Monday, July 8, 2013

Is Your Focus On Kids Being Caught Or Kids Being Taught?

            A good portion of my time working with educators is spent on relationship building and creating a positive school culture. This work was really important to me during my time as a classroom teacher and building level administrator and took on even greater significance when I moved to a central office position where I could see a larger scale difference in the environments of schools and their relative success on most measures including staff and student satisfaction.
            Initially folks connected my work with discipline and dealing with challenging students. I remember quite clearly when I interviewed for the Vice-Principal job that discipline and behavior were the most oft-repeated words by the panel. After I landed the position former colleagues shared a concern about how dejected I would become after dealing with middle school behavior all day. My approach then is the same as the message I share now – it’s all in the perspective you bring and the motivation you have to build relationships.
            Let’s establish some basic premises. First, kids are going to make mistakes (and so are the adults). Second, consequences are a part of a positive learning environment (especially when they are connected to the behavior and are a natural result). Third, behavior can be changed through an instructional approach (just like we do with academics). Fourth, all kids can engage in positive relationships (although some may need more guidance from us). With that as the backdrop, the work becomes increasingly more positive, relationships get strengthened, and culture shifts as our words and actions align.
            When I work with school staffs today, we begin with identifying attributes or expectations for all (kids and adults) members of the school community. We use those in conjunction with key settings in the school to create a matrix of expectations that drive what we want to see throughout the school. When we don’t see them, we respond immediately, and with a positive re-statement of the desired expectations. Can you see the difference between this approach versus the approach that involves staff members creating an exhaustive list of “thou shalt nots” for kids? For those who think this may be another example of “going soft”, remember premise two above. Violations of the expectations may still result in a consequence – one that has a connection to the difference between what’s expected and what’s displayed. A continuum of consequences may include a suspension if there is not evidence of growth when we engage in teaching the expectations. It’s also important to remember the consequence is the consequence. It’s not that plus public humiliation in front of your peer group.
            When our focus is on kids being taught – both academically and behaviorally – and not solely on kids being caught, we shift the culture of the school to expecting the right things, modeling the right things, and acknowledging the right things. After all, isn’t that what schools are all about? 


  1. Hi Tom,

    This post really hits home for me because of the role I play at my school. When working through some of the more challenging situations with students, behavioural, academic, etc, I always remind myself that the heart of what we are pushing for is 'learning'. I agree with you that there are consequences for behavioural actions and inactions. I also agree that consequences shouldn't be applied as 'punishment' but rather as a means of moving students closer towards the desired and expected behaviours. I value the relationship piece more than anything else. Maintaining a positive relationship with a student is crucial to being able to coach and guide a student to make better choices. At times I find there is pressure from others to apply the big consequence and make an example of a student but deep down I know this is usually ineffective. It takes courage to discipline a student then stand behind him or her as you allow the student to make their own choices. At that point, we can only hope that we have had a strong enough influence on the child that he or she will make more positive choices.

    Thanks again for this post!


  2. Thanks Aaron. I hear you and can recall occasions where a staff member was unhappy because they did not get their "pound of flesh" or have a student in tears. My pushback was always the same: "Did the behaviour change?". We are a learning environment and that learning has to equally extend to behavioural deficits as much as academic deficits. My experience tells me that strong relationships always produce strong outcomes.

  3. Great post, Tom...relationships and focusing on ensuring that kids are taught are so important...I also believe that engagement is a huge part of the equation as well. Author Dave Burgess challenges teachers to ask themselves: Would students want to attend our class/lesson if they weren't required to be there? Do we teach with the kind of connection, passion and enthusiasm that makes them want to come back for more? Throughout my career, I found relationships, relevance and engagement to be the BEST form of classroom management. Your post reminds us all that 'what you focus on, GROWS.' Well said, Tom. Thanks for posting!