Did he really know better?

A few years ago I was asked a simple question that has impacted nearly every academic or behavior conversation I’ve had since. Sitting in a training (with admittedly low expectations), this question surprised me:

If a student in your class made a mistake on an academic assignment, would it make sense to say, “You knew better than that” and move on expecting more from the student the next time?

You’d be hard pressed to find any research based teaching practices to back this tactic for academic purposes, but nearly anyone with teaching experience has seen this line of logic