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Harvard EdCast: The Troublemakers in School

Author Carla Shalaby discusses what teachers can learn from the "troublemakers" in their classrooms.

TroublemakersIt's a common feature of all classrooms: kids who insist on their own way, who resist the rules of the classroom and stand out as different because of their behavior. It is also common to label these students troublemakers, but to do that would be missing an important opportunity, says Carla Shalaby, Ed.M.'09, Ed.D.'14, a former elementary school teacher and author of Troublemakers: Lessons in Freedom from Young Children at School. Teachers should understand that an individual's "behavior is interactional with the context," not merely indication that intervention is needed.

“Understanding ['troublemakers'] as canaries in the mine, as responding to poisons and toxins that are invisible to us in the classroom air, really shifted my whole focus [as a teacher] away from thinking I need to intervene on individual children and instead asking myself, what is this behavior a response to in the environment, and what is this kid making visible to us that, if altered, could actually make the classroom a healthier place for all of the children?” says Shalaby.

What often comes to light are problems with the structures and systems of a school that are increasingly causing classrooms to move away from being "human spaces," says Shalaby. When a child bristles against the patterns of the classroom, it is indication that something needs to change — and not always with the child.

“What opportunity is this child offering me to teach and learn something about being human, both to myself and their peers?” says Shalaby.

In this edition of the Harvard EdCast, Shalaby discusses her book and shares what she discovered from following the experiences of four "troublemakers" in their respective classrooms.

Read related article, "The Troublemakers," in Harvard Ed. magazine.

About the Harvard EdCast

The Harvard EdCast is a weekly series of podcasts, available on the Harvard University iTunes U page, that features a 15-20 minute conversation with thought leaders in the field of education from across the country and around the world. Hosted by Matt Weber and co-produced by Jill Anderson, the Harvard EdCast is a space for educational discourse and openness, focusing on the myriad issues and current events related to the field.