Over the last several weeks we have
talked about behavior influencers and social and emotional catalysts and
impediments. It is important to know these things because you need to
understand the baseline kids are coming from if you want to change their
behaviors. Over the next several weeks we are going to break behavior
change down into manageable and understandable posits. But before we do,
let’s talk honestly about behaviors.
consider ourselves to be a society of freedom. Our society is based
upon individual liberties that come together to foster the common good.
But this isn’t really true. Even though we are a liberal people in that
our society affords many more choices and options than others, we are
still a society of laws, rules, and mores. We say that people are free to do what they want but that is only the case until their behavior infringes upon others. We have very definitive boundaries for what we are willing to accept. Let me break it down like this:
My youngest daughter, Abbie, is a
beautiful girl. She is smart and sweet and kind-hearted. She sings when
she does her homework and she sleeps with her baby doll. She loves
watching cartoons and she still runs to the door screaming “Daddy’s
home” when I get home. She is my little girl. She gets to act silly and
giggle and live in a world of semi make believe. All the other little
girls in her class are doing the same. She can get away with a lot of things because she is little and young and she is supposed to be silly and happy.
My son is 13. He started middle school
last year and it was really sad for me because when middle school began
he put down the toy cars and stopped playing make believe games. He
began paying closer attention to his appearance and even though he still
hugs his Daddy he doesn’t run through the house when he hears the door
open. Now don’t get me wrong, he is still a goofy 13 year old boy. You
might find him listening to his headphones or you might find him at the
top of a tree in the backyard. Hunter can get away with some things
because he is still a boy. But he
can’t get away with being as goofy as he was just a few years ago
because peer pressure just won’t allow unbridled silliness in teenagers.
My oldest daughter Megan is about to be
17. She is a beautiful and kindhearted young lady. She has the sweetest
disposition of any kid I have ever known. She is a hard worker in school
and an even better person in life. Megan must, in many ways, act like
an adult. She doesn’t play with dolls or watch cartoons or sing while
she does her homework. She doesn’t skip through the house or run to the
door when Daddy gets home. Megan
lives within a social construct of teenage girls that highly scrutinizes
every move and a class environment that measures and monitors every
word, spoken and written.
I have watched my kids move through
different phases of life and have watched the parameters of acceptable
behavior become more narrow and definitive each year. I know that as
they grow the world will become less forgiving and have less patience
with silliness and goofiness and all the other quirky behaviors that
make kids so much fun. They will
have to grow up. They will have to conform to social laws and rules and
mores. They will have to conform to societal expectations for behaviors
or else they will not be accepted.
Schools are a microcosm for life because
schools have a hierarchical social system and each grade level has a
set of expectations in regards to behavior, effort, intent, and
personality. If the student does not conform to the expectations at that
level then he or she ends up in the principal’s office,
in-school-suspension, at an alternative campus, or possibly even
expelled. Our kids enter a social funnel in kindergarten that has a wide
portal of acceptability. As each year passes that funnel gets narrower
with stricter and more definitive expectations and more clearly defined
consequences for when those expectations are not met. By the time our kids exit schools the boundaries of acceptable behaviors are closely guarded by societal laws, rules, and mores.
We consider ourselves a liberal society
but the truth is we expect people to behave, speak, dress, and
communicate in a certain way. If they don’t then we ostracize and
marginalize them, incarcerate them, or institutionalize them. We just don’t tolerate social outliers without significant consequences.
Why is it important that kids learn social expectations and societal
construct in school? Because once they leave the school they don’t have
the safety net of detention or alternative campuses or time-outs. They
don’t have the buffer of the teacher or principal. We have to teach our
kids how to behave and communicate and contribute because if we don’t
then when they are no longer kids they will not be accepted into our
society. Then they will end up homeless, or in jail, or in a hospital,
or all alone. Why do we have to
teach today’s kids social and emotional development and behavioral
growth? Because we will demand it of them in just a few short years.
We are becoming desensitized to violence as a nation.
I was watching the news last night and it was chilling when the newsman said, “Well here we go again, another shooting at a mall in …”
I cringe every time I hear about a
shooting or an overwrought public display of violence. It scares me to
think about my kids or my wife being caught in such a terrible
situation. But what really stung me about this latest report of random
public violence was the resignation in the voice of the man bringing the
news. He didn’t sound shocked or horrified. He didn’t even sound
exacerbated. Instead, he sounded like he had to reread a story he was
all too familiar with and one that was no longer a horrible surprise.
