For Teachers

Guiding Good Behavior: Tips from a Seasoned Teacher

How teachers can engage children with ADHD in the classroom and inspire better behavior from all students.

In my 34 years of teaching first-graders, I’ve found that children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyslexia, or other learning disabilities are sometimes the most fascinating, the most knowledgeable, and the deepest thinkers.

Children with attention deficit disorder might go unappreciated — unless teachers look for the positive qualities while helping them improve their behavior. Here are some things that have worked for me.

Avoid Humiliating Children

It’s easy to call out the names of children with problematic behaviors. “Jack, don’t do that!” “Gracie, don’t touch that!” But not only does the rest of the class tire of hearing these refrains, it’s terrible for the morale of the child who may not be able to control his constant movement.

1. Choose seating wisely.
Have the dynamo sit near the teacher or other adult. That way, the teacher can whisper, rather than broadcast reminders, about behavior.

[The Best Seat in the House for Students with ADHD]

2. Agree on signals.
Work together with the child on some non-verbal signals. For example, one child in my class was constantly tapping the floor or poking other children. He and I had decided that, when I looked directly at him and patted my knees, he would put his hands on his lap.

Plan for Smooth Transitions

For some children, transitions from one activity to another, or from the classroom to the lunchroom, are difficult times.

1. Review expectations.
Before every transition, I give a signal and review what is expected. I might say, “We are finished with writing workshop. You will put your writing folders in the box.”

When that is completed, I’ll say, “You will bring your reading journal and a pencil to story circle.” When children know exactly what is expected of them, it is much easier to develop and follow that pattern of behavior.

[Free Download: The Teacher’s Guide to ADHD and Classroom Behavior]

2. Assign special jobs.
If a child has trouble with a task, such as getting his coat from the closet and waiting in line to go to lunch, I give him a special job while the rest of the class is getting ready. I will say quietly, “Braydon, hurry and get your jacket, then sharpen these pencils.”

Braydon is delighted to use our electric sharpener, and he knows he’s making a contribution that actually helps our class.

3. Stay close.
My students choose new line partners each month. I determine which pairs of kids are toward the front of the line. A child who has difficulty with behavior will walk closer to me. In some cases, a child will be my partner. This changes as a child’s behavior improves.