Start treating behavior as a symptom instead of simply as a problem
We focus on behavior too much in schools. It’s understandable. It’s observable, quantifiable, and impacts lives. But the inordinate attention, and attempts to manage it with rules and consequences not only often doesn’t help, but makes matters worse.
The whole mindset behind behavioral management is a set up. We can’t and never do manage others behaviors. The best we can do is manage our own in a way that encourages them to manage theirs. By believing we can and should control student behavior, we actually invite students to adopt mistaken goals like power and control and try to prove to us we can’t, often by cutting off their noses to spite their faces. To which we too often simply double down on our efforts to control them, and they double down on theirs to prove we can’t.
Behavior is the tip of the iceberg. 90% of an iceberg is below the surface. Likewise, there is so much going on beneath the surface in students’ minds. It’s their thoughts about themselves, others, life, what’s happened to them and is now that’s key. Thoughts cause feelings, attitude is always the father of behavior, and a person’s behavior will follow their emotions toward their life events.
Consequences do not address the thoughts and feelings that give rise to behavior. In fact, they often interplay with them in ways that exacerbate them instead, leading to a worsening of the behavior we didn’t like in the first place. If a student has the hot thought “You can do that to me” and we do things to him, he doesn’t acquiesce and think “I guess you can”. He doubles down on his original thought, gets angrier, and behaves even worse.
Behavior is a symptom. It’s a symptom of thoughts and feelings students need help with. We need to be like doctors who strive to identify the underlying causes of a patient’s symptoms, and address those. What would we think of a doctor who prescribed the same treatment for every patient, and simply prescribed more when it didn’t work?