The Social Funnel

The Social Funnel

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.

We 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.

A Tragic Indifference to Violence

A Tragic Indifference to Violence

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 so accessible.

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 attained.

tv kid

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 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.

Related Posts: Learning IS a Behavior | Our Kids at the Blackboard of Life

The Teacher Dropout Rate

The Teacher Dropout Rate

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 dropout rate:

teacher dropout reasons

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.

teachers dropout too

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 volumes.

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.

Where Behaviors Begin

Where Behaviors Begin

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:

abc chart 2

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.

middle school teen

Think 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.

The Game of the Week | Sportsmanship

The Game of the Week | Sportsmanship

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.

My 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 team.

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 going in.

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.

I 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.

Go Bears.