What Works with Students Who Avoid or Refuse to Work

 

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What Works with Students

Who Avoid or Refuse to Work

 

 


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What Works with Students

 

Who Avoid or Refuse to Work

 

work refusal articleThey are without a doubt among the hardest students to reach and teach. I’m talking about students who avoid school tasks or refuse to work entirely. Some may become almost mute, others won’t even make eye contact, but the common thread is that the student is drastically underperforming when it comes to accepting, completing and returning assignments. If you’re like most teachers, you never had a class in college called Introduction to Helping Students Who Avoid Work, but you probably wish there had been lots of courses exactly like that. You don’t have to go back to college. Help is right here in this how-to article.

If you want even more strategies and information that can produce improved results from students who avoid or refuse school work, come to our Seattle Breakthrough Strategies to Teach and Counsel Troubled Youth Workshop on April 18-19, 2019 and get hours of detailed, step-by-step instruction on how to maximize your impact on these difficult to teach students. Hello from the course instructor, Youth Change Professional Development Workshops director, Ruth Herman Wells, M.S. That’s a picture of me teaching in Seattle a couple years ago. I hope to see you back there in April when you can actually list out for me the student problems you want me to cover. You’ll leave with 200 use-now, more effective strategies.

 

Innovative Strategies for Students

 

Who Avoid or Refuse to Work

students who don't finish their work

 

Stop the Power Struggle

Most teachers know that is very easy to end up in a power struggle with students who don’t do much school work or none at all. As a mental health professional, I really need to point out that no adult ever won a power struggle and not adult ever will. So, if you have to admit that you do feel a bit like you are in a power struggle with some of your work refusing students, Step #1 has to be to acknowledge that to the youngster, declare a truce and back off for a moment.

Here’s why many or most students refuse work: Much of the time, these children and teens are terribly weighed down by some type of problem. Perhaps a parent is violent or missing. Perhaps they have an undiagnosed or diagnosed learning disorder that makes school work miserable. Maybe they are distracted or unmotivated. In this short article, we’ll focus on the first students mentioned above, the ones that are struggling with some type of emotional, social or learning problem. There are dozens of  free expert, how-to articles our site covering poor motivation that you can read. Building motivation in work refusing students can be a good help but if a student is too busy trying to stay awake after all-night domestic violence, motivation is only going to take you so far. Instead, being sensitive to what the child may be living through, may be a much more effective approach. Remember: You may be the only sane, sober adult in some students’ orbit. You definitely don’t want to add burdens. You want to be on their side as much as you can. Stopping any power struggles and explicitly talking about how to manage the work refusal is a great place to begin again.

students who don't finish their work

 

Ask the Expert

Who you think just might be the best expert to help you figure out how to best work with a student who is avoiding or refusing to work? That student. No one else may know why they are doing so little, so ask then listen carefully to the response you get when you ask for the reason for not wanting to start or complete tasks. If the student answers that they don’t know why, then ask “If you did know why, what might it be?” If that unexpected strategy fails, switch the focus to a friend or someone in popular culture and ask the student why that person might refuse to work. That switch may yield important clues and by shifting the focus to someone else, you may get more truth than the student would tell you otherwise.

Whether or not you succeed at getting more information, use the students’ expertise to improve the situation. Ask the student to help you understand what to do and what not to do to assist them. Tell the student you are on their side and don’t want to add to any problems they may already have. Tell the student that with their guidance, perhaps they could do less work on days they are struggling and more work on days they feel more able. Next, cooperatively develop a step by step plan that features tiny, tiny increases. If you aim for bigger increases, that creates the possibility of a big setback if the student fails. If the increase is tiny, and the student is saying that’s “too easy,” that’s perfect. You want the student to have some small successes but without the risk of a big fail. When this youngster fails, they often disappear from school or lose a lot of ground in other areas. This student is all about anxiety. Everything you do must decrease the anxiety because when the student experiences anxiety, that’s when they refuse work or disappear from school or class.

students who don't finish their work

 

It’s About Control

Typically, students who refuse to work are very anxious. They are struggling to cope. When they refuse to work, they are trying to take control over one of the few things in their world that they have any say over at all. You can struggle with them over the control but that is never going to go well. Instead, hand the control to them and you will see improved results. I suggest explicitly talking about control and anxiety with them, and reassuring them that you don’t want to add to their worries. Tell them you want to give them as much control over their work as possible. That can help them be a little less anxious. Their anxiety is the best guide. When it is high, reduce expectations. When it is relatively low, incrementally increase expectations for work. Let them know that you will give them slack when they are struggling, but in return, ask if they could work as hard as they can on days that they are feeling a bit better.

