A teacher's thoughts on how to manage ADHD in the classroom
A teacher's thoughts on how to manage ADHD in the classroom

“…we want the absolute best for EVERY child.”

I have been a teacher for 12 years. I have a bachelor's degree in Nursing and was a registered nurse whilst I studied a graduate diploma in education (middle years) part time.

ADHD teaching strategies

Q1. Tell us a little bit about yourself?

I have been a teacher for 12 years. I have a bachelor’s degree in Nursing and was a registered nurse whilst I studied a graduate diploma in education (middle years) part time. I always wanted to be a teacher but my parents talked me out of it, thinking I deserved a “better career” (my dad wanted me to become an industrial chemist and my mum wanted me to become a doctor). 

I love teaching, I love that every day is different and I love watching the progress of kids over the year (in some cases 2 years). It is rewarding seeing these little people achieve and be proud of their achievements. 

I have 2 children, one neurotypical 3 year old and one autistic 5 year old. They both have definitely made me a better and more effective teacher with ALL children. 

Q2. Starting a new year can be a nervous time for kids and a busy time for teachers. From your perspective, what information should parents give to the teacher before their child starts in a new class?

Honestly, everything they can. The more information a teacher has the better it is for both the teacher and the student

Reports are important because they often contain detailed information on what the student struggles with and it is important for a teacher to understand those difficulties in and out of the classroom (for example my son thrives on routine so anything out of routine should be forewarned so that he is able to better cope with it. He also tends to move away from events when he’s overwhelmed which is essential to know for things like sports days). 

Family structure is important to know and understand, especially changes in that family structure so that teachers are able to support that student at school especially during difficult times. 

Q3. Some parents and carers don’t find out that their child requires additional support until they are in school and the expectations placed on that child outweigh their ability to meet them. How much training or information do you get from the department/school around identification of students with possible behavioural, neurological or sensory conditions?

We get training around referrals for additional support but not always training in how to identify students with possible behavioural, neurological or sensory conditions. Often it is the collection of data that gives us the evidence to complete such referrals. The training I have had I have sought myself and completed. There are courses available through our e-learn system but often staff don’t know they exist until well after it’s needed. A push on inclusivity, in my experience, is based on a school by school priority. Often children are now included in mainstream classes without much support which is to the detriment of all students. 

The greatest training in neurodivergence I’ve had was giving birth to my son. Watching and identifying concerns I had as a parent, and then needing to fight for people to actually listen to me because “he’s a boy” or “he’s smart he can’t be autistic”. Even his current teacher has said she wouldn’t have flagged him as a concern because he achieves well and copes well at school. It makes me wonder how many neurodivergent children are there who achieve and cope well at school but are flying under the radar. Imagine if we were able to nurture that, what could they achieve?

Q4. How can parents work with teachers to get the best result for their children?

First and foremost, parents need to understand that we have a classroom of 20+ children, that we want the absolute best for EVERY child. We want to see every child thrive and achieve. 

As a teacher and a parent of a neurodivergent child, I wish parents could understand that what children say is not always the whole story, often children (all children) perceive a situation differently to the way it actually happened. There is no point going into a school (or even worse directly to the education department completely bypassing the school) with a closed mind about an incident that may have occurred. Often there is a lot more to a situation that the child chose not to divulge. A teacher isn’t out to lie about an incident/situation and it’s important for a parent to validate the teacher’s point of view as well as their own child. 

Regular check-ins and meetings help with this. It is also essential to discuss any medication changes with the teacher so they are aware there may be changes in mood etc to watch for. 

The teacher is a wealth of information in giving feedback regarding medication and how it affects the student’s learning. 

Q5. Many children with behavioural, neurological or sensory conditions have difficulty learning in traditional environments. What kinds of things have you implemented in your classrooms that you think have a positive impact?

Often our ability to implement ideas in our rooms are limited by resources we have access to (for example I don’t have flexible seating in my room because it is not a school priority and we don’t get the budget for it). 

I have implemented the zones of regulation with quite a bit of success. I have attempted a quiet space which is near impossible in the classrooms I’ve taught in. 

I always do my best to create a good rapport with students and feel this goes a long way. I ensure I am consistent and fair in behaviour management. I negotiate with students on where they would like to sit/work to some degree and do my best to find moments to positively reinforce all students’ behaviour and effort. 

Q6. Can you explain what is an IEP/ILP  (individual education/learning plan) and how it is used by parents and teachers?

In my experience ILPs/IEPs are developed for children with a recognised disability. Goals are identified and agreed upon by the teacher and the parent. They are reviewed and reported on every 6 months. 

Generally the classroom teacher and parent have a copy with an electronic copy being stored in our system for others to access (this rarely occurs). They are usually passed onto the next teacher the following year and often there are informal conversations about children to the future teacher. 

Q7. Teaching a class with more than twenty kids who have different needs and skill levels requires a lot of continuous hard work. What would you like parents to know about what happens in the background?

Teachers have the best interest of ALL students at heart. If a parent doesn’t feel that is the case then it may be time to find another teacher/school. We are bound by departmental policies and guidelines and often we don’t like them either. 

We do not work from 9-3. A typical day starts around 8am and finishes around 4. I don’t get to each lunch sitting down, I am often on duty or organising the next lesson. 

Most of us don’t get anywhere near the support you think we do or your child was promised (if your child attracts x amount of hours, they don’t always get allocated to that actual child, the school is able to re-allocate them where they feel the need).  

I don’t get planning time and am expected to do that in my own time (think outside school hours and during school holidays). 

Behaviour incidents are reported on our own time and we don’t like doing them for the sake of it. 

Resources are limited and you have to fight for everything you need to support the kids. 

Q8. Thinking more broadly, what are your thoughts on how behaviour is managed at your school?

At my school behaviour is managed at a teacher level most of the time. We are lucky and this is usually enough. 

We currently don’t have a consistent behaviour management approach which I feel needs to be seriously looked at. I feel something like the zones of regulation could be useful and have begun implementing it in my classroom. 

In the past I haven’t received a lot of support when giving out negative behaviour consequences (and I know this has happened with other teachers also) and so I feel consistency isn’t always there. 

Q9. If you were all powerful, what changes would you make in schools? Feel free to be aspirational, we can all dream!

Firstly, I would ensure all conditions are recognised as disabilities needing possible support including dyslexia and ADHD. The verification system doesn’t work and those children who need the most support simply don’t receive it. 

There needs to be a system in place where at risk children (those not yet diagnosed but are clearly needing support) get recognised and get the support they need. 

Class sizes need to be smaller, capped more around the 20 mark as opposed to 25. Class sizes DO make a huge difference! 

Teachers need access to high quality training from professionals in the field, especially in regional schools. There needs to be money available for regional teachers to attend quality professional developments and networking events in major cities (and not just the principals!). 

There needs to be a focus on intervention for students who are falling behind, again with trained people, not just teacher aides. 

Speech programs need to actually go ahead and not just when it is convenient. 

I would change the curriculum, making a greater focus on reading, writing and maths with all other subjects being FUN instead of too over the top. Science and Humanities/Social Science should be fun, not 15 page booklets, Art should be CREATING not analysing especially in the lower school. 

Finally, there needs to be more in place for students who excel to be able to actually do that. They are so often forgotten because they are the well-behaved high achievers. We should be opening doors of opportunity for them to extend on their skills and interests. 

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