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Power struggles: striving for a win-win scenario

June 3, 2011
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Have you ever had a child who refused to comply with requests? Have you ever found yourself stuck in a no-win situation with a student? Kendall Demonstration Elementary School Psychologist Robert Whitaker addressed these questions and more during a free live webinar hosted by the Clerc Center on May 19.

In the webinar, entitled “Shared Power: Practical Solutions for Power Struggles with Deaf/Hard of Hearing Children,” Whitaker addressed how students can express opposition to mask anxieties or frustrations. For deaf and hard of hearing students in particular, many power struggles relate to communication barriers or accessibility. He defined the classic power struggle as “two people engaged in a struggle for dominance, each equally committed to winning.” Whitaker explored different aspects of power struggles–first recognizing when a power struggle is taking place, and then applying strategies for de-escalating and resolving conflict situations.

For example, in a typical classroom scenario, a teacher encounters a student struggling with an academic task. The teacher wants the student to comply and complete the task and the student responds with resistance or avoidance. To start the de-escalation process, Whitaker advises teachers in this situation to first manage their own emotions and model the behavior he or she wants from the student. Then the teacher could distract the student by switching to another task the student feels more comfortable with and come back to the challenging task later. Once emotions are modulated, the teacher can begin resolution, working with the student to figure out the real problem. Involving the student in finding solutions so that the student feels he or she is being listened to rather than being dictated to by the teacher has also proven to be effective, said Whitaker.

During the lecture, participants could post questions, and Whitaker responded to as many as time allowed. The participants were from 75 locations and various regions around the United States, as well as from Canada, Norway, and the Virgin Islands. Many sites hosted group viewing locations. Teachers and counselors from schools for deaf students and mainstream programs, mental health counselors, psychologists, behavior specialists, interpreters, administrators, and members of university faculties were among the viewers.

The webinar was presented in American Sign Language with CART captioning available. The webinar will be posted to the Clerc Center website.

Whitaker is a nationally certified school psychologist with accreditation from the American Board of School Neuropsychology. He has over 15 years of experience working with deaf and hard of hearing children in educational settings. Whitaker received both his master’s degree in developmental psychology and his specialization in school psychology from Gallaudet University.

The Clerc Center offers technical assistance and professional development workshops to families, educators, and other professionals working with deaf and hard of hearing children.

–By Susan M. Flanigan

3 June 2011

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