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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.
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 …”
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:
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.
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.
We have spent a good deal of our Thursday conversations talking about where behaviors come from, the purpose they serve, how our experiences play a role in our choices, and last week we talked about the relevancy of antecedent events. This week we need to spend a little bit of time talking about the difference between organic and acquired behavioral problems.
Over the past week every time I turned on the radio or television I heard about Valentine’s Day. I kept hearing that if you really loved your wife then she needed flowers and chocolates and maybe even diamonds. Then I heard that if you really loved your kids they needed new toys and clothes and maybe even a new phone. If an alien landed on this planet last week and all he knew of our civilization was what he heard in advertisements he would think that this is a very expensive and shallow place to live. He would think that relationships are built on stuff – really expensive stuff.
Over the past several weeks we have been discussing what a behavior is and where behaviors come from. We have even talked a little about the difficulties of recording and measuring and reporting behavioral incidents. Now let’s start talking about the elements that will help us change behaviors. To begin this discussion we have to start with the focal point of behavior change – the function the behavior serves.
I just closed my eyes and now it is time to start all over again. The morning shower is about the only time I am going to have today with a little silence. I have found myself standing under the water a little longer each day as the school year is passing. That moment of peace is my chance to brace for the day. The problem is that in my moment of peace I can’t take my mind off of my kids who are struggling. I can’t stop thinking about the things I should have done to make learning a little easier. Wait, I have to clear my mind. I just need 5 minutes for me. The rest of the day can be for the kids.
Everybody likes something. Sounds kinda simple, doesn’t it? But the fact that “everybody likes something” means that there is something out there for everybody that they find pleasurable and therefore reinforcing. Think about the things that make you happy. I love a good steak. I also really enjoy spending time with my wife and kids. These are the types of things that make me smile and make me want to work toward being able pay for a good steak and to spend time with my wife and kids. I have learned that these are things in my life that require work on my part to sustain.
I woke this morning to news that Russia and the new Ukraine government are in a political standoff with military options mobilizing. There was also news of another major storm that has temperatures as far south as Austin in the 30s heading east and picking up steam and looking like it will slam the east coast again. Then there was the appalling news of a school in Nigeria where terrorist had killed a schoolyard full of children and burned their bodies in some twisted attention grab in the name of a twisted view of their religion. The news went on and on with the subtlety of a sledgehammer. I watched and read and listened to a litany of events that should make a grown man seek refuge. But one horrible story gave way to another, and the incredible news of the Nigerian tragedy faded from the television screen and a smiling anchorman talking about a rampant pack of Chihuahuas in Arizona segued into a story of absolute silliness. Those dead children were worth a 20 second mention – about the same as a pack of ankle biting dogs.
In our conversation last week we talked about how reinforcements are often misunderstood in behavior programming. For example, a teacher becoming weary of being interrupted offers her class an extra 10 minutes of recess if they are all quiet for the remainder of the lesson. This might be effective and it is a fine method to gain much needed silence but it is not a change agent. This is a short term delay of a behavior that is not targeted for change and will likely continue once the reinforcement has been gained. In other words, it is a short term bribe and the gain is solely in the short term. The kids will be talking and interrupting again right after recess.
This morning was bittersweet. My 8th grade son boarded a plane early this morning with most of his fellow 8th graders. They were on their spring break trip to Washington DC. We had to be at the airport at 4:30 this morning which meant getting up at 3:15 and leaving the house by 3:45. Today also happened to be the “Spring Forward” time change for Daylight Saving Time so in actuality it was like getting up at 2:15. We were both a little groggy!
We have spent the last several weeks talking about the process of changing behaviors and how it is much more complicated than the A-B-Cs we all learned in Psych 101. Remember, the A-B-C chart? It says that there is antecedent event (a behavior provocation). That Antecedent leads to a Behavior and depending on the Consequence the behavior will either increase or cease. For those who are just now joining in the conversation, our past discussions are easily accessible and I would highly recommend spending a few minutes and catching up. This is important, because we are about to enter the part of the discussion that is the lightning rod of behavior change. We are about to talk about Consequences.
Louis Armstrong sang “What a Wonderful World” in 1967. In that beautiful song he opines and laments, “I think to myself, what a wonderful world”. His world in 1967 was a world that saw a 10,000 person march in San Francisco against the Vietnam War while more than 11,000 American soldiers died. It was the year Jim Garrison claimed a conspiracy theory in the death of President John F. Kennedy. It was the year Fidel Castro absconded all intellectual property in Cuba. Israel was in the midst of a 6-Day War with Syria, Jordan, and Egypt. A prison riot in Florida left 23 dead, and an explosion on the USS Forrestal left 134 dead.
As we continue our discussion about the process of behavior change it is important to stop every now and then and address common misconceptions about how things should be done. Last week we talked about the importance of the Differential Reinforcement of Inappropriate behaviors (DRI). The DRI is a fancy way of describing the consequence for an inappropriate behavior. A DRI may be a time out, an extra assignment, extra chores, or an actual punishment – and this is what we need to talk about today. Is a good DRI a punishment? Here’s where the answer gets tricky: the answer is yes…and… no.
As a psychologist, I am often asked how to help little ones understand and deal with loss. How do you help your child, adolescent, teen, and even yourself deal with the loss of a loved one? From a family pet to a family member, death is one of the most difficult things for a parent to help a child through because they are often trying to get through it themselves. This isn’t a fun topic but it is one worth discussing. I hope these words help a little during the difficult days.
Some kids have good days and bad days. Chad seems to have good days and mad days. He has days when he wakes up on the wrong side of the bed and stays there. And today is one of those days. Everything is irritating Chad today. He doesn’t want to be in school. He doesn’t want to have to talk to people in class. He doesn’t want to walk the hallways in between classes. Today is definitely a mad day.
This afternoon I was watching my son Hunter crush the baseball at batting practice. As I watched him, I was amazed at how much he has grown up and how mature he is becoming. Besides being very athletically gifted, at 14, he practices being a gentleman and genuinely works on using good manners and being the type of person that makes a Dad proud. Don’t get me wrong, he can still be a big-time goofball. He is 14 after all. But as I sat watching Hunter I began thinking about all the times this boy made me laugh. And aside from swelling with pride when he holds the door open for others and is the first to jump up and offer to help, his ability to make me laugh has been one of my life’s great blessings. As I was watching him at practice I became nostalgic and remembered this:
How do you teach social skills to a group of students lacking the basic social skills to sit, listen, participate, and learn?