While recently contemplating the influence of the society of which my current students are a part of, I noticed a connection between my doctoral research on historical understanding and student behavior. Those of you who regularly read my posts will not be surprised to find that I am looking at this connection through the lens of being purposeful, acting with integrity, and building character.
I am fortunate enough to deal with all types of students who, at the time of our meeting, are usually not in their best light. With very few exceptions, I notice that there is always an absence in our conversation concerning some type of behavior. Previously believing this to be an offshoot of the survival skill known as self-preservation, I have now come to think somewhat differently. What follows could and possibly should be a larger discussion, but not here. I will attempt to keep it brief and possibly revisit later.
Students today, for many reasons live in a constant state of the present. This is why the concept of character is so hard for many to not just grasp, but meaningfully implement in their lives.
Whether you call it the existence of:
· instant gratification,
· everyone gets a trophy,
· 140 character conversations,
· reality based on TV shows, or
· the world instantly at their fingertips in the form of a screen.
Whatever the combination of factors, students are left with a stimulating, instant, very current world with little explanation or understanding of how prior actions have affected their current state and how the present has future consequences. That is where the problem (yes it is a problem) occurs.
It may not necessarily be a refusal to accept responsibility as much as a lack of understanding concerning that very thing. In fact, more and more research is bearing out the delayed development in the region of the brain (otherwise known as the frontal lobe) that controls individual’s ability to recognize and fully understand the relationship between cause and effect as it pertains to them personally. Before you protest and say that I am making excuses because “of course students know what they are doing” you must understand that is not what I am saying. The success I have had in working with students to change their behaviors stems from my belief that they need to be made aware of their actions and their impact contextually. After all, it is my job to teach. Not to mention, who wants to complain about the ills of the society instead of moving in a direction that fixes them? Even if it is one student at a time…
That is why appropriate consequences for action are needed more now than ever before. Surrounded by a world that has disconnected, negotiated, or even nonexistent effects for actions, students must be taught the exact opposite if they are to achieve real success. The question is how we accomplish that. I use a method that follows three steps.
When I follow this framework I have noticed:
· a lower rate of recidivism of negative behavior,
· stronger relationships, and
· students developing more character.
We all know that students deal with concrete explanations the best. Tell them the behavior that is wrong and why. Then take the time and walk them back (verbally) to the causes and then forward to the effect. Be sure to continually tie everything you talk about to the action. Create that connection for them until it becomes natural. Much like sledding, you need to go down the hill first if they are to go where you want them.
Act with Integrity
Be “above board” with the students. Let them know exactly what you are doing and why. The goal is to get them to realize the larger context of their actions. How many of us would accept a class in which the objectives were either absent or unclear? Model the behavior you are looking for. Do this by telling them what effect you are trying to get by your actions of speaking with them before the consequence. This talk should be about much more than just a “due process” requirement.
As mentioned before, this is not about the lack of consequences rather the presence of useful ones. Students will repeat the behavior if they are not aware of the connection to the consequence. This is where the responsibility portion begins. Character is not about acting gracious when you are getting what you want. It is about handling what you don’t like with a determined, yet open mind. Every consequence is an opportunity to build a student’s capacity to have a stronger character. We need to use it as such by teaching them that they need to accept whatever decision they made and the resulting actions. Not because someone is doing something to them, but because they did something to themselves.
Finally, if students live in the present where actions and memories are quickly discarded how they can really understand the consequences (both past and future) of their actions. The best part of this is that the frontal lobe doesn’t fully develop until later. Therefore, even though high school may serve as the last chance in many regards, we still have the opportunity to help students develop this ability that much of society has, at best left alone while at worst reinforced the negative. We need to stop reacting and instead respond with strategies and interventions that serve a longer term goal. Take the time, acknowledge the context, and address the future possibility.
As always, your thoughts, discussion, and comments are welcome.
I will close with a poem someone passed me about a week ago…
“If a child doesn’t know how to read, we teach.
If a child doesn’t know how to swim, we teach.
If a child doesn’t know how to multiply, we teach.
If a child doesn’t know how to drive, we teach.
If a child doesn’t know how to behave, we…punish?”
-John Herner, Counterpoint (1998, p.2)