Changing Mindsets Part 3: Observing Classroom Behaviors

In my last two posts I have covered the first five steps that teachers can take to help change their mindset about classroom behaviors. In this post I will focus on the sixth step. These steps are adapted from Conscious Discipline by Dr. Becky Bailey.

Step #6: Observe and Understand

The key to changing our mindset about problem behaviors is reframing the intent of the child. For example, if there is a child in your class who constantly hits other children, it is easy to say, “This child is bad,” or “This child just wants to hit for no reason.” Reframing involves observing the child to understand exactly why this child hits. Maybe another child is taking toys from them. Maybe the child feels threatened whenever another child comes near them. It is important to observe so that we can understand as much about what is going on with the child as possible.

When you have a behavioral situation that causes a lot of stress in the classroom, it can be hard to take a step back and simply watch what is going on. Teachers have been conditioned to believe that if there is no punishment happening for bad behavior, then nothing has been done to correct the problem. However, punishing a child for hitting does not teach them why they should not hit, and it does not get to the root of the problem, which is why they are hitting in the first place. Asking yourself these “why” questions can help you begin to reframe the situation and the behavior.

After you have asked yourself why, it is time to find out. The best way to find out why a child behaves a certain way is to watch them and their interactions with others. When observing, it is important to write down what you see so that you can refer back to what you have seen and discover patterns in behavior. Writing down the time that the behavior occurred can also reveal patterns, especially if separate observations are done on separate days. Does the child become more aggressive around lunch time because of the many transitions involved in sitting down to lunch? Or maybe it is because he is tired? Writing down the time while observing behavior can lead to many insights that may otherwise go unnoticed.

Write down as much as possible about the behavior of the child and the children that he/she interacts with. It is okay not to write down every single thing, because at some point you will have to look up to see what is going on in between writing. Through practice you will likely develop your own short-hand, which will make it easier to record more information. When the child exhibits the problem behavior during your observation, you may already have seen why the behavior happened. Be sure to write down that the behavior happened so that you can refer back to it later. It may also be a good idea to allow a co-teacher handle the misbehavior so that you can continue observing the situation. That will make it easier for you to see the progression of behavior after the problem behavior is handled, as well.

Why is this important? We have talked about fight-or flight and what that means. Sometimes teachers can trigger a fight-or-flight response by how they react to a behavior. For example, if our child that has been hitting is hitting because another child has taken a toy from them, and we punish the hitting but do nothing about the toy that was taken away (because our focus is solely on the hitting and not on why the hitting took place) then the child that was hitting will likely continue to stay in fight-or-flight because his stress has actually increased. This may lead to even more aggressive behavior that may seem to be “for no reason,” when the actual reason is because they are still upset about their toy. Situations like this are common in classrooms with two-year-olds or other children who have not developed the verbal skills to articulate what has happened in their social interactions. After observing the child in action, you should be able to determine why their behavior is taking place.

Your action steps for Step Six:

  • Ask yourself why the child is exhibiting the problem behavior.
  • Observe the child to see if you can discover the answer.

In my next post I will discuss using this observation to make a positive connection with the child. To return to Steps Four and Five, click here. To return to the first three steps, click here.

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The Power of “Why”

I am putting the finishing touches on my Encouraging Creativity in the Classroom local workshop. The online version won’t be available for some time yet, as I am still learning the ins-and-outs of putting together an online course.

The information that I am focusing on right now deals with classroom management and how it relates to the expression of creativity in the classroom. I wrote a note to myself in the initial outline draft about the power of “why” in the classroom. This is not a new idea on this blog. I believe that children, like adults, have the power to reason. Their ability to reason is not as mature as adults – they may come up with some off-the-wall reasons for some things. But they come up with reasons – they understand that behaviors and outcomes have reasons behind them – especially when we ask the word “why”. Why do we not run around the classroom? Why do we not jump on the bed? Why do we not write on the walls or the furniture? Why do we not throw toys?

