Saturday, October 5, 2013

Power of a Positive Learning Environment

Post by Jason Hamann: Jason is in his 2nd year of teaching special education at Bettendorf High School.

My name is Jason Hamann and I teach in the Level III program at Bettendorf High School.  A Level III teacher works with students with multiple significant disabilities including Intellectual Disabilities, Autism, Behavior Concerns, Communication Issues, or any combination of the above. 

Providing routine and consistency for my students are essential elements of my position.  My students live in a variety of different settings including at home with their families or in apartment settings with roommates and 24-hour care providers. 

I’d like to share the story of one of my students. For this blog, I will refer to him as Ben. Ben moved into the Bettendorf School District and more specifically, my program last March.  When he first arrived he had a difficult time in the transition.  There were many negative emotions, incidents of anger toward others, misplaced aggression toward school staff, and a general uneasiness about his new situation.  To say the least, he was a very angry young man.  As the 2012-2013 school year progressed, we made some inroads in developing a rapport, but he was still deeply mistrusting of us.  Were we going to treat him like previous teachers had and try to have him removed from the school if he misbehaved?  Were we going to be in his life today and gone tomorrow as he had seen so many times before?

Now let’s fast forward to the beginning of this school year.  We are now seeing an entirely different side to Ben.  The young man who didn't outwardly care about anyone in the school, and hated to be here now has a different, generally more positive attitude.  We are seeing the caring and compassionate side of Ben.  He now goes out of his way to say hello to some of our wheelchair-bound students.  He wants to help other students whom he feels may have circumstances more challenging than his own.  He has a group of friends that he eats lunch with every day and hangs out with outside of school.  He has a girlfriend and is even talking about attending the Homecoming Dance!!

What is the difference?  How is this change from such a negative and angry young man to someone who is caring, compassionate, and helpful possible?  I believe it is because of the positive, nurturing classroom environment that my staff and I strive to provide.  The entirety of my time is spent “seeking first to understand”, as Covey put it, why Ben is upset and then working with him to help him through his difficult, most challenging moments.  When he does have a difficult day, or a difficult period of time in a day, my team does not hold a grudge.  We allow him to have a clean slate the next day.  We stay consistent in our expectations of him and provide boundaries for him, while being flexible when we need to be.  We seek out opportunities for him to be a leader and to build his self-esteem.

I know there will be challenging days throughout the school year, every student has them, but I am confident with the team we have at Bettendorf High School and the positive environment we are providing, we will be able to help Ben further grow and mature into a wonderful young man!!


  1. Jason,
    Thank you for sharing your experience with us. I have enjoyed watching the community that you have nurtured in your classroom. You have built a team that truly loves each and every student. You have made a significant impact not only in your students' lives, but you have also significantly impacted their families by giving them hope. You have a gift and we are fortunate that you are here to share it with our kids and our school community. Keep up the fantastic work! - jimmy

  2. Jason,
    Great post and what a great success story for that student. This is just another example of why it takes a village to raise a child. I am sure this young man does not yet realize the value of what you and your team are providing for him but in time he will. I applaud you and your team and encourage others to follow your lead and being a champion for kids. Great Job!
    ~ Colin