Be sure that these youngsters understand that they are going to need the skills taught in school, and if you two work together, they can accomplish that in a way that doesn’t put any strain on them. Once you are both on the same side, a general relaxation can occur and improvement can happen– but only to a certain extent. For example, students who are awake much of the night because their home is a battleground, will be limited in how much they will be able to do with little sleep and lots of worries.

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Students Who Refuse Work, Are Violent,
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students who don't finish their work

 

To Push or Not to Push?

Do I push students who do nothing in school, or do I back off? That’s the million dollar question, isn’t it? You may feel that when it comes to students who refuse to work or avoid assignments, it’s lose-lose. If you push, these students tend to double down on their resistance. Many stop showing up for school or class. If you don’t push, then the fear is that you are not educating these youngsters at all. Here’s the solution to this mystery: Both pushing and not pushing result in big fails. “To push or not to push” isn’t even the right question. The better question is “What should I do to get more results from these youngsters? In our workshops, we spend hours answering this question. In this brief how-to article, I can’t fit in the wealth of techniques I’ll be giving in Seattle in April in our Breakthrough Strategies Workshop, but here’s a few key pro tips:

As a mental health professional, I can assure you that typically many students who routinely and seriously refuse or avoid work, are facing some type of emotional, social or behavioral issue that impedes their functioning. Even so, despite the significant (but often not readily apparent or visible) challenges these students may have, most of these youngsters usually have days that are better or worse. On days that this student is struggling, reduce your expectations. On days that this student appears to be doing a bit better, increase your expectations. For example, a girl’s dad is on the road driving a long haul truck 4 days a week. You may notice her functioning is markedly improved when dad is on the road. You may notice the girl’s functioning nose dives when dad returns. That’s the time to cut her slack. Make specific agreements with students that reflect this type of plan.

Students tend to be really grateful to know that you are not going to cause more burdens to be added to their shoulders at times they are already carrying a very heavy load. The upshot is that now that there is no more power struggling over classroom work, and the student realizes that you understand their situation, they tend to work as hard as they can on the days they are able. They also tend to develop a lot of loyalty for you and that helps fuel their desire to work when they aren’t weighed down by whatever they may be going through. As an aside, I have to be sure to remind you to be sure to report any concrete indications of abuse or similar, as you are required by your site.

students who don't finish their work

 

Your Goal

The goal for students who refuse to work can and should be shared with these youngsters. That means you will be sensitive to what trauma, crisis, disability, emotional problem or plight the child is dealing with, but not at the expense of education. There is a balance between being sensitive to what the child may be living through and your mission to educate. If you can find that middle ground between those two parameters, you can really maximize the results these students can achieve.

No, you don’t need to worry about these children taking advantage of you if you are using this methods with students who have a lot of anxiety. That is key. These methods will fail with other populations of students. These intervention methods are designed only for use with students who are anxious or struggling with problems like trauma, domestic violence or loss. Dealing with the anxiety and whatever is causing it, takes so most of this students’ energy and resources. They don’t have much energy or interest left to plot and scheme how to take advantage of your reasonableness and kindness so being manipulated while using these methods is not normally a concern with the target population. Yes, manipulation would occur if you employ these strategies with populations they were not intended for.

If you are using this method with truly anxious and troubled students, they are much more likely to develop enormous loyalty towards you versus expend energy to exploit the accommodations you provide. You may be the only kind, humane adult they interact with. They are unlikely to jeopardize their lifeline. That’s why the best goal is to help them learn to work as hard as they can on days that they’re able. Hearing about that goal can reduce the power struggles and bring relief to children who are awash in pain.

 

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    Schedule the Breakthrough Strategies to Teach and Counsel Troubled Workshop to come to your site. This is the one professional development inservice that produces results, results, results. Call 1.800.545.5736 now. This surprisingly affordable inservice also makes a terrific fund raiser. College credit and 10 professional development clock hours are available. Your staff will finally have the more effective, real-world tools they need to work with today’s challenging, difficult youth.