“Why” is an important word to give reason to children, but it is also important for teachers as well. I have had many instances where I have been telling the children to do something (or, in most cases, not to do something) and my brain all the sudden stops me and asks me “Why are you asking them to stop? Is there a safety issue involved? Is someone going to get hurt? No – really – is someone going to get hurt?” Although this is not going to become a post about risk-taking, the question is very important for that reason. How much risk am I comfortable with them taking, as the one who is responsible for their safety? But most importantly, why am I asking them to stop? Control? Power? And if I am asking them to stop, what is the reason that I am going to give them? Trust me, children will be more liable to stop if they have a logical reason – a because that makes sense to them. Simply asking or telling a child to stop is an arbitrary command to them. You may have a perfectly valid reason for asking them to stop doing what they are doing, but they will not know that if you don’t tell them.

The “Because” is just as important as the “Why”

“Because I said so” is not a reason. It may be perfectly valid to you, as the teacher, because the child is supposed to listen to you and follow your direction. But the reason why they are supposed to follow your direction is because it is your job to keep them safe and teach them how to live safely and productively in this world. Simply giving them “Because I said so” as a reason for not doing something does not teach them anything about how you are trying to keep them safe or productive. It becomes an arbitrary command from you to them. How often do you want to follow a command that someone else gives you, without being given the reason for why you are being commanded? If someone continuously commands you without reason, you begin to feel disrespected – and even unsafe. If you feel like your life or work becomes subject to the arbitrary whims of someone else, it isn’t a place that you really want to be in any more, is it? You never know what is coming next, or why you are being picked on in this way. Because that is what it ends up feeling like – like you are being picked on.

Giving a valid reason for asking a child to do something is giving the child the same respect that you deserve. And all children deserve that respect as much as we do. Not only is it respectful, but it continues the lessons about actions having reasons – an important lesson to learn. People become goal-driven as they get older (and this starts at a young age), and teaching children the power of “why” and “because” helps them to realize that every action has a purpose and every purpose brings us closer to a goal. And in our quest to bring creativity to the classroom, it helps us put children and ourselves on the path toward realizing just how creative our classroom can be.

Curiosity Leads to Creativity

A couple of years ago, I took part in an online month-long workshop that changed the direction of my teaching forever. In the workshop we were asked to define our five deepest values. My list was as follows:

  1. Curiosity
  2. Flexibility
  3. Enthusiasm
  4. Respect
  5. Knowledge

Passion had originally been on my list, but I realized that, when you are working to define your deepest values, you are working to define what you are passionate about. Am I passionate about passion? Does that even make any sense? What is that passion that drives me every morning, that makes me want to get up and go to work every day, and still leaves me happy at the end of the day, even when I am exhausted? The answer is: curiosity.

I am amazingly curious about how people learn and how children think. I am curious about how social interactions between people lead to different emotional responses between children or adults. And what I have found, to my amazement and delight, is that my curiosity has fueled me to become more creative, not just in my classroom, but in my business as well. I have been researching a way to do teacher education workshops unlike any other workshop that I have ever been to. I have brainstormed new ideas and methods, and have poured countless hours of creativity into this blog. On the flip side, I have found that I don’t have patience for many things that have little or nothing to do with curiosity or creativity. I have written several workshops for Project: Preschool, but the ones that I am the most excited about have to do with creativity. I recently tried to focus on a new topic/direction for Uplifting Freedom for July, but found myself so unmotivated to write about it that I realized that I needed to keep my primary focus on creativity.

Luckily, creativity is a complex topic, and there are many different elements of a classroom and of life that affect creativity. This brings many different topics to write about and ways to think about it.

Today my mind keeps coming back to the fact that curiosity almost inevitably leads to creativity. Being curious about “how” will motivate one to come up with creative and productive methods of doing something. Being curious about “why” will lead one to explore new reasons for doing something, or the reasoning behind doing it differently. Being curious about “what” will lead one to discover new uses for something. Curiosity plays a crucial part in creativity, and it is by asking questions and seeking answers that we find our true creative mind.

Of course, knowing what our passions are is a big step in finding our true creative mind, as well. I don’t think I would ever have found mine if I hadn’t sat down and thought about what I was truly passionate about. It was through this exercise that I have been able to define what it is that I am curious about, and how to go about satisfying that curiosity. Through the satisfying of my curiosity, I have come up with new classroom methods, new workshop ideas, and new ways of doing old things. It has been a truly satisfying experience.