I think this is so important and can be done easily in the classroom. Many times we come up with a discipline plan at the beginning of the year which is the most sensible thing to do. But sometimes difficult behaviors appear throughout the school year depending on what is going on in the student’s life at the time. I have a firm belief that I can’t change the way others behave as much as I can change the way that I react to the behavior. As I’ve walked past other classrooms, I hear many teachers react to students’ inappropriate behaviors in ways that reinforce the behaviors rather than deter them. Sometimes this is the only attention a student may get and for him/her, negative reactions are just as good as positive reactions. So how do I get the student to replace the inappropriate behavior with appropriate behavior?
Let’s look at my student which I will call Johnny. First I identify the behavior that drives me crazy. (Let’s face it, there are students that do things just to push our buttons.) It is important to only work on one behavior at a time or I will confuse Johnny as to which appropriate behavior is getting him the positive attention and it will be harder for him to make this behavior a habit. Then I think about how I would rather Johnny behave. Once I identify the appropriate behavior, I think of situations when Johnny can show this behavior. The important thing is to set Johnny up for success. I might actual prompt Johnny with the appropriate behavior at first and when he does it, I will give him lots of praise (which should be absolutely sincere because I am thrilled he isn’t doing the inappropriate behavior). The next day, I will set him up for success again and may even call home to brag about his behavior. In fact, many times I will call the parents with Johnny standing right beside me so he can hear what I am saying.
Johnny sees he is getting attention for doing the right thing but may try to see if he can get the same attention for doing the wrong thing so it is very important at this stage to ignore the inappropriate behavior. I would not acknowledge that I notice the bad behavior (as long as it isn’t dangerous to Johnny or others) but I would immediately set Johnny up again to do the appropriate behavior so he could get the attention he needs.
In fact, many times I will see other students’ reactions change as they see my reactions change. They also begin to give the student positive attention as his behavior changes. I continue this until I see Johnny is showing appropriate behaviors without any prompting or initiation on my part. If I control my own reaction to Johnny’s behavior consistently, I would not need to set him up for success for long. The appropriate behavior eventually becomes a habit for him.
At this time I can work on a different behavior if necessary. Obviously this takes time and patience and too many times I have seen teachers give up in the middle of doing this. That confuses the student and actually sends a message that the teacher does not follow through with his/her actions. My behavior is actually a model for him and other students to see.
This is something that I’ve done in the classroom for most of my teaching career and I feel it is extremely effective. I realized this early on when I saw that many of my students thrived on negative attention like yelling, office referrals, and detention and knew that I had to break this cycle. Sometimes I could go a whole year without writing one office referral so I know that this practice helped me be successful in the classroom. It takes time, energy, and perseverance but if you stick with this, I believe that you will actually be able to focus more on effective instruction than behavior once behavior is no longer an issue.
If you have used this technique, please share your story and the effect it had on the student or the class. Thanks!
Original image: 'Explosion of positive energy' http://www.flickr.com/photos/22558336@N06/2372487324 by: Lucas