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Children sit next to each other on a classroom carpet. One child has her hand extended, thumb raised.


Paulette Maggiacomo

Paulette Maggiacomo

October 1, 2021

“If a child doesn’t know how to read, we teach. If a child doesn’t know how to swim, we teach. If a child doesn’t know how to divide, we teach. If a child doesn’t know how to behave we…..teach?…….punish? Why can’t we finish the last sentence as automatically as we do the others?”

-Tom Herner, former NASDSE President

The above quote has been resonating with me since I viewed Jacky Howell’s webinar, Turning Challenging Behavior into Prosocial Learning: A New Year Brings New Opportunities. During this continued unprecedented time in our lives, we are all facing challenges, and we have all heard “it’s how we solve or deal with them that makes us different.”

I don’t know about you, but for me it is getting harder and harder to face these challenges in a positive way. Last year your teaching world was turned upside down and this year continues to be anything but normal. So how do we help these children who are entrusted to our care? When we see challenging behavior what do we do – do we teach or punish?

Children need our unconditional acceptance and support to make meaningful relationships and it begins with us. You know what, let’s replace children need with children deserve.

Are you willing to be a detective (to find what the child’s trigger is and how to teach skills to change the behavior), an archeologist (to look into the child’s past), and a connector (to form those teacher – child relationships)?

We know that Social/Learning is a process. How can we effectively guide our children (and ourselves) through this?

Consider the Environment

  • Is your classroom welcoming?

  • Do you provide areas for children to explore?

  • Do you have visuals around the room: daily schedule, routines? Children thrive on predictability.

  • Are your class commitments discussed each day and all day?

  • Have you created a safe place for children to go to when they are struggling?

Understand the Importance of our Role as Adults

How do we react to children’s struggles? Do we punish or do we see as an opportunity teach missing skills? Are you willing to see them through a different lens?

Are you willing to just sit with a child for a few minutes and simply spend time with them? (I hear you saying that you don’t have time. I know you have so much to do but I promise you that if you take the time now to make that connection, the results will be worth it!)

How we talk to others and what we say matters!

Are you willing to use Positive Language Alternatives?

Instead of:

  • Calm down!

  • Stop crying!

  • Be quiet!

  • Don't get upset!


  • How can I help you?

  • I see this is hard for you.

  • Use a softer voice.

  • It's okay to be sad.

And remember:

Our self-talk becomes their self-talk.

Our expectations become their expectations.

Prosocial Information

Are you willing to provide your children with ways to learn empathy? When talking about empathy, Jacky spoke about Dr. Becky Bailey, founder of Conscious Discipline. She mentioned I Love You Rituals, to help build moments of connection, and Baby Doll Circle Time, to learn how to care for others.

  • Are you willing to have a pet in your classroom that the children can care for?

  • Are you willing for each child to have their own job?

  • Are you willing to post a Kindness Tree that documents kind acts?

  • Are you willing to be mindful?

  • Are you willing to offer your children times to use mindfulness during the day?

I hope that you had an a-ha moment while reading this and that you are willing to incorporate these strategies in your classroom to give your students both what they need and they deserve.

Lastly, I would like to leave you with a quote from Rita Pierson: “Every child deserves a champion: an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection and insists they become the best they can possibly be.”

Are YOU willing to be that champion?

Until next time, I wish you well,

Paulette Maggiacomo

A teacher sits at a table with preschool students.
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