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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

What If?

Discipline policies, codes of conducts, behavioral programs are all designed to maintain an orderly school environment and to control student behavior within that environment.  The underlying assumption is that these are written for the students.

 Here is another way of thinking about this:

“Our belief is that the policy is written for the school staff… It is not written for the students. Eighty five percent are well-behaved, and are not affected by it.  The other 15 percent have had people telling them not to do this or that most of their lives and are experts at ignoring those demands.  If rules (policy) changed behavior, we would no longer have a problem… We argue that school-wide discipline policies are written for a school staff so that it can create classroom and school environments where students can learn. “ -  Barrie Bennett and  Peter Smilanich in Classroom  Management-A Thinking and Caring Approach

This book makes the most sense on this topic than any book I have read.  It also doesn’t offer an elaborate system or protocols for managing classroom/student behavior.  It provides teachers with a way of thinking about and interpreting student behavior that will help them make better judgments and decisions when faced with any type of student behavior.  It also offers guidelines for deciding what behaviors require a consistent school wide response and what ones don’t.  It also advocates for changing the school culture and climate and puts the responsibility on adults for gaining students’ trust and respect (winning them over.)

This approach makes a lot more sense than so many of the approaches being used in schools today.  So much time, energy and money is invested in evidence-based behavior programs that require a high level of staff training and fidelity.   Staff need to follow elaborate protocols designed to be consistently applied to all students. 

I do understand much of the motivation for establishing such programs. I am sure to those who believe in a strict behavioral approach, inconsistency is to be avoided at all costs.  If there are teachers who yell at students for behaviors that other teachers ignore, students get confused. Teachers who react emotionally to students often do more to worsen the problem than correct it.    There are schools where staff behavior is out of control.  In those schools, teachers need to act and respond differently and often do not have a repertoire of alternate responses.  Programs like PBIS can come in handy to stop the bleeding, but triage is only supposed to be temporary-not a permanent approach to health.
I suggest that we use a little of our imagination to look at the problem of misbehavior through a different lens.

What if in our schools :

  • ·      Adults placed a high priority on building positive, trusting relationships with all students-especially the ones who have the greatest needs.
  • ·      Students had more choice in what they learned and learning was engaging and meaningful.
  • ·      Teachers consciously worked toward building a strong sense of community in each classroom.
  • ·      Students were coached in navigating the social world and had more opportunity to talk about problems.
  • ·      Social skills were integrated into academic learning where students had to work interdependently.
  • ·      Teachers invested more time in helping students understand the rules and have a voice in developing them.
  • ·      The focus was on social responsibility rather than just following adult authority as the basis for following the rules.
  • ·      Adults became consistent in demonstrating respect towards students, showing kindness, and accepting misbehavior as part of maturing rather than defiance.
  • ·      Adults realized that they truly influenced student behavior by what they said and did rather than by controlling behavior by rules, rewards and consequences.
  • ·      There was a greater recognition that responsibility required more from our students than just following the rules imposed by the school.

I could list a lot more “what ifs” but even these few would not only dramatically change the need for a behavioral program like PBIS, but would more importantly change the culture and climate of the school.   Programs like PBIS accept the basic assumptions underlying how schools have traditionally operated and therefore strives to do a better job of getting students to function within that traditional structure.  It operates under the assumption that the curriculum and instructional program can remain status quo rather than strive to be more meaningful and relevant.  It assumes that teachers can keep instructing the way they have for generations and students just have to attend to those ways.  Programs like PBIS ultimately let adults off the hook for accepting responsibility for the way things are and continuing to think that the students are the problem. 

Ultimately, programs like PBIS, fail to recognize that students want to learn, want to do well, want to get along with others and that learning is a rewarding and satisfying activity in and of itself.  This is more of the natural state of affairs and doesn’t have to be manufactured and controlled.  We need to look long and hard on why we as educators don’t believe in the fact that students are wired to learned and place a priority on the conditions for allowing learning to flourish.

Could we at least try putting some of these “what ifs” into place before we impose these behavioral programs on every student. 

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