ASCD Whole Child Bloggers

Make All Students Feel Special

ASCD Annual Conference and Exhibit Show

Post written by Rachel Syms, a native of Los Angeles who moved to Chicago to pursue a degree in journalism at Columbia College. She hopes to write for a magazine after graduation.

"How many of you, yourselves, were challenging, disruptive, or unmotivated back when you were in school?" That's the question Brian Mendler, adjunct professor at St. John Fisher College in New York, asked the room full of educators attending his 2013 ASCD Annual Conference session, "Motivate and Manage a Differentiated Classroom."

Mendler, author of The Taming of the Crew and coauthor of Strategies for Successful Classroom Management and Discipline with Dignity, admits that as a child he struggled with his disruptive behavior in the classroom and a severe learning disability that interfered with his reading capabilities. He says that he was able to get through school until the 4th grade, when faking it became a problem because of a difficult teacher he didn't get along with. Mendler says the teacher mocked him, called him lazy and unmotivated, and told him to try harder. After being labeled "emotionally disturbed" following a disagreement with the teacher, he was placed into self-contained special education for two years.

"It's so easy to do to kids what's never been done to us," he said to the audience as he walked up and down the center aisle, after asking if any of the attendees had been placed into self-contained special ed when they were younger. He spoke about the effects of name-calling and finger-pointing with students who have learning disabilities or behavioral problems.

In a speech full of spontaneity, excitement, and force, Mendler interacted with the audience, making sure everyone in attendance received a clear message. During the session, he focused on ways teachers can prevent behavior problems by using specific prevention phrases, methods for reducing and avoiding power struggles in the classroom, and mistakes teachers often make when dealing with students and parents.

Mendler told the audience about the 6th grade teacher who changed his life within the first five minutes of meeting him.

"He told me he liked having me in his class," said Mendler. "He said, 'I love working with kids like you because you're smart, you're a leader, and you have stuff I can't teach." Mendler emphasized the importance of asking students, "Guys, what's your one thing in this world that you're going to become great at?"

After the session, the audience was energized, having experienced Mendler's upbeat energy and lively speech that featured face-to-face examples, call and response, and lots of applause and laughter from the audience.

"My favorite part was the beginning and the end," said Gwen Sebastian-Hill, a 35-year teaching veteran who now works as a consultant. "He starts off talking about a teacher that made such a difference. When you think about it, that one little thing of saying that you love him and want him in your class, that kind of thing. It makes all the difference in some kids' lives."

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