     

    Contact us now, and begin solving your worst “kid problems” today. Call 1.800.545.5736, or email.

     

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How to Work with Students Who Use Violence to Refuse to Work in Class

 

violent students

 

Just Say "No," Don't Throw!

How to Work with Students
Who Use Violence
to Refuse to Work in Class

 

teacher workshop scholarshipsteacher workshops

 

 

students who refuse workIn this issue, we focus on a question posed by a subscriber to the Behaviors and Classroom Management Blog. You can contact us with your question and you just might see it featured in a future issues. You can email me, Ruth Herman Wells, Director of Youth Change Professional Development Workshops or click Live Help on the bottom of any page on our website

Suzanne is a teacher who emailed me for help teaching her students who are work refusers, but unlike most students who try to do nothing in class, some of Suzanne's students are becoming violent about it. If you are used to students who are more passive about not wanting to work in school, you may find it a whole different ball game when working with students who act out while making their refusal known.

Here is what Suzanne wrote:

"At our school we have been having difficulty dealing with children who when faced with work will throw things, or act out in very dramatic ways. How do you go about helping the child while protecting the education of your other students?"

 

Students Who Refuse to Work

2 Types, 2 Sets of Strategies
 

At the risk of a bit of over-simplification, there are probably at least two major reasons why student will act-out dramatically when faced with work. You can't necessarily use the same interventions with different types of work refusers. Well, you can use the same interventions but they won't work equally well with different kinds of students. Just as you can't use a single math text book or reading technique with every student, you can't rely on a single style of intervention, consequence or talk to work with the variety of students who refuse assignments.
 

student won't work in classStudent #1
 

Here is the first type of student who refuses to work in class. If you've been a longtime subscriber to The Behavior and Classroom Management Blog, you should find yourself on familiar turf and ready to move forward. This youngster is a student who we've covered many times before in many articles in this blog, so we'll just touch on this student this time, then move on to the second reason. If you want to review some of the previous articles on work refusal, check out our huge assortment of free educational professional development articles on the topic in our Educational Articles Index.

One reason that students may engage in extreme behaviors when faced with a task, is that the student has a mental health problem called Conduct Disorder. If you have been a subscriber to the articles  in this blog, hopefully, you remember what you learned in past issues when we covered this topic.

The key points that we hope stuck with you from reading those articles are these: Children with conduct disorders (C.D.) lack a conscience so they do what they want, when they want, to who they want. C.D.s are your most misbehaved kids so there is a chance that if someone is routinely  throwing items and is utterly unremorseful, that child could be conduct disordered. A child with C.D. can engage in serious misconduct at any time, but certainly, when faced with a distasteful task, that task can easily prompt bad behavior.

violent studentsAs you may remember, you must use a completely different set of techniques with C.D.s so the way you prevent and manage misbehavior with this portion of your students is very different from how you accomplish that goal with the rest of your group. So, Suzanne, for the possible C.D.s in your classroom, use the techniques we've offered you in previous issues. Can't locate those issues? Here again are our introductory training guides on Conduct Disorder. Want more details than offered in the two introductory articles? You can purchase our Conduct Disorders and Anti-Social Youth book, ebook, audio book or online training course to get all the information you need for this portion of your students.

As you may recall from the past issues, C.D.s are usually at least 11-14% of a typical mainstream classroom, so you can expect to always have at least a few to manage in every setting. So, it's well worth your time to have top-notch skills with this very difficult-to-manage population of students.

 

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students refuse workStudent #2
 

The second major explanation why a student will chronically and violently refuse work is that the youngster is overwhelmed, frustrated, tired, upset, or hoping to avoid the chore. This youngster is like a pressure cooker who can explode. Years ago, families more thoroughly and reliably taught their offspring how to behave and manage frustration, and students' conduct reflected that.

With this group of misbehaved youngsters, you will have to teach them the self-management techniques that they did not master at home. You will also need to equip them with the motivation and attitudes that would foster better conduct. Our Breakthrough Strategies to Teach and Counsel Troubled Youth Workshop and books have hundreds of strategies on self-control, accepting assignments, and anger management. We have included a few of our favorites below:
 

Your Mama 101


If you don't have a class with the title of "Your Mama 101," then maybe now is the time to start one. This class can teach youngsters all the skills they need to manage their anger and aggression.

