Interview Jeffrey Benson, Author of  Book on Strategies for Teaching Challenging Students

Interview Jeffrey Benson, Author of  Book on Strategies for Teaching Challenging Students

If you need advice on teaching challenging students, Special Needs Book Review recommends Hanging In: Strategies for Teaching the Students Who Challenge Us Most by Jeffrey Benson. Hanging In  is written by an expert in his field. Jeffrey Benson has worked in almost every school context in his 35 years of experience in education: as a teacher in elementary, middle, and high schools; as an instructor in undergraduate and graduate programs; and as an administrator in day and residential schools. From his bio I learned that Mr. Benson has been a consultant to public and private schools, mentored teachers and principals in varied school settings, and has written on many school-based issues.

The team at Special Needs Book Review thanks Mr. Benson for his interesting guest post introducing his book and now for taking part in our Author Interview Series.  Jeffrey Benson’s Twitter profile says, “Director of special education programs, leadership coach and school consultant, author, researcher, teacher, and student always. visit at http://www.JeffreyBenson.org .” Let’s see what else we will learn about and from Mr. Benson.

Lorna: I was an elementary teacher in our French School Board for thirty years and I know, as all educators know, that teaching challenging students is among our most frustrating experiences but sticking with these students until they finally “get it” is among our most rewarding. Thank you for your much needed book, Hanging In: Strategies for Teaching the Students Who Challenge Us Most.

Had you been planning to write such a book for a while now? Why did you think a book like Hanging In was needed?

<<Jeffrey Benson:  Increasingly the public conversation about education has been focused on the broad questions of testing, charter schools and teacher evaluations. Those are critical conversations for us to have. What I think has been lost in the data and arguments by policy makers is the reality of the work done in schools every day with very real students. In putting together Hanging In, I chose not to treat the students as case studies, but as central protagonists in their stories. I didn’t want them, or their teachers, to become cardboard cut-outs and stereotypes. I want the reader to grapple with their challenges. I want to discourage any notion that there are simple fixes that would let us off the hook for truly leaving no child behind.>>

Lorna: Your book is not only for teachers. What will parents find in it to help them with their own child with challenging behaviors?

<<Jeffrey Benson:  In all the stories a central focus is on maintaining a relationship, and on taking actions to repair relationships when they inevitably get battered. The message to the kids is always that we are strong enough to hang in through their adversity. The message to the adults is to not go it alone.>>

Lorna:  In your bio it says, “The core of Jeffrey Benson’s work is in understanding how people learn, the starting point for everything that schools should do.” Please elaborate.

<<Jeffrey Benson:  I am sitting with a student, or a small group of students, or a large class of students. In each case, I have to figure out how I can get each student to go from not knowing something to knowing something, to move along the continuum from a first experience of an idea to mastery of all the possibilities that grow from that idea. That’s the challenge of being an educator. It should all depend on how a human being constructs an understanding of the world. That’s learning, the central task of a school. Sadly, so much interferes with that critical activity of learning. My work as an administrator and consultant is to help schools minimize the distractions to learning, and to support the relationships and activities that promote learning.

One of the reasons I don’t believe we should import administrators into schools who have not been teachers is that they probably can’t know how the actions they take in their office really filter down into the nitty-gritty actions in a classroom. And every administrative, regulatory and financial action ideally should be informed by how it will impact what happens in the classroom, the starting point for everything that schools should do.>>

Hanging In: Strategies for Teaching the Students Who Challenge Us Most by Jeffrey Benson Lorna: What are some positive comments that you have received about Hanging In that makes all the work needed to get such a book researched and written worthwhile?

<<Jeffrey Benson:  Many comments have been from teachers who work primarily with challenging students. They have been doing a lot of heavy lifting for all of us, in many cases heroic and exemplary work as educators, and few have understood, or noticed. The book for them has been affirmation of their efforts, a much needed shout out.>>

Lorna: You are a founding member of LeadersAndLearners.org .  Tell us about some of the services Leaders & Learners Consulting  offers.

<<Jeffrey Benson:  Schools are complex communities, filled with people of many ages, with many mandates and many possibilities. Leaders and Learners provides consultation and coaching to support  schools to function at their best: helping administrators build great teams, helping teachers develop and maintain a pride in craft, helping counselors and support staff to do their critical work. The three of us have been working in schools in aggregate for about 100 years, so we have a lot of experience and skills—but probably most importantly, we have a lot of hope and compassion for everyone who cares about students and their families,  and who try to make a difference in their school communities.>>

Lorna: On LeadersAndLearners.org  I read, “As long as kids and our world changes, so will schools.” I think this means both instructional and structural redesigns. Please give us examples of some of these changes that would benefit today’s students.

<< Jeffrey Benson:  We are seeing a lot of work in helping schools develop and sustain strong advisory programs, and creating inclusive and differentiated school wide cultures. The advisory work points to the need for schools to be less anonymous institutions; the inclusion work points to the evolution of a democratic society. Both of these initiatives are often at odds with the mandates of standardized curriculum, pacing guides, and one size fits all testing. It’s a challenging time to work in schools.>>

Lorna: Thank you so much for your guest post and now this interview. In closing, what are few tips you could give parents to help their struggling teen with challenging needs and behaviors so he succeeds better in school?

<<: Jeffrey Benson:  Get support for yourself, make yourself part of a team. When people ask me how I’ve managed to enjoy my work for such a long time with challenging students, I say, “I didn’t do it by myself.”  Working and sharing with others allows me to see my own mis-steps without being too self-critical. Almost by definition, a challenging child doesn’t fit our expectations. It can be exhausting constantly improvising. But with others to share my hopes, ideas, and worries, I can make better choices: I am in control of this; I am not in control of that. The more the relationship with the child can be a creative experience versus an exhausting survival trek, the better we all are. And I need support to be in that place.>>

A lot of advice in a 39 sec. video by author, educator Jeffrey Benson.

Follow Jeffrey Benson:

Read Also Guest Post –  Hanging In: Strategies for Teaching the Students Who Challenge Us Most by Jeffrey Benson 

Buy in Kindle or Paperback:  Hanging In: Strategies for Teaching the Students Who Challenge Us Most by Jeffrey Benson Amazon.com  Amazon.ca 

This post was written by Lorna
Lorna d’Entremont: Co-owner of SentioLife Solutions, Ltd. the company behind KidCompanions Chewelry (2007) and SentioCHEWS (2013), mother of three, grandma of 5 and wife. She is a retired teacher and special needs advocate. Throughout she has taught all levels from grade 2 to grade 9. Lorna loved teaching and enjoyed seeing the students progress in the school system. During her 30 year career she took a few years off to raise her three children.
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