At Applewood Academy for Progressive Learning, the school year starts with a clean slate, a plan, and a lot of patience and understanding.
As Jeff Waplak noted, learning is frustrating for a lot of kids, which can lead to disruptive classroom behaviour. We try to find out what causes the frustration so we can do something about it – but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any challenges.
“We all have our limits,” admitted Trish Waplak, who’s in charge of planning and program development, and is also the self-described “mother hen” at Applewood. “We give a lot of second chances; we believe everybody is human, everybody deserves respect. But sometimes, on our own, we run out of ideas.”
Applewood staff works as a team on classroom behaviour
Those limits are one of the many reasons why teamwork is so important at Applewood – we support each other on an ongoing basis, and mutual respect between teachers and students is high on the priority list.
“We go by our first names because it helps kids relate better,” explained Trish. “Every kid here has an issue with authority, so we work really hard to meet them on their level. By shattering stereotypical roles and expectations, it helps them realize that teachers and authorities are human, too, because sometimes they forget.”
Working with parents is critical, too
We try to find strategies for classroom behaviour and home that make everybody’s life less confrontational.
“A lot of these kids have had more than their share of hard knocks. A lot of times they’ve struggled so much with school that just being in school is rough on its own,” explained Trish. “In the traditional school system, there’s an easy answer: Get suspended.”
But at Applewood, suspension isn’t one of the options – often, youth need to be in an environment where their aggression can be dealt with and worked through so they can learn to interact in any social situation.
“We accept that showing up is a challenge in itself; then we work through it.” As an example, Trish says getting kids out the door in the morning to get to school can be a constant challenge. Rather than forcing parents into the role of enforcer, the staff at Applewood looks at ways to motivate. “We’ll set up rewards at school; if the student shows up on time, they get a benefit – maybe playing a game before getting to work. If they’re late, no reward.”
Ongoing communication with parents is a critical part of the work we do at Applewood; it takes a lot of collaboration to find strategies that work at school and at home, and to find a balance that’s consistent.