What are some of your youngsters learning about anger control at home and in the community? At home, anger may be screamed away, or drugged away, or dishes may be thrown. None of those behaviors are acceptable at your site, yet that is all the anger management that some children know. Until you teach your students to manage their anger, many will continue to be unable to behave in a socially acceptable manner.

Even though teaching anger control perhaps should not have to be your job, you may want to make it your job. Until you do teach those skills, you may find that there are no consequences, no rules– no anything– that will work as a substitute. You wouldn't expect math skills until you taught those skills. Similarly, you can't shouldn't expect anger control skills until you teach those skills. While, in theory, you can expect or want any behaviors you wish, until you teach students how to perform those behaviors, you probably won't see those behaviors.

Here's an example of a ready-to-use intervention that helps younger students who often lack patience and act out aggressively when frustrated. Use this silly mnemonic device to gently help students use more socially acceptable ways to attempt to decline a task: "Just say 'no,' don't throw."
 

Find Work With a Temper Like That


This strategy remains a favorite at our live workshops, so we will include it here. Ask your students to name all the jobs that they can do and throw things (or lose control) whenever they want. There are none. When your students figure that out, ask them if they will ever need to work.
 

Pro-Active Skill Training


Don't wait for the book to sail through the air. Pro-actively teach all your students the self-control skills they need. For Suzanne's situation, she could teach students what to say when they don't want to do a task, they don't know how to do it, or they need help.

You may assume that most children are able to say "I don't want to do it," which is a much better way of communicating than throwing a book. Be careful about that assumption. Children are not little adults. They may not know how to properly say that they'd prefer to forgo the chore. Give them the sentences they need so they can properly communicate with you.

Be very sure to address all three of the circumstances mentioned above. We recommend that the sentence begins with "yes." For example, you could give your students sentences such as "Yes, I know you want me to read that story aloud but I don't want to do it."

We recommend the "yes" as adults often appreciate that initial gesture of willingness, and including that word may make that sentence work successfully with a wide variety of teachers, coaches, parents, etc. rather than just with you.

Many teachers post their recommended three sentences on the wall of the classroom. A sample sentence: "Yes, I will do it but I really don't want to." Be sure to cover all the skills needed to manage work in your setting, not just the three circumstances noted here. So, for example, be sure to cover managing boredom during tasks; what to do when you are upset; managing frustration during a task; what to do when you hate a task; and so on. Remember: Any area that you do not cover, will remain a problem.

 

Talk About Work Refusal


Chances are that you have never even discussed with your students how often they should decline work. That means that your students are expected to adhere to a standard that you have never quantified for them. Assist students to identify how often work refusal is permitted each day in the work world, then help them establish a standard that is fairly similar. Now, your students have a quantifiable standard, and appreciate the logic behind it.
 

studentPain Delay


When you give an assignment to a youngster, no child will ever reply: "I watched Dad beat my Mom last night. Science just doesn't seem very relevant right now. Can I postpone this task?" Few youngsters will neatly identify their pain and request an accommodation so you have to provide them a way to gain relief on days that they are particularly troubled. Without a socially appropriate way to gain relief, some troubled students will act out.

Here are some methods that can eliminate the need to act out. For older kids who you suspect may face serious problems, allow them to identify "good work days" and "bad work days."

For younger children, you can make a mock- up of a traffic light, and have red be a "bad work day," yellow would be an "okay work day," and green is a "good work day."

If you worry that distressed students may take advantage of your accommodations, don't worry. You'll become their life line, and they won't jeopardize that connection. They will work as hard as they can on days they are able. Isn't that really all you should ask of a child who lives in pain?

 

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    Reprint or Repost This Article
     

    Bring the Breakthrough Strategies Workshop to Your Site

    Help Unmotivated, Failing, Troubled and Unmanageable Students

    teachermissYou have students who struggle. We have solutions for students who struggle…so your job doesn’t have to be so difficult. We have cutting-edge strategies to manage group and classroom management problems like behavior disorders, trauma, disrespect, bullying, emotional issues, withdrawal, substance abuse, tardiness, cyberbullying, delinquency, work refusal, defiance, depression, Asperger’s, ADHD and more.

