At my school, today marks day four for students. We are nearing the end of the honeymoon period. You know what I’m talking about, right? The newness of starting school is wearing off and we’re starting to see the real kids behind the new school clothes. So how do we move past the honeymoon and into the norms of school?
When I was a classroom teacher, there were two “rules” —
- Come ready to learn.
- Be polite.
Everything we needed to live by was summed up by those two classroom norms. They were short and easy to remember. Still. They are sometimes hard to live by (for me too!). I think sometimes when students aren’t ready to learn or they are impolite, we want an easy fix. We want to send them to the principal’s office so they will do the right thing next time. We wonder if they need medication to control themselves.
I’ve began asking myself: What are they hoping to get from their behavior. This is a much different question than: Why are they acting that way?
When we adopted our daughter at age four, there were many behaviors that needed to be redirected. We began, as most parents would, by trying to slap a consequence down each time the behavior was undesirable. We were hoping with consistency and an expected consequence the behavior would change. This theory is often true for children who have adjusted to the norms of society. However, for others, it isn’t such an easy fix.
We began asking ourselves: What is she hoping to get by acting this way? Then, even more importantly, we began asking her, at age four, What are you hoping to get by acting this way? She might shrug and we would nudge a little more, “Maybe…”
Because we gave space for her to answer, she did. She began to verbalize the reasons she was choosing her behavior. At the same time, we were able to redirect in a way that made it more likely for her to get the things she wanted. There were still consequences, but the purpose wasn’t to “fix” the behavior. The purpose was to help her get the things she wanted.
So it might go like this…
Mom: What were you hoping to get when you shoved him down and took the toy he was playing with?
Child: I wanted to play with the toy.
Mom: I understand, but now you are in time out instead of playing. I bet we can think of another way to play with the toy, without getting in time out.
After time out was over, we helped her ask the person to join him and play with the toy together.
I imagine a middle school conversation might go like this.(Away from everyone else, of course!)…
Teacher: What were you hoping to get when you yelled, “This is the stupidest thing ever?”
Student: Shrug. Glare. Eye roll.
Teacher: Maybe… (And let it hang there. A middle school kid wants nothing more than to be with his friends. Perhaps a nudge–) The sooner you talk with me, the sooner you’ll leave.
Student: Sigh. I didn’t want to read that dumb book.
Teacher: I understand, but now you’re staying after class instead of talking with your friends. Tomorrow, if the book looks dumb, talk to me, quietly instead of blurting it out for the entire class, and we’ll look for a book you want to read.
In addition, I’ve also come to realize that some students have to learn to care. That, however, is another post entirely.
And just so we’re clear, there is no easy fix. The behaviors and reasons for the behavior have developed over years. It will take consistency in consequences and continual redirection. Until then, godspeed in figuring out what the kids in your classroom are hoping to get from their behavior, and then help them get it in a more satisfying way.