Watchers by Stevi Quate and John McDermott is a great and easy read with strategies for motivating and engaging disengaged students across content areas.
- Kick Start Your Classroom with K-TECH is a blog series I wrote for EDWorks with tons of practical ideas for improving classroom management and school climate.
- EnvisionEdPlus offers job embedded professional development and technical assistance to schools in a variety of areas including classroom management and school climate. Visit our website or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
As Founder and President of EnvisionEdPlus, Michele Timmons and an amazing team of Innovation Specialists support school and community leaders as they envision a new educational system for today’s schools PLUS offer expert grant writing and research support to assist schools and non-profits as they implement their vision. Mrs. Timmons is a career educator with over 20 years’ experience as a teacher, principals, district administrator, charter school founder and educational service provider. Most recently, she served as the Manager of Partnership Development and Technical Assistance Coach at EDWorks a national leader in innovative school design. Prior to EDWorks, Mrs. Timmons led Muskingum Valley Educational Service Center’s award winning Care Team Collaborative which supported 51 schools in 6 Ohio counties as they implemented a Comprehensive Systems of Learning Supports to address academic and non-academic needs of all children. Michele Timmons’ administrative career started at Maysville Local School District, a small rural district in southeastern Ohio where she held a variety of positions including high school principal and special education director. While at Maysville, Mrs. Timmons founded Foxfire Center for Student Success, one of Ohio’s first charter schools. Foxfire’s design and strong focus on achievement for all brought it recognition by the US Department of Education as a Model Dropout Recovery School. Michele Timmons began her career as a social studies teacher at Reynoldsburg High School.