Posts by Heidi Douma

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Teaching our most difficult students

Twas my first year of teaching, and all of my interest
Was on creating a classroom straight out of Pinterest!

My lessons were written, my files were in order,
Name tags created, and bulletin boards had border.

When what to my eager, excited eyes should appear?
But a room full of children… I had nothing to fear!

Yet as I studied each one and looked at each face,
I suddenly worried… “Am I in the wrong place?”

They weren’t what I’d pictured, nor what I had planned.
Some were naughty, and sassy, and had dirt on their hands.

I looked up with fret, and cried, “Lord, help me, please!
How can I teach and love ones, such as these?”

Then gently He whispered, “Child, here’s what you do…
Give them grace, love, and mercy, just as I’ve done for you.”

Each year, we teachers enter a familiar classroom and greet unfamiliar faces as we welcome in a new batch of learners.  But what happens when those new students don’t measure up to our expectations, don’t match our preferences, and present us with challenges we weren’t prepared for in college?!  As I reflect on my past first days of school, would you allow me to offer you some tips for “loving the students you are stuck with” this year?


  1. Words --- There is power in words! As the teacher, my words set the tone for the day --- I can choose positive or negative words --- I can choose words that build up or tear down --- My words can be many or few and they can bring hope or defeat. As the leader of our classroom ( or our business or family), we need to choose our words carefully. 

  2. Needs/Concerns --- Regardless of how much time we have spent planning our lessons, our students may not care what we know. Their immediate needs are not academic --- they need to feel safe, loved, accepted and they need to know that we are for them, not against them.
  3. Respond/React --- When medicine works, your doctor says your body is responding --- when it doesn’t work, your doctor says your body is reacting. Our attitude toward our students is the same --- are we responding or reacting?
  4. Your presence --- Your students need you to show up every day. Even difficult coworkers need to know that you are committed to them and to the goal/mission.
  5. Forgive – Our students need to know that when they do something wrong, they are going to be held accountable, but they will also be forgiven. They don’t need a lecture each time, they need to know there is grace and a second chance.
  6. Say I’m Sorry --- Students need to HEAR remorse and SEE it modeled before they can feel their own remorse. Our students may have never heard the words I’m sorry or they may have been required to say it so much that it has become a flippant phrase with no meaning.  It’s our job to give those words meaning and validity.
  7. Let it go….. Don’t hold students’ offenses against them --- refusing to let go and forgive doesn’t change the offender, it changes us. We are the ones who become bitter, angry, and resentful.  What a student does on Monday cannot be held onto until Friday….. Start fresh each day.
  8. Clean up your language --- My mom always said: “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it”. Lose the sarcasm, arguing, lecturing, and yelling.
  9. Thank you --- People need to feel appreciated. They don’t care what you know until they know you care.  Our students need to know we appreciate them, even the smallest act – showing up, showering (especially those jr highers), doing homework, helping another student.
  10. Take an interest in others --- Our students need to know that we are interested in them outside of the walls of our classroom. Attend their soccer games! Wave to them at the grocery store! Sit by them in church!

In his book, Just Like Jesus, author Max Lucado reflects on the 13 th chapter of John where we find the story of Jesus and His disciples.  Lucado explains that if anyone felt stuck with other people, it had to have been Jesus.  He hung out with the same crew for three years and, let’s face it, His disciples weren’t exactly first round draft picks.  They were misfits and trouble-makers. Yet, Jesus didn’t give up on them.  He loved them.  In fact, He loved them so much that He washed their feet.  By performing this selfless act, Jesus not only showed them mercy, He also gave us an example.  He wants us to do the same. 

Are any relationships in your workplace in need of mercy?  Are there any in your classroom who need assurance of your grace?  Be encouraged today to follow the example of Jesus and LOVE the students you are “stuck with.”


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Managing Challenging Behaviors

My son and daughter seem to continually find something to argue about.  They know just how to push each other's buttons.  As a mom, it can be exhausting trying to use every argument and fight as a teachable moment and faith-building opportunity for my kids.  Recently, after a particularly loud disagreement with some pretty flavorful word, I took my daughter aside and reminded her that her brother was a gift to her from God and she needed to love him.  Her response was, "Love him?! I don't even LIKE him right now!!!"

How often don't we as educators feel the same way?  "Lord, I know you have placed this child in my classroom for a specific reason and I know you want me to love him... but right now, I don't even like him!"  In moments like this, we need to learn to separate the behavior from the child. The most important part of dealing with children with challenging behaviors is RELATIONSHIP. Developing a caring connection with the child will build a secure attachment and a positive relationship. The old saying is true, “They don’t care what you know until they know you care.”

 When dealing with challenging behaviors in young children, there are several steps we as educators can take. 

  1. Define the Behavior – What exactly does it look like? Is it a tantrum? Kicking? Hitting? Biting? Withdrawal? Screaming? Crying? Try to focus on changing one behavior at a time.

  2. Consider Risk Factors – This includes biological and environmental factors. Were there complications at the child’s birth? Substance abuse during pregnancy? Neurological problems? Poverty?  Exposure to violence? Trauma?

  3. ABC – Antecedent, Behavior, Consequence – What is happening before, during, and after the behavior? Is something triggering it? When is the behavior most frequently occurring? What is the “payoff” the child receives… attention, escape, or sensory stimulation?

  4. Prevention – How can I adjust the physical environment, the routine, or my teaching strategies to make our day more predictable and help the child feel safe? Are there choices I can give that will give the child a sense of having some control?

Understanding and addressing challenging behaviors in young children is a constant struggle.  As followers of Christ, we are called to love one another and show grace.   As you begin the week with yet another "to do list" that keeps getting longer, let me remind you of God's "to do list" and encourage you with these words from Micah 6:8 "What does the Lord require of you? To ACT JUSTLY, to LOVE MERCY, and to WALK HUMBLY with your God."  

Heidi is an instructor in Education at Northwestern College and the director of the online Bachelor's in Early Childhood program. To learn more about the online programs visit the Master of Education or Bachelor's in Early Childhood pages. For more resources and training about trauma in students, take a look at the NWC Trauma Informed Conference.