That scares me.
Violence is nothing new…
…and man’s willingness to use violence
as an expression has been around since the beginning. But we live in a
new time of instant access to information and so many means of rapid
communication that every one of these stories is played out again and
again on televisions, computers, tablets, and phones. We no longer live
in our neighborhoods and our towns. Instead we now live in a global
community that seems much smaller because we see and hear so much.
Atrocities and meanness have always been there but they have never been
Couple the hard news of ongoing violence
and the marginalization of individual suffering with the ever expanding
boundaries of “entertainment” and we have generations growing up that are no longer appalled by what they see and hear.
Television shows and movies celebrate, in graphic detail, killing and
violence and meanness. Music glorifies the aggressiveness of domination
and downgrades the temperament of the meek. The world can be a mean
place, always has been, but it is being redefined as a place of
acceptable excess because so much meanness is so easily accessible, it
is often sensationalized, and is then celebrated.
The real warning sign was in the
voice and on the face of that newsman last night. Gone was the shock
and the sadness. In its place was a resignation and a realization that
this is the world we live in and these stories are becoming commonplace.
So what does this have to do with kids and classrooms and teachers and parents?
As I said earlier, violence is nothing
new and media’s sensationalism of violence has been around since the
early days of print press. But the general lack of empathy and the
general lack of distaste and even disgust for the overt sensationalism
of violence is new. The gory and graphic details of violence that are
now pervasive in entertainment and even the news is new. And the more
our kids see the less shocked they will be.
Cognitive dissonance is
a theory that says when incongruent events exist it creates additional
stress and the person experiencing the stress will compensate by
becoming less affected by the incongruence. I heard dissonance in the
newsman’s voice because he had to report on horrific violence but he wasn’t really surprised. He wasn’t shocked.
He wasn’t even really appalled, and I think that was what was
appalling. This is not an attack on that newsman but it is instead a
statement of concern that when we are no longer disgusted by disgusting
behavior then we have begun redefining acceptability. It may sound silly
to say that such public displays of violence can be redefined as
acceptable but think of the school shootings and the publicly violent
acts that have been carried out and the interviews with the offenders
and the notes they have left behind said they wanted to experience in
real life what they had experienced in a video game or seen in a movie.
Sociopathic and even just plain stupid behavior has always been there
but the access to the fringes of human behavior has never been so easily
As a society we have to begin drawing distinctions between right and wrong and we need to realize that removing
excessive violence and sexuality and filth from our common discourse is
not censorship, it is a cultural responsibility. Take charge and know what your kids and your students are being exposed to.
Go to websites like www.pluggedin.com and read and know the language and violence and sexual content of your kids’ television shows and movies.Read
the lyrics to the music before you say yes to the download. Be
proactive and when something is a bad influencer say so and then take
away access to it.And
finally, talk to your kids and to your students. Help them understand
and discern those things which bring goodness and growth to their lives
versus the things that marginalize and are negative.
When a horrific event, such as another
shooting at a mall, occurs take the time to talk about the value of life
and the need to value this precious gift. Bad things will continue to
occur. I just hope when they do we have enough humanity left in us as a
society that we are shocked and appalled because the day we become indifferent is the day we will have accepted it.
An interesting study from Alliance for Education Excellence found here
provides some interesting findings on why teachers are leaving the
teaching profession. Here are the top three reasons for the teacher
The study also states that the cost of replacing teachers who are dropping out of the teaching profession is conservatively estimated to be $2.2 billion. The costs per state range from $8.5 million for North Dakota to over $500 million for Texas. Do you think that raises a few eyebrows?
But Why Are Teachers Leaving?
Let’s speak honestly about why teachers
are leaving the profession. There is a distinct feel amongst teachers
and administrators that there are so many mandates and so many
expectations that the flexibility and the time necessary to build a real
learning environment just doesn’t exist. When the issues above are
coupled together it is easy to see how “lack of planning time” and “too
heavy a workload” go hand in hand. This is an age-old problem and it is a
problem that lots of people in lots of professions deal with. So why is
this so problematic? Are we to believe that teachers are just not
willing to work long hours and gut it out? Of course not.
The real issue is that when your
classroom is untenable due to behaviors (issue #3) and you don’t have
the time to deal with them (issues 1# & #2) then you end up in a
downward spiral and the learning environment – and therefore teaching
environment – suffers.
