A Teacher Who Cares About Kids with ADHD

Last summer I met Ellen Berg — an amazing teacher who teaches and encourages students with ADHD every day.  She’s got the greatest attitude and strategies for helping kids with ADHD find success at school.

Ellen’s story is amazing – she cares deeply about helping kids with ADHD.  I hope you’ll share it with the #teachers in your life because a great teacher can make all the difference in a kid’s life.

But before I get into Ellen’s story, please consider helping me help teachers:

Help Me Help Teachers of Kids with ADHD!

Kids with ADHD have really high drop-out rates. It’s too easy for us to give up on our futures. 

Help me help teachers learn how to support us better.  I’m working on raising money on #Kickstarter to create resources for teachers dealing with ADHD. Please click here to help support my fundraiser — even $5 will make a difference.

ABCs of ADHD Flashcards to help teachers of kids with ADHDOne of the resources will be Flashcards for Teachers.  Teachers need lots of good ideas that will help them challenge and inspire kids with #ADHD.

The flashcards will be a resource that teachers can keep handy in their classrooms, so they can count on getting a get a quick and helpful idea just when they need it most.

The ideas on the flashcards will come from teachers like Ellen — who have given me their amazing ideas that really work for kids with ADHD in the classroom. 

Here’s Ellen’s story about teaching kids with ADHD:

“I met Jeff in July of 2014.  It was after a session at the World Domination Summit where he had been announced as a grant winner.  The WDS Foundation was going to support his ADHD Kids Rock project.

I was impressed by Jeff’s initiative and touched by his desire to support kids diagnosed with ADHD and their parents, so when I saw him standing with his mother after one of the sessions, I walked up to him to let him know I admired his bravery and supported his mission.

Neither Jeff nor his mother probably noticed it, but when I walked away from them, I burst into tears.

Jeff had told me that I was one of what he called the Two Percent: “the Two Percent of teachers who care.”

My heart broke for this young man and his experiences, and while I believe the percentage of teachers who care is far higher than a mere two-percent, I know that many well-meaning, under-trained teachers do not serve kids with a-typical brains and behaviors as well as their students deserve.

It is easy to point fingers and condemn others, but ultimately that point of view locks us into a power struggle where we dig in to our positions and hold on to being Right.  Instead, we can acknowledge our weaknesses and search for better ways to serve our children.  This is what I love about Jeff’s project; his site is an invitation to others to learn and grow, whether it’s in self-advocacy or learning about best practices for kids with ADHD.

I am fortunate to teach at a progressive K-8 charter school where our culture looks at what each kid needs to be able to learn and experience success.  One of the driving philosophies of our culture is that kids are not their diagnoses, backgrounds, or challenges.  Kids are kids first and foremost, and all of them have quirks, strengths, and weaknesses that require teachers to adjust how they teach and support them.

Too often in too many schools, kids who are not proficient at playing Good Student are labeled as bad, deficient, or broken, and once a child is viewed in that manner, the onus for change is upon the student, not the teacher or the system.

This is backwards.  Teaching is an act of service, and it is our job to adjust what we are doing to support the child’s needs, not the other way around.  This does not mean we accept flat out defiant or bad behavior or coddle children.  To the contrary; as we learn more about what each child needs to learn best, we are holding them accountable to themselves and the standards they are capable of reaching with the appropriate support.

Teacher working with Students

We would never go up to someone in a wheelchair and tell them, “Stop being lazy and lolling about in that wheelchair.  Get up and walk already!”  However, parents, teachers, and school systems do this all the time to kids with ADHD and other disabilities.  Most of the time, this approach is not out of malice; rather, it is a lack of training, experience, and support as well as the dominant school culture that perpetuates the practice of penalizing kids for what is, ultimately, biology coupled with maladaptive habits.

I am not suggesting it is easy to figure out how to accommodate all kids all of the time.  A lot of what we do with kids is trial and error, trying to create and document a toolbox of strategies to support them while teaching the child those strategies as they get older and we gradually release responsibility to them.  However, it is our moral imperative to at least try to figure out what a child needs than to throw up our hands when our usual approach is working.

It is our job to teach.  No one ever said it would be easy.

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Following are some of the strategies I use in my middle school humanities classroom to support kids with a diagnoses of ADHD:

  • Use of standing tables and stools
  • Chair bands
  • Yoga balls
  • Comfy chairs and couches
  • Permission to sit or lay on the floor provided work is happening
  • Movement breaks during work time
  • Preferential seating
  • Tactile tools—Velcro under the desk, squeezy balls, cush balls
  • 60-second resets—essentially deep breathing; we begin each class this way to clear the mental cache
  • Interactive, project-based lessons
  • Project sheets that incorporate bullet points, text boxes, bold and italicized key words
  • Structured, scaffolded projects with multiple check-in points
  • Student conferencing—where are you, what are you struggling with, what do you need from me, what do you commit to doing today?
  • Asking the student what they need if they are having a challenging day
  • Lots of Big Picture support—month-views, weekly-views, the day’s agenda on the board
  • Visual and verbal cues throughout the class period
  • Adjusting due dates when the child conferences with me at least a day in advance of the due date provide s/he takes responsibility for choices or clearly articulates what has gotten in their way and commits to a new date that we agree on together

For each child we teach, we need to ask the following questions when they are not experiencing success:

  1. What is getting in the way of this child’s learning? What is the root cause?
  2. What can I do differently to mitigate the effect of that cause OR to eliminate that cause (if possible)?
  3. What strategies have worked for this child in the past? Parents, the child’s former teachers, and even the child himself are great sources of information.

Above all, we need to assume good will.  That means that when my sixth grader, “Jerry”, is making old-man faces during read aloud, I ask him to doodle what he is picturing in his brain as I read to give him a high-interest focus instead of demanding he sit still and listen.  It means that when “Cory” is out of his seat to get water/throw something out/wash his hands for the thousandth time in the past ten minutes, I ask him to try the standing table to see how he likes it instead of sending him out for bad behavior.

I encourage you to return to your classroom with a beginner’s mind, to cultivate curiosity about how what the kid who bounces around like Tigger from Winnie the Pooh or blurts answers out impulsively or whose writer’s notebook always seems to be oozing some kind of mystery slime needs in order to be successful.

You cannot find an answer to a question you haven’t asked.”


Teacher Ellen Berg with tips for teachers working with ADHD kidsAbout the Author: Ellen Berg is a 6-7-8th grade multi-age Humanities teacher at a progressive K-8 charter school in San Diego, California.  The first nine years of her career were spent in an inner city middle school in St. Louis, Missouri where she developed a deep passion for student-centered instruction and social justice and wrote a three-year, blog-style, reflective diary for Middleweb.com.  Her writing about education has also been published in Middle Ground, Education Week, and Teacher Magazine.  As she enters her 20th year of teaching, Ellen continues to assert that her students are her best teachers, not only of how to be a better teacher, but how to be a better student of life.  Ms. Berg lives in San Diego with her husband, Greg, and two cats who are the real bosses of the household.


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