Thursday, June 7, 2018

The Power of a Puzzle

Sometimes it is that simple spontaneous idea that you aren't sure will even work that can actually be quite powerful! 

A few years ago, I was trying all sorts of tools to help a student with anxious feelings get distracted from the fear and worry they had. We were looking for a good distraction to help the student switch up  their thought process and get back to more positive and productive thoughts. 
One of the things we tried was a puzzle. I had several puzzles in my office from a lesson I did on one of the 7 Habits: Begin with the End in Mind. I emptied my table, dumped out hundreds of tiny puzzle pieces, and we began putting together the puzzle... and it worked! For awhile, this was our go-to distraction for whenever the student needed it, which in the beginning was often. As we began the puzzle it was easy to move the few pieces we had put together onto a box lid or poster board and set it to the side. However, as the puzzle began to come together, it ended up staying on my table full time and it was always available when the student needed a distraction. 
At the same time that  I worked quite frequently with this student, I was facilitating a weekly lunch group with several 7th grade boys. All the boys were receiving special education services and all the boys had multiple discipline referrals. (I know! I know! Not the best idea in forming a group!) Needless to say, I became quickly frustrated and at a loss of what to do with this weekly lunch group that wasn't going so well. I actually paused having groups for about 3 weeks so I could regroup (haha!) and rethink how I was engaging these students. After the second week of the hiatus from group the boys came to my office to find out when we would be having lunch group again. That is when it happened! 
They noticed the puzzle on my table and immediately wanted to be a part of putting it together. Each afternoon during dismissal the group of boys (plus some) would come to my office to talk and help put the puzzle together. I actually took one more week off from the lunch group so I could keep building this rapport with the boys each afternoon. It was casual conversation and laughter and puzzle work...that's it! We were connecting in a way that then overflowed to that lunch group. They were more engaged in the lunch group discussions which I completely revamped AND they would also stop by my office when angered or frustrated or just needed a comfortable place to talk. One of the boys even began referring to me as his "School Auntie!" (You just gotta love that!) 
Even though the lunch group had resumed, the afternoon puzzle time continued which was perfect because it kept us connected and it kept them from wandering the halls and getting disciplined by other staff. The icing on the cake was the excitement and pride and sense of accomplishment they felt when we finished the puzzle. There were cheers, high fives, fist bumps, and "let's do another one!"

I never would have thought that spur of the moment idea to dump out hundreds of tiny puzzle pieces on my office table would have been beneficial in so many ways but I'm grateful for how powerful hundreds of tiny puzzle pieces can be when connecting with my students!