Teachers are very willing to work long
hours. They are willing to work at home and on weekends. They are also
willing to go the extra mile to prepare for the subjects that are based
within the competencies of their education and training. Believe me, I
know how hard teachers will and do work. I am married to a 1st grade teacher and she spends her day teaching twenty seven 1st graders. She spends her evenings grading and planning and preparing. Willingness to work is very seldom the issue for a teacher.
The Real Problem
The true problem lies in the fact student behaviors need to be dealt with
but the schedule and the workload and the legislative mandates make
behaviors a non-priority – except that it is the behaviors of the
students that is diminishing the learning and teaching environment and
making the classroom difficult. Aside from the fact that teachers are
given strict mandates for performance they are also dealing with 20 – 30
different personalities spanning multiple racial, socio-economic,
functional, and familial backgrounds in order to create an environment
where learning can occur.
When you work long hours and spend a
great deal of time in preparation and then you go into a classroom that
is not manageable and yet you have stringent benchmarks for academic
performance, teachers are being driven away.
We now have an educational system that
espouses accountability, yet the accountability is measured solely on
the academic proficiency of the students. Reading and science and math
are the benchmarks of a job well done. Yet when you look at the reason
teachers are leaving it is not because they cannot teach reading and
math and science. It is because their classrooms are untenable and they
are not given the resources and time to change them. They can do their
job; they just are not given the chance.
Teaching to the Test is Not an Education
Martin Luther King Jr. once stated that “Intelligence plus character is the goal of a true education”.
Mandates have replaced that with “a high standardized test score is the
goal of a true education”. Yet while testing is important and the
United States must be the standard bearer for academic performance and
ability, teaching to a test is not an education.
A fact in all classrooms is that we have
students functioning at different levels of academic ability and
different levels of social ability. The vey make up of our classes
coupled with the proficiency standards coupled with the time and
resource restraints means that there will be some kids slipping through
the cracks and this is hard for teachers to take.
The true problem lies in the inherent fact that the range of functioning within a classroom is not limited to academic abilities.
There is also a range of social functioning that has a direct impact on
a teacher’s ability to create and maintain a learning environment.
How do you teach to a test when you have students who won’t sit down and be quiet?
How do you teach the rigors of science when you have students who don’t understand the basics of social rules?
The classroom is after all a social
gathering and even though it is autocratic by design that autocracy only
works when the authority is understood and respected.
“Teaching Interrupted”, a study found at Public Agenda states that 85% of our current teachers feel that new teachers are not prepared for what they are going to experience in the classroom.
These new teachers know how to teach reading and science and math. They
aren’t equipped to deal with the students who are disrespectful,
students who have no support system at home, students who have no desire
to achieve, and then a system that accepts none of the above as an
excuse for not reaching pre-designated goals.
True Classroom Success
The issue is that we have defined a
successful education as one that creates a student population that
scores within an acceptable range in the certain education areas that
correlate to future potential employability. The problem with this is
that this form of fundamentalist education does not take into account
the students who are not prepared to participate at this level. When the push is all academics then when does the training for social competency occur?
Students are not given the self-confidence and taught the social
parameters for societal success and this diminishes their ability to be a
part of a socialized classroom and this makes teaching and learning more difficult.
Teachers are not leaving the profession because they cannot teach.
Teachers are leaving because they are not being allowed to teach what is important. Rene Descartes once said, “To know what people really think, pay regard to what they do, rather than what they say.”
People go into the teaching profession because they want to teach. They
want to mold the minds of children and create opportunities for them to
succeed in life. Teachers are leaving because the opportunity to truly
educate is no longer valued within our legislated system. Yes we
are teaching. But we are not fully educating and preparing our children
for life. And teachers are walking out. Their actions are speaking
I think teachers and administrators are trying to teach us something…
as they walk out the door.
They want the time and resources to
prepare their students for life. Yes, competing and success within the
global economy is important but so is self-esteem and friendship. The
strictures of science must be learned but the value of respect and
tolerance is just as important. Reading is an absolute but so is good
citizenship. Teachers are trying to tell us something and until we
listen, children will be left behind.
In our last behavior conversation we
laid out the A-B-C process for changing behaviors. It is a complicated
but straight-forward process. However, it is a process that doesn’t really lend itself to a school or home environment.
So instead of trying to fit a round peg into a square hole – like
trying to turn all of our teachers into functional analysts &
behavior specialists – let’s
tackle the processes that make sense in the classroom and talk about
what they mean, how you should be tracking and understanding them, and
ultimately what you should be doing about it.
