The Words We Use

I read a quote yesterday that said, “What if every time you said that a student was attention seeking, you said instead they were connection seeking. How would that change your perspective?” At first, I could hear the diatribe running through my head of all the students I could think of who I had interacted with throughout the day that were attention seeking. I also counted the number of times in the last month I had sat in meetings and said to a team, “So the function of the behavior is attention seeking?” It was too many times to count on my fingers and toes.

Research from Sara Rimm-Kaufman, Ph.D., and Lia Sandilos, Ph.D., University of Virginia, found that “students who have a better connection or relationship with their teachers will have higher achievements and fewer struggles with behavioral challenges versus students who do not have a connection.” While a human connection may not stop all behaviors from occurring, it can provide the building blocks needed to change students’ behavior to a positive.  Relationships are the complexity of our lives and that, which brings us joy. However, many of the students I work with are struggling to find positive and appropriate human contact that builds them up.

I started to think about the students who I was referring to on my campus. Their stories would make you cry and, while it does not excuse the behavior, I started to wonder what would happen if I said to these students, “It seems you need a human connection right now. How can I help you with that?” How would it change a student’s behavior?

It can be so difficult and challenging to build a relationship with a student who is engaging in behaviors that are disrupting their learning or are harming other students.  However, I believe if we start somewhere positive we are going to get further than if we come at it from a place of only seeing why a student engages in the behavior. Asking the question, “What type of human connection do you need right now?” helps the students and myself to refocus the lens from the behavior to what is the need that is not being met. From there we can develop a plan of action to meet that need.

So, for the next month, the challenge to myself is that when I see a student running around a room, getting up out of their chair multiple times, or speaking out and arguing with staff, I’m going to take a step back and say, “It seems you need some human connection right now. What can I do to help with that?” I’m not sure where this will take me, or how it will help. It will be my little experiment or intervention in order to further help the students on my campus, but I’m excited about the opportunities that this short phrase will bring my way.  I am excited to see the positive changes in the students around me as I see them not as doing negative things to attention seek, but helping them to find ways to connect with others. What new strategy will you use this month to connect with your students?


Dr. Austine Etcheverry

I started my educational career as a 1:1 paraprofessional for a student who was blind and had a cognitive impairment. After this amazing opportunity, I decided teaching was my passion. In 2007 I became a certified special education teacher and taught 5th – 8th grade resource. Throughout my career in education, I have held various leadership roles such as a technology coach, an exceptional needs coach and an IEP coordinator. Three years ago, I decided to begin pursuing my National Board Certification and was fortunate enough to achieve in December 2018. I currently have the privilege of being the principal in the Avondale Elementary School District at a school for students with an emotional disability. I have my own social media company where I write and create dental blogs. I have also had the honor of publishing articles in a dental magazine as well as published a young adult science fiction series. In December 2018, I became a certified yoga instructor and recently completed my Doctorate in Education Leadership and Administration from Aspen University.

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