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.
Social and Emotion Behavior Process
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.
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 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. 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.
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.
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.
The one consequence that actually creates the biggest issue is the DRI – the Differential Reinforcement of Inappropriate behaviors. The DRI is a fancy way of saying the response to an inappropriate behavior, typically a punishment.
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.
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?
Last week we talked about the method, or pedagogy, for teaching social and emotional skills. After all, you can’t just start a conversation or class with kids by telling them what they are doing wrong socially or where they are missing the boat emotionally. The Probative-Informative-Probative-Assimilative (PIPA) methodology lets you start a conversation with the kids and then use the tenor of the conversation to guide them to a skill that needs to be addressed. This is a critical part of the social and emotional development process, because it is an opportunity for the young person to identify a problem and then begin the development of problem solving skills.
Over the last three weeks I have had the incredible opportunity of visiting with educators, administrators, and legislators in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Alabama. I have spent time in Lansing, Madison, and Huntsville, and during that time and at each stop I have had the great privilege of visiting with people who are dedicating their lives to making sure our children have the best opportunities possible. From school to ready-to-work to free and reduced-cost meals to immunizations, these good people are trying to insure our kids have access to the greatest social experiment in history – the American way of life.
I sat with a high level administrator of a state agency recently and listened to her explain why she thinks we are losing the battle for so many of our kids’ futures. She truly lamented the fact that a large Midwest city that is under her purview from a service standpoint was dramatically affected by a large group of young parents and kids who have grown in an environment where little is expected and so little is realized. She talked about how 26-year-old moms have 12-year-old daughters and they both live with the 42-year-old grandmother. She talked about this cycle of kids having kids and parenting being abdicated to the system, or worse, to the streets.
It is easy to write about the people who are neglectful parents. You know who they are. In my former company I had two psychiatric and psychosocial clinics that served children, and I used to walk into those clinics and think to myself, “What spawned these hellions?” Then I met their mom and dad and I understood. It is true that kids from bad homes and kids from broken homes have a much harder road than kids from homes with two loving parents… But do two loving parents guarantee good parenting?
I have the very distinct blessing of living in one of the most beautiful cities in this incredible country. Spring in Austin, Texas is a magical time. The fields of bluebonnets and Indian-Paintbrush turn roadsides purple and yellow, blue and red. A simple Sunday afternoon can absolutely lift the heart. Couple those incredible colors with the majesty of a fast forming thunderhead that reaches endlessly into the sky and you soon truly believe that a creator had to have his finger in making something so beautiful. Spring is here and every minute spent indoors just feels like a minute that has been wasted. It feels borderline immoral to be inside on a 78 degree day!
Sylvia and I were married for 9 years before we had our first child. Megan was the answer to many of our prayers. She came into this world as the most absolutely beautiful baby ever born and soon became the smartest and quickest and friendliest child that ever lived. Trust me on this one – it’s all true. Once she started school she became the light of her teacher’s eye and the best friend to the kids in her class. She excelled in all subjects and with all people. She is truly that remarkable and beautiful and darn near as close to perfect as young lady can be. It seems that only yesterday I watched in absolute awe as Megan came into my world and nothing had been the same for me sense. My little girl quickly became the focal point of my world and when her brother and little sister came along I knew that there truly was a much higher purpose than me. These precious little souls are the greatest gift ever given. And my Megan started this incredible journey for me. It is a journey that gets better every day.
It is that time of the year again for our middle and high school students. It is the time when a year’s worth of facts and lessons and demonstrations and labs will be measured through recollection, recitation, sleep deprivation, and self flagellation in an event known as Finals Week. Finals week is a bittersweet time, because there is no more stressful week of the school year but at the same time there is a light at the end of the tunnel known as summer. That light can be the motivator and also the distractor. You also have kids who know the material, have memorized the facts, have done their homework along the way, but they are scared to death because they know they are not good test takers.
Anger is one of the most readily identifiable and easy to discern emotions we deal with each day. From being cut off in traffic to something going wrong at work to breaking your favorite glass – anger happens. We have read so much pop-psychology regarding anger that we have almost made it a bad word. It is as if people who are truly centered and enlightened will no longer get angry. This is not only wrong, it’s goofy.
The best kid in the world will do something at some time that they should not have done. Part of being a kid is messing up, and part of being a parent and an educator is using these “mess ups” as teaching and thereby learning opportunities.
Jolie wants to dress like Kyla and Erin, but her folks just don’t have the money to spend on fancy designer clothes. Even if they did, Jolie is pretty sure her folks wouldn’t spend a hundred bucks on a pair of jeans, just out of principle. So Jolie wears her non-designer jeans and her no name-brand shirts and her anonymous shoes, and she knows that everyone stares at her and talks about her and looks down on her because she doesn’t have the fancy clothes. She also doesn’t have the fancy backpack and binder and the cool mechanical pencils with the cushioned grip. Her pencils have to be sharpened in the old crank sharpener on the wall, and she is pretty sure she is the last person in the school still sharpening her pencils. In fact, Jolie is pretty sure she is the only person in the school who is “doing without” while all the other kids have so much.