Here’s the A-B-C chart again and the short video:
Today let’s talk about the Antecedent.
An antecedent is simply something that occurs that provokes or elicits a behavior.
Antecedents can be tricky because when you describe something as a
“provocative event” you tend to think of things such as calling someone
an ugly name or shoving someone or breaking things that belong to other
people. In actuality a provocative event can be something as benign as a
misunderstood look or a perceived sleight.
When you begin looking at the origination of a behavior, the antecedent is the spark event.
But antecedents are neither constant nor consistent. If you are walking
down the hall and someone bumps into you, you are going to have a
different behavioral response depending on who it was and the intent of
the bump. If it was a stranger and they quickly apologized then
hopefully you accept it and move on. If it was a friend and they were
playing with you then you might laugh it off. If it is someone you don’t
like then you might take the action as an affront and respond
accordingly. When you are looking at the start point, or antecedents, of
behaviors you have to really look at two important factors.
First – you need to know who is involved in the antecedent.
Let me give you an example. I have 3
wonderful kids. My oldest daughter is about to be 17 and she is a sweet,
smart, wonderful young lady. She comports herself with grace and is
genuinely loved by all. My 13 year old son is a ton of fun but no one
will ever say he comports himself with grace! He is the bull in the
China shop and he relishes that role. My youngest is the perfectionist.
She is 9 years old and strives to be the best student, basketball
player, soccer player, Bible Bowler, and anything else she does in life.
She wants to be the best. Period. If she finishes in second place I
have to work with her to not see it as a failure. She is a great kid but
she is beyond competitive.
In my house if I am sitting in my chair and something hits me on the back of my head there are 3 basic possibilities.
My oldest daughter was walking by and dropped something and it was an
accident. Or, my son threw it at me intentionally and he is now hiding
and waiting retribution. Or, my youngest is practicing her throwing
skills and she either hit the perfect mark or was off target and is now
aggravated with herself. My response to being hit on the head will
change dramatically depending on who is involved. If it is my oldest I
will know it was an accident. If it was my son I will know it was on
purpose. If it is my youngest then it could go either way and depending
on which way it goes one of us probably won’t be happy.
Who’s involved becomes even more
important when you go outside the family and widen your social circle.
Kids will do things with their friends that they will not take offense
to but if the same thing were done by a stranger or even a casual
acquaintance then it could lead to a fight.
It is important to know who is involved because that will help you
determine the latitude of response that is most likely to occur.
Where this becomes problematic…
…is when kids develop a sense of
comfort with those who are close to them and they carry those boundaries
of acceptability to the wider rings of their social circles. I hear
kids call each other names and I see them laughing and smiling but I
know if they called someone else that name there would be a problem. Kids
have to learn how to discern the levels of familiarity of the people
they are with and how that affects and impacts how they respond to other
people and how other people respond to them.
The second important factor for the antecedent is the context in which the provocative event occurred.
of it like this, if a student came to you and said that another student
was being mean and wasn’t sharing recess toys your immediate reaction
might be to tell everyone to be nice and share. But, if the real context
was that the kid who is tattling is the one who just finished his turn
and now the next person is swinging then it changes things.
The context of an antecedent can change the way you act towards the
provocative event, interact with that event, or react towards it.
The exact same thing under different circumstances can lead to very different results.
A kid might bump into another kid in the
hallway and a fight ensues because they are with their friends and
someone immediately begins mouthing off to the other. The same two kids
might bump into each other when they are by themselves and they laugh it
off and move on. The context of an event is just as important
as the event itself when you are trying to determine if it is a start
point for a problem behavior.
The bottom line on any antecedent is
that you need as much information as possible regarding who is involved
and the context it occurred in before you can place a high value on it
being a problem point. Why is this important? Because the first step to changing behaviors is knowing what leads to behaviors.
How do you understand what leads to behaviors? By knowing the trigger
events and more importantly the reasons those trigger events lead to
behaviors. But that is for next week’s discussion.
This past week the sports world was in full tilt.
We had Super Bowl Sunday plus a full slate of college and professional
basketball games followed immediately by college football’s National
Signing Day. For a sports fan, it is a great time of the year. But let me tell you about the best game I saw all weekend.
youngest daughter, 9 year old Abbie, plays Upwards basketball. Upwards
is a terrific place to learn the skills of basketball. All of the kids
wear wristbands signifying their level of skill and they have to guard
or be guarded by a player of a similar skill set. The kids are taught to
love the game and try to win but it isn’t all about 8 and 9 year olds
winning the game. It is about fair play and being a good teammate and learning to love the competition of athletics.
