Tools for Teachers

There is no doubt, teachers are magical humans.  Their job is one of the hardest, most important jobs in the whole world. 

One amazing teacher has the ability to change a student's life.  They impact how a student feels about learning.  When a child thinks their teacher likes or gets them, they try harder.

When my husband was in primary school, not much was widely known about ADHD.  He was very disruptive and sometimes aggressive in the classroom - there were not many strategies then about handling ADHD kids. 

The Principal saw something in Anthony.  He noticed that he was very good at building things.  He started getting Anthony to do odd jobs around the school.  Anthony planted trees in the garden, weeded garden beds and cemented in a new letterbox.  As he worked the Principal would talk to him and teach him things in the syllabus.  That one Principal who was forward thinking enough to know what Anthony needed at that time had a huge impact.

Statistically there are one or two ADHD kids in each class.  It is incredibly common, although that doesn't make it easy.  Not all children with ADHD present the same and not every strategy will work for every kid.  You need to find what works for each individual and there can be some trial and error.

Most of all you need to show the child that you like them, not just tolerate them.  Even though sometimes it is hard, you need to believe in them and show them that you know they are an amazing human. 

You see, ADHD kids typically polarise teachers - some love them and some are frustrated by them.  The most distressing thing is, the child knows.  I have often heard "I don't think my teacher likes me".  The child is taking it personally.

Here are 10 easy tools to help. 

1. Look at where you are sitting ADHD kids

Generally you want to sit the ADHD child at the front, as close to you as possible, where there are little distractions.  Surround the ADHD child with children who are kind, patient and set a good example. 

If the ADHD child has any tics or anything that may make them self conscious you might like to ask them where they want to sit - as sometimes sitting at the front can be daunting for these children.

2. Draw it up for them

When the children enter the classroom have a visual schedule of how this day/class is going to go.  Write it on the board and tick it off as you go.  It is incredibly reassuring for the ADHD brain to have a visual plan and to know what is coming next.  You may also like to write next to the activity if they need any specific equipment to complete that task.

Under ADHD is a big base note of anxiety and this anxious brain is comforted by visual charts, schedules and routines.

3. Have a secret code

Asking for help can be scary and embarrassing, especially if you need lots of help.  Some teachers give the ADHD child an item, say a ruler, that is painted red on one side.  If the child needs help he/she can flip the ruler over to the red side so the teacher can see that they need help without having to verbally ask. 

4. Starting a task

You may like to give the ADHD child something to do when they first walk in, something like read this book or colour this picture.  Then get the rest of the class set up with the task.  Once that is done, set the ADHD child up with the task.  Please keep it simple, one or two steps at a time.  It needs to be broken down into manageable steps that are short and clear.  Verbally saying it as well as drawing it out on the board or their note paper can be great too. 

If you need the ADHD child to listen to a specific point, a light/reassuring touch on the hand or shoulder can bring their attention to you so they focus on what you are saying.

You can assist them sensorily by allowing them fidget toys, a pencil with something they chew on the end of it, bands on the bottom of their chair legs to flick with their feet and other sensory items.

Using props, visual aids, charts and videos can really help too.

Try and align tasks with something that interests them.  I can't tell you how many successful assignments we have done on dirt bike riding!  

5. Break cards

If the child is feeling overwhelmed or about to have a meltdown, a break card can be a great resource.  The child can have these and when the moment requires they can hand it to the teacher and the child can go to their (pre-arranged) safe place to regulate or calm down.  This can be an area like a sensory corner, bathroom or reading area.

One of my son's teachers used to get him to deliver fake notes to the office all the time.  When she felt that he was about to loose it or needed a walk, she would say "Xavi, can you please deliver this very important note to the office for me?" He would then deliver it and the office staff would make a fuss about how great a messenger he was.  When he would return to class, the big feelings had passed and he could successfully rejoin the group.

Don't be afraid to ask "What does your brain need right now?" most kids know exactly what they need to self regulate.

6. Movement breaks

It can be like torture for an ADHD kid to sit still for too long.  Make sure they move.  Incorporate movement breaks.  High energy dancing or jumping on the spot every 20-30 mins can really help get the best out of these kids.

7. Make them feel important

Give them a job or responsibility that makes them feel special or important.  They can hand out drink bottles, hand out worksheets, ring the school bell.  Show them you trust them to do this 'very important' job.  

8. Give specific feedback

As the student finishes the class it can be really helpful to give them feedback about how it went.  Try and keep it as positive as possible.  It helps to be really specific about what was good and what was not so good - so they know which behaviours you want repeated.

9. Praise, praise, praise

The ADHD child gets so much more negative feedback than the neurotypical child.  Actively look for ways you can praise them and catch them doing something good.  Be specific about praise if you want them to repeat the behaviour.  For example "Hey Xavi, I really liked it how you put your hand up to answer the question and waited your turn - well done".

Tell them "Hey, I love having you in my class.  You always bring a different perspective and you are so great at xyz".  Watch their face light up.  They may not always show it but they are desperate to be included and valued.

10.  Collaboratively work with the parents

Being a parent to an ADHD kid can a rocky road.  It is exhausting, isolating and amazing all at the same time.  A lot of the time parents get a lot of negative feedback about their child, so make sure you reach out to tell them when their child has done something positive too.  They need to hear about when their child has done something good!  

If a problem arises that needs to be addressed with the parents approach it collaboratively.  You want to work together with them to brain storm ideas about what can be done to help the situation.  If it is a mutually collaborative relationship it will be beneficial to everyone.  


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