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ADHD - 10 Tips for Classroom Management

16/10/17

We are half way through the ADHD Awareness month and this useful entry belongs to Emma, our long-term supply teacher. 

When I first started teaching over twenty years ago, ADHD was rarely diagnosed and when it was, it was then treated with suspicion and medication by people that barely knew what it meant. I’d like to say that things have progressed in the intervening years, and to a large degree, they have, but despite there being a great deal of research into the causes and recognition of the ADHD signs in children and adults, there is little actual advice on what to do on an everyday, practical level.

The advice I am offering is based on what did and did not work in my classroom and that of my colleagues. The best laid plans and the serious books that seem to suggest that everyone fits a mould, never quite work out the way you anticipate, but it is always worth remembering that everything is a learning experience, and that from the least likely of sources something great can grow.

1. KEEP IT CALM...

...and don’t go too bright. Although we know that young children react well to lots of bright colours and stimulating, attractive resources, these are the very things that can totally overload the child that is picking up on every stimulus around them and finds it difficult to filter what is important and relevant. Picture trying to solve a really tricky maths problem with the equivalent of disco lights flashing around you saying, ‘look at me’ and you can imagine how difficult it is to focus. This doesn’t mean that you have to have boring and dull classrooms either, just mute the colours and keep it simple, or provide the ADHD child with an area that is calm for them to work in.

2. PROVIDE A BOLT HOLE...

...make a safe place for a moment of calm. A quiet area should be just that, a peaceful oasis that children can go to when things get too much. The darker the better, with blankets and cushions, as ADHD children often find themselves frustrated by their classmates, teachers, the weather or whatever, or over-stimulated by someone’s joke (uncontrolled laughter is something that once it starts, is difficult to stop). Having somewhere to go to calm down, on their own, to curl up or lash out, where you know they are and feel safe, is absolutely fundamental. This area often becomes a favourite place for everyone. Teachers, too, at the end of the day.

3. LET YOUR CLASSROOM FEEL CALM...

...I’m not a big fan of the inspirational quote poster, as they can be overused and insincere if not carried through in actions, but creating an atmosphere of calm is about reminding everyone about how to be calm, and if your students need reminders pinned to the wall, do it. However, do change these and talk about them – there’s nothing like a faded poster to reflect faded dreams. Keep the intention fresh too.

4. GET TO KNOW THE CHILD...

...I know, it is stating the obvious, but it never fails to amaze me how many times I’ve heard colleagues bemoan the behaviour of a child and was batted away after trying to help them. They wanted to form their own relationship with the child, which is perfectly fine, as preconceptions are dangerous, but I saw no evidence of that either. Take time to listen to colleagues and their strategies that helped the individual child, and what didn’t, learn from them. Talk to parents, family and guardians. Most of all, talk to the child, as often as you can, if all you do is ask them about how they are or how their lunchtime was, as they want to know you care and are interested in them. Incorporate their interests into lessons and engage them more.

5. KNOW THEIR LIMITS...

...there are some things that children with ADHD do brilliantly, there are some things that are more difficult for them. Don’t be blind to either. Praise them to the hilt for their moments of glory, as you can bet everyone in the class will be more than aware of the other moments and will have heard about them before you most of the time. There may well be that there are particular times of the day or activities that trigger certain behaviours in the ADHD child. Log them, and find a way to help them to cope with them. When the difficult moments happen, acknowledge them (explain what’s going on to the child, as they might not even know what they’ve done wrong), deal with them, move on. The best thing is to ignore them, but living in the real world means that there are just times for everyone’s safety and sanity that you have to intervene.

6. HAVE A PLAN...

...plan for the good times and the bad times. Behaviour plans for children with ADHD should reflect the times when they make good and bad decisions. Label the actions as such – you have a choice, you can do ‘this’ and ‘this’ will happen, or you can do ‘that’ and ‘that’ will happen – as this gives some distance between the act and the child (the child retains the power to come out on top, but will see the consequences of their actions). However, change the strategies if they don’t work. Don’t keep going hoping that they’ll suddenly work if you’ve been going for weeks with no improvement.

7. BE CONSISTENT...

...whatever strategies you choose, stick to them, whatever mood you’re in, whatever the weather is doing and whatever the headteacher is doing, so make sure that the strategies you choose are mood-proof, weather-proof, headteacher-being-out-proof, SENCO-being-ill-proof.

8. KEEP THE VOLUME DOWN...

...remember what effect the disco lights can have? Try to imagine working with a washing machine blasting in your ears, because that is how it can feel for the ADHD child. Hyper-sensitivity to touch and sound can make it difficult for ADHD children to concentrate (and yes, I know, they can be the ones making the noise half the time). Keeping a calm and quiet classroom or teaching environment is good for everyone, least of all your own voice box. Counting down from ten gives everyone fair warning to be quiet and gives you chance to calm down too if the class is stressing you out! Repeat until it works. It does really work. Shouting or raising your voice rarely does and can just make a bad situation worse. If you’re hypersensitive to noise, how would you react?

9. STAR CHARTS ETC...

...reward the good and mark the not-so-hot with a line. Basically, find your own way of charting a good week. A reward for a good day or a good week in the form of a sticker is hugely exciting for everyone.

10. FIDDLE OBJECTS...

...are brilliant – but don’t let them overtake everything else! Have a plan for how they are used. Fidget spinners are great, but agree on who has them and when they are used.

MY BEST ADVICE

Breathe

 – there will be days when it feels too much. You’re tired, you’ve got reports to write, someone has just been sick on your new shoes, and then the ADHD child is running about being Thomas the Tank Engine or has told you that you’ve ruined his life because it’s time to pack up the Lego. 

Breathe

 – you can do this. Count to ten. Smile, and remember, you have a plan. Stick to the plan and be calm. You can do this.

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