If you want your students to grow up to be functionally independent adults it is essential and critical to make life harder on them now. We don’t want to coddle them. We don’t want them to rely on us. We want them to do it for themselves. I tell teachers and paraprofessionals all the time – your job is to lose your job. We want our kids to not need us.

A great way you can start to do this is by sabotaging your students. Again – it sounds mean but in the long run we’d rather have twenty year olds who can advocate for themselves versus twenty year olds who need an adult to follow them around. It’s time to get tough. If you want your students to develop problem solving skills – they need to run into problems. 

On a daily basis, we need to create situations in the classroom where students run into a problem.

When the student runs into a problem, we can teach them how to respond to this problem. We need to do this on a daily basis because there a loads of different types of problems that our students will encounter in their lives. We can never plan for and teach each and every scenario. But we can teach the steps to approaching a problem and give our students exposure to a wide range of types of problems. We want this skill to generalize. So when they are faced with a novel problem – they can relate the novel problem to a problem they have previously solved in order to find a solution.

Missing Materials

Give a worksheet with no pencil. Give paint with no paint brush. This requires the students to advocate for themselves and use expressive language skills to request the needed item. Wait them out if they don’t ask right away and provide high-magnitude praise when they ask on their own!

Wrong or Undesirable Materials

Think about how often you have been at a friends home and they served something for dinner you absolutely hate. You have learned how to politely decline. You solved that problem and avoided eating sardine pizza. Our students need to learn how to say no to something in a socially acceptable way. Similarly, sometimes mistakes happen and they accidentally get the wrong lunchbox or least favorite color crayon. How do they react? Can they advocate for themselves and tell you that their name is not Jack it’s William or do they silently accept the incorrect workbook. Encourage your student to speak up appropriately and use those communication skills to stand up for themselves!

Too Hard Work

Is every task placed before you something you know exactly how to do? Absolutely not! If your school placed a student in your classroom with a disability you had never heard of – what would you do? Refuse to take the student? Stand there stuck with fear? (maybe for a minute…) You would research! You would ask questions! You would reference different source. Teach your students to do the same. When the work is too hard – how should they react? Teach them to ask for help and reference anchor charts or reference pages to find the right answer!

The key to this running effectively is consistently setting up these problems, giving some wait time to see if they can figure it out, fading prompts, and having your staff all on the same page. Take the time to explain this strategy to your team. Explain that you aren’t being mean by giving juice boxes with a straw but it’s a purposeful move to teach independence and problem solving. Explain the long term life skill goal behind this strategy. Work together to think of opportunities to set up situations to work on this. This part is really essential. If you don’t have your staff working together, one person will unknowingly step in to help. The student won’t get the chance to practice problem solving. You will be annoyed. The helping staff member will think your a jerk. And nothing will get accomplished. So don’t forget this important piece of the puzzle!