Loud voices, interruptions, silliness, and students up and out of their seats... Are disruptive students inhibiting learning in your school? If so, the answer may be creating a place for them to refocus and regroup -- a "recovery room." With guidance, students who distract and disrupt can reflect on their mistakes and find ways to improve, without hindering the entire class and frustrating their classroom teachers. Included: See how connections made in the recovery room can lead to confidence in the classroom.
"We had a boy who was in the recovery room almost every day. He was dirty, had a terrible temper, and struggled in the classroom," recalled Phyllis Grem. "He touched my heart the day I fell outside the gym and hurt my leg and arm. I was on the concrete when he opened the door and saw me. He knelt down, put his book bag under my head, and then went for help. He came back and would not leave my side until he knew I was going to be okay. I think he knew how much I cared for him."
Grem, a teaching assistant in the recovery room, made sure the young man received the praise he so deserved, referring to him as her "little hero" for the rest of the school year.
"This happened in early May, and if a teacher did not send him to the recovery room, he would stop by sometime during the day to check on me," Grem told Education World. "On the last day of school he stopped by to say goodbye for the summer and give me a big hug. Even children with so many problems have big hearts; we just have to look for them sometimes."
In the mid-1990s, elementary and middle schools in Rock Hill (South Carolina) School District Three established "recovery rooms" staffed with certified teachers and teaching assistants to help students overcome behavioral issues. When students refused to cooperate with activities, teachers could send them to the recovery room for the rest of the period so that learning could continue in the classroom.
"While a student was in the recovery room, the teachers talked with him or her about the behavior that occurred and explored ways the situation could have been handled better," explained Rebecca Lawson, an exploratory/elective teacher in the district. "Near the end of class, the student was sent back to the teacher's room with an explanation of what had taken place in recovery. This also gave the student a chance to apologize to the teacher and gave the teacher an opportunity to talk privately with the student."
A team of teachers could also place a student in recovery for a whole day when he or she habitually failed to follow team rules and other interventions were unsuccessful. Students who had behavior contracts went to the recovery room for the remainder of the day if they violated those contracts. Principals often had students serve their in-school suspension time in recovery too.
"One-on-one counseling about how to improve behavior was most valuable," said Lawson. "It definitely had an impact on behavior. The ladies in the recovery room loved the children and wanted to help them do their best. The students knew this."
The approach removed kids from the source of the problem for only the rest of the period, added Lawson. It did not disrupt learning in other classes where the student was working well with the teacher.
Grem recalls one child she met as a new sixth-grade student looking for her home base on the first day of school. She walked with the girl and led her to her room, not realizing that this student would soon become what she affectionately deemed a "frequent flier" in the recovery room.
"She was from a difficult home and really needed lots of love and direction," said Grem. "She was a very unorganized person. Her locker looked like a trash dump, as well as her book bag. She could not finish her homework or class work and was very disruptive in class. That sent her to the recovery room almost every day.
"For some reason, this child really liked me and the help that I gave her. Each morning I would meet with her and be sure she had her homework. We would talk about our plan for the day.
"Teachers would send her to see me, just to get her calmed down."
As the year progressed, the student gained confidence in herself and her work through the support of the staff in the recovery room. They set up basic rules and goals for her, such as sitting in her chair during class and not getting up without permission and keeping her locker and book bag neat so that she could find her materials.
"Near the holidays, I asked her what she wanted for Christmas," Grem shared. "She told me a Christmas tree and a bed. She was sleeping on the cold floor. I talked with one of our principals, and he gave me permission to reach out with some other teachers and get a bed with linens for this child. I was overwhelmed at the response! Not only did she get her tree with all the lights and decorations and her bed with new linens, but she also got a dresser filled with clothes, shoes, school supplies, and a week's supply of groceries.
"To see her face light up when she came to school with her new clothes on -- that was my Christmas! She did not know where all the stuff came from. She thought for sure that it was Santa."
That was a turning point for the young girl, added Grem. Her visits to the recovery room diminished, and her grades and behavior improved. Grem believes that the information, guidance, and caring provided by recovery room made a profound difference for this child, although she was only at the school for the sixth grade.
Sadly, Grem's student is not unique in the depth of her need, but her story emphasizes the dramatic difference that a personal connection, like those nurtured in the recovery room, can make in a child's life.
In Lawson's school, the recovery room is currently staffed by one paraprofessional, so there is less time for counseling, and it is more of a "holding area" so that classes are not disrupted. The school's "secret weapon" is "Miss Ada," a custodian. She is often found outside the door to the recovery room, counseling students. She knows their families well, and when the students don't respond positively, she has been known to phone their mothers and grandmothers.
"Although our recovery room is not as beneficial as before, it is still a wonderful tool for teachers to use when all efforts have failed to get the student calmed down and working," added Lawson. "Students are no longer allowed to visit the recovery room daily in my school. There is a limit to the number of times a student can be assigned to recovery in a grading period, and students who exceed this number are suspended out of school. That prevents students from trying to go to recovery to get out of class."