     

    Schedule the Breakthrough Strategies to Teach and Counsel Troubled Workshop to come to your site. This is the one professional development inservice that produces results, results, results. Call 1.800.545.5736 now. This surprisingly affordable inservice also makes a terrific fund raiser. College credit and 10 professional development clock hours are available. Your staff will finally have the more effective, real-world tools they need to work with today’s challenging, difficult youth.

     

    Contact us now, and begin solving your worst “kid problems” today. Call 1.800.545.5736, or email.

     

    Working with Troubled Students Doesn’t Have to be So Difficult
     


    Behavior & Classroom Management Problem-Solver Blog Articles

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    Contact Us*  *Not for Unsubscribing
     

    Library of Congress ISSN: 1526-9981 | Youth Change, Your Problem-Kid Problem-Solver
    http://www.youthchg.com | 1.503.982.4220 | 275 N. 3rd St; Woodburn, OR 97071
    © Copyright 2019, All Rights Reserved | Permission granted to forward magazine to others.


 

How to Help Student Work Refusers Stop Avoiding Class Assignments

 

article on work refusers

 

Wonderful Ways to Help
Wanderers and Work Avoiders:
Stop Students' Work Refusal and Wandering

 
 

 

help with work refusersHello from Ruth Herman Wells, M.S. I'm the one penning this article for our Behavior and Classroom Management Problem-Solver Blog. We get lots of calls and questions from teachers, counselors, principals, juvenile court staff and social workers. We try to answer them all, and to post the best questions and answers in this blog.

Other than violent teens, no subject generates more queries than student work refusers. No population other than violent teens, seems to be more frustrating to youth professionals than work refusers. Lucky for you, work refusers are a real specialty for us in our books and workshops, so you're in good hands.

Leticia, who is a middle school teacher, is the source of this blog article's  topic. Here is her question:

How do you get kids to stay in their seats and complete their work? These are the ones that need to get paper, or sharpen their pencil, or get a book, or any other excuse to get out of their seat so they don't have to do their work!


Here are some suggestions for Leticia and anyone else who has wandering, work avoidant, or unprepared students.

Leticia, as you well know, kids are not born "instant students." Any behavior that you want a child to do, you have to first teach that behavior to the child. Just like you have to teach math skills before students can do math, you have to teach those basic school skills before you can reasonably expect the students to have those skills.

Schools have elaborate curriculum guidelines for teaching math, but usually no guide at all for teaching the foundation school skills so that students can take advantage of math instruction, and other academic offerings. So, before you can teach math or any other topic, you will need to train your kids to be students. Ideally, in the early elementary school grades, students would learn to be prepared for class. That would eliminate all your problems with students getting up to sharpen pencils or locate paper. Since many elementary schools don't thoroughly provide this preparation, here are some suggestions to provide this training to students of all ages.
 

work refusersWonderful Ways to Get Work Refusers
to Finish Their Work

 

 

First, as we have been discussing, students will seldom perform skills that haven't been taught. Second, students may need "wiggle time" if they get tired of sitting still at their desks. Third, students may want to do anything besides their work, so getting up to do something can look pretty attractive. Let's tackle each of these areas. I will only be able to give you a peek into each area, but I will make suggestions to locate the additional interventions you will need.

 

1. CLASS PREPARATION SKILLS

Teach students how to prepare for class– and motivate them to use these new skills. To teach students how critical preparation is, have them name all the jobs they may wish to do, then identify the consequences of being ill-prepared. For example, what happens if the surgeon forgets her scalpel or the trucker neglected to buy gas. Have students look for other humorous or compelling examples then discuss: "Where are job preparation skills offered to you for free besides school?" Answer: Nowhere.

Once more motivated to learn how to arrive prepared for class, have students identify exactly what they must do to be prepared for your class. Include responses like "sharpen my pencil" and "locate paper." List the help work refusersresponses in a column on the board, then ask the students to identify the best and worst times to perform these tasks. So, "sharpening a pencil during class" might rate as a "worst time," but "before the class starts" might rate as "best." A fun follow-up is to have a poster contest with students competing to best illustrate the concept of "Arrive Prepared or Be Impaired." Put the posters on the wall to serve as an on-going reminder.

