Sunday, March 18, 2012

First Step: Provide Information!

I began my teaching career at a residential school for emotionally disturbed children. Even though I came to think of my students as emotionally deprived as opposed to disturbed, they were a tough group and I spent many afternoons wondering if I should return to my minimally stressful and relatively lucrative waitressing job. In my first few weeks, my principal brought my attention to the school wide behavior plan that he had crafted and we spent some time talking about the first step. The first step, he had written, was to "provide information about the behavior."
At the time, I did not realize the subtle shift of power that this first step meant for students. My reflexive response had been to tell these students to stop their disruptive behavior immediately or go to time out. However, I was a novice teacher and I had been given a clear direction from my supervisor that seemed easy enough to implement so I followed his direction. I discovered that this strategy empowered me because I knew exactly what my first phrase to address disruptive behavior would be. When students in the room began to act out, momentary panic set in for me so I was relieved to have a fairly reliable phrase to use--you are calling out, you have not filled out your point sheet, you haven't joined us in the morning circle. All I had to remember was to verbalize what the student was or wasn't doing. The next steps were trickier since they involved asking for the behavior to stop and providing a potential consequence that I had a chance of being able to implement.  However, by providing students with information about their behavior, they had a choice about whether to continue or stop. The element of control and the potential for a power struggle was minimized and I found that I didn't always need to suggest consequences.
 Yes, the difference was subtle but aren't many aspects of language?

I have never forgotten the importance of providing information as the first step of behavior management. It has helped me through many parenting moments-- your skirt is very short, you've watched a lot of television, you haven't practiced piano yet, your room is a mess. I've also continued to use it in my classrooms and schools--you're running in the hallway, you are calling out, you haven't started reading yet, you haven't filled out your homework planner. Throughout the school day, we, as teachers, ask for a lot of compliance from students and yet, many goals and mission statements speak to developing independent, respectful citizens. Providing information to students gives them practice at making decisions for themselves. They have an opportunity to reflect on their behavior and decide for themselves on changes to make. Language is powerful for so many reasons and I am constantly searching for ways to use words to empower students so that they develop self-awareness and personal management for successful citizenship.

No comments:

Post a Comment