As I begin this story let me preface it with this:
I don’t believe that every kid should get every trophy. When we water down competition we water down incentives.
One of the great lessons that sports teaches our kids is that there
will be times in life when we lose. Bouncing back from a loss is a much
more important lesson than actually winning. There should be an MVP and
there should be an All Star and there should be a winning and losing
Losing is real and our kids need to learn how to deal with a loss and try to get better.
OK. I will climb off my soap box now and back to the story…
I am the coach of my daughter’s Upwards
team – the Upwards Bears. We have a cool little yell where we slap hands
and count to 3 and then everyone yells “Go Bears” and growls. It is actually quite fun to watch little angel faced boys and girls growling before the game.
My Abbie is a natural athlete and the
leader of our team. She is tall and athletic and skills come very easy
to her. She was the leading scorer on her soccer team and is the leading
scorer and rebounder on her basketball team. She also one of the
leaders in blocked shots, rebounds, and steals. It just comes pretty
easy to her and when you couple that with the fact that she loves to
practice and she tries to emulate her older sister who is a varsity
player, she is just a good player.
This past Saturday we were playing a team that was clearly outmatched.
Even though you try to match skill sets,
the kids on the Bears were just more comfortable playing together and
were much more confident. We jumped out to a pretty big lead early in
the game and it was obvious that the other kids were getting frustrated.
Our kids just weren’t missing and the other team couldn’t hit a shot.
At halftime I told our kids that they
needed to pass the ball 3 times before they took a shot. I reminded them
that we had practiced passing because a good pass is worth a lot more
than a bad shot. This was a way to let them keep playing without just running up and down the floor and running the score up too high.
The Bears took to the court and their passes were crisp and they made
sure there were at least 3 passes before the shot. But the shots kept
Now as a coach I am in a quandary.
I only had 6 players that day because some were out sick so I couldn’t sub in the “B” team. I also couldn’t tell our kids to not try because that flies in the face of what they are supposed to be out there doing.
Instead I called them over and told them I wanted them to pass the ball
at least 5 times before shooting, to take good shots and make them, to
play aggressive but clean defense, and to try. But I also wanted them to cheer on the other team and encourage them. Make them work for the ball but if they stole it tell them good job. If they made a shot give them a high five.
I told them it was time to practice being a great sport and to encourage these kids…
and to recognize and appreciate that the other team had not quit.
We went out for the last quarter with a big lead.
What I watched over the next 6 minutes was the best sporting event of the weekend.
I watched 8 and 9 year old kids playing and trying hard but they were
also working their best at being great sports. I watched a little girl
from the other team who had been frustrated beam with pride when she
finally made a shot and my kids ran over to her and high fived her. I
watched my kids yelling “You can do it” to the other team when their
players were not wanting to take a chance at missing another shot.
I even watched my little girl, my ultra-competitive little girl, clap
for the boy who was guarding her when he stole the ball from her and
called timeout. It was a good play and she told him so. Then I watched
the best play. Right after the timeout my daughter stole the ball back
from the little boy and scored and he immediately told her good job. That’s sportsmanship. They both hustled they both tried and they both did their best. And they did it with grace.
Don’t get me wrong. Neither team gave the other any free passes. There was no let down or feeling sorry for anyone. Instead,
we reminded each other that this was a competitive game and we were
there to compete but we were also there to be good sports.
I love college football. I am not a huge
fan of professional football because it is a little to mercenary for
me. I love the pageantry and the pride that goes with playing for your
school. As I watched these little kids play a game that no one
outside of the First Baptist Church gymnasium would ever know about high
five each other and encourage each other and still play with heart and
pride I thought, this is how it is supposed to be.
Yes we won. I couldn’t even tell you the final score but it wasn’t close. But
the biggest winners in that game were the kids who made a new friend
and saw the value in lifting each other up while still giving each other
their greatest compliment which was trying their best. Trash-talking and being brash and arrogant has taken a center stage in a lot of sporting venues.
wonder how many more people would watch the game and take pride in their
teams if it were played at a very high level by people who let their
effort and their skills talk instead of their mouth. I know for the Upwards Bears they left the court proud and even in defeat, so did the other team.