Universal Interventions to Enhance Learning: Some First Steps…

In examining and discussing interventions for working with our students in the classroom and school, we have been discussing ways and methods to improve and enhance learning as well as enabling all of ours to do the best they can. One of the things I believe is that kids will do well if they can.

An amazing friend and educational colleague came to “play in our sandbox” with us. Eric Perrault is an educational leader at Dr. Gordon Townsend School at the Alberta Children’s Hospital. He shared with us and led discussions around some ideas of universal interventions in order to help students with learning.

Intervention: care provided with skill and purpose to improve a situation


“Having Fun” or “Being Engaged” or “Hard Fun”

The first intervention is an idea that is so simple but not easy at all to achieve. He used the term that we need to “have fun” or which I would call “engaged” or as having “hard fun.” I think this is so basic yet is so important to all of our students, and staff as well. The need for students to come in and be able to truly become engaged in their work must be the objective of all teachers.

The teacher’s responsibility is no longer just to be a transmitter of knowledge of which the students must memorize. Teachers are responsible for creating engagement through:

  • developing excellent learning opportunities
  • creating and developing motivation and excitement around learning
  • providing supports for students who all have different needs and interests, and
  • creating a learning environment that is collaborative and supportive.

This is needed for students who are working with different needs and challenges or for our highly able students or for our extremely typical students, and everyone in between.


Hallucinating Positive Intentions…

The second intervention is what he calls “hallucinating positive intentions.” This is the idea that whatever behavior is being presented, what the style of communication, we need to look at what that student or parent or colleague is really trying to communicate to us. A great example was our discussions around the rules for “hoodies.” For example, if a student has their hoodie pulled up over their head, what do you? Is he being defiant and disrespectful or is he trying to create a space safety and comfort in trying to deal with whatever negative issues going on at the time? Do we just look at “the rule” that says no hats or hoodies on inside? Or, do we try to get to the core of the issue? Sometimes maybe a student is trying to get at you and annoy you, but then the examination needs to go a little deeper. We have a number of students at our school where the hoodie is used to create a safe place and is used as a calming strategy to have a little bit of quiet, private, individual time to deescalate.

I like this idea as well for looking at the behaviours of adults, such as staff or parents. If we go into a discussion and assume positive intentions as the objective of the person on the other side of the conversation, then I think it changes the discussion. If I look at most parents, I can safely assume that however they are presenting to me, they are working for the benefit of their child and what they believe will be best for them in the long run. It may not be how I would communicate it, but we need to look at what they are attempting to communicate with us.



The third intervention involves the idea of creating and establishing rapport/relationship over time with our students. If you look at any amazing teacher, I think this is something they will do extremely well. Often, our students with different needs will also have difficulty with developing social relationships and dealing with issues/challenges they face. A few small things from the teachers and school administrators or staff members can be a major part of changing and developing the skills. For example:

  • Smiling authentically with a student
  • Use their name in conversations or greetings
  • Begin gently
  • Let the other person talk (I need to work on this one…)
  • Ask good questions

One of the best lessons I ever learned in dealing with behavioral or social issues as the principal in the office is to make sure that I don’t try to rush through. To do this work well takes time. If I try to rush through it, usually tempers will flare, frustration will grow, and no positive results will come out. If we take our time and allow students to have the time to calm down before engaging in big discussions, there will be much more positive results.

I am starting to look at that quick “Hello” in the hallway first thing in the morning with each student very differently now…


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