This handful of interventions is just the start. Youngsters seldom change long term behavior based on just a few interventions, so be sure to plan to use more of the hundreds of additional strategies that we have. For example, our Turn On the Turned-Off Student book has a wonderful handout called "Rate How Well You Can Learn When You Miss Class." This powerful device is part of an interactive experiment that vividly convinces students that they miss a lot very quickly, even if they only left to sharpen a pencil.
 

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how to help work refusers

 

Schedule Your On-Site Inservice Workshop Now

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Uncontrollable, Unmotivated and Withdrawn Students

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2. WIGGLE TIME

Look around at your next staff meeting. Few staff members sit as still as statues. Children make lousy statues. If you require students to "sit still," some will do almost anything to be able to get up and move about, even if just for a minute. Remember how you felt crammed into that airline seat for hours? Students can feel the same way. Especially if you have 90 minute long periods, build in wiggle time. Plus, at the start of the year, have your students establish a "Wiggle Rule." For example, the rule may be that it's not okay to be out of your seat, but it is okay to quietly tap your foot or a pen.

Here's the guideline to offer students: If the wiggling behavior would be okay in the work world, then it is okay in the classroom. You are preparing students for the work world, where sitting still is seldom required. You can even use "Wiggle Time" as an incentive. For example, if class time is not wasted on pencil sharpening and locating paper, then we can enjoy some of the time saved by stopping instruction a few minutes early.

 

3. ANYTHING BUT WORK

You know the feeling. It's been 6 months since you balanced your checkbook, and your taxes are now months overdue. All of us have things we like to do, and things we just rather never do. Some of your students would rather get a root canal than do class work just like you might prefer a root canal to finishing your taxes. A powerful dose of motivation could motivate students who don't finish their workhelp. For example, ask your students to review your local employment classified ads, searching for jobs that reference motivation and follow-through. They will find many ads seeking employees who are "highly motivated," but no ads seeking the "poorly motivated." Discuss that few jobs permit on-going work avoidance, then ask your class members if they will ever need to work.

Poster #7, shown at left, gives you a visual idea of these interventions that can really help work refusers and students who spend their day wandering instead of learning or working. Poster #007 is just $8.

Here are a couple of follow-up activities. Ask your students to name all the jobs that they can do and refuse or delay tasks whenever they want. (There are no jobs like that.)

Here is an additional follow-up intervention for older students only. Discuss the tongue-in-cheek classified ad shown on Poster #7, and relate it back to work acceptance and completion. This ad is quite edgy so tone it down as needed or remake it, however, this edgy version does tend to get noticed by students. Even so, you need to be very thoughtful about which groups of students you use this with. Be sure to restrict the use of this device to older youth who would do well with this hard-edged approach, and who also need exposure to a powerful intervention to understand that work avoidance and poor preparation won't be tolerated in the world of adult employment.

If you prefer to write the text shown on Poster #7, here is one example that can give you a place to start:

Work Avoiders Needed for High Paying Jobs. Must be highly unmotivated and able to avoid completing assignments. Should be able to arrive late and unprepared. Candidates who can leave in the middle of a task are especially encouraged to apply. Late and incomplete applications only please.

 

free teacher resources

 

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  •  


    Reprint or Repost This Article
     

    Bring the Breakthrough Strategies Workshop to Your Site

    Help Unmotivated, Failing, Troubled and Unmanageable Students

    teachermissYou have students who struggle. We have solutions for students who struggle…so your job doesn’t have to be so difficult. We have cutting-edge strategies to manage group and classroom management problems like behavior disorders, trauma, disrespect, bullying, emotional issues, withdrawal, substance abuse, tardiness, cyberbullying, delinquency, work refusal, defiance, depression, Asperger’s, ADHD and more.

     

    Schedule the Breakthrough Strategies to Teach and Counsel Troubled Workshop to come to your site. This is the one professional development inservice that produces results, results, results. Call 1.800.545.5736 now. This surprisingly affordable inservice also makes a terrific fund raiser. College credit and 10 professional development clock hours are available. Your staff will finally have the more effective, real-world tools they need to work with today’s challenging, difficult youth.

     

    Contact us now, and begin solving your worst “kid problems” today. Call 1.800.545.5736, or email.

     

    Working with Troubled Students Doesn’t Have to be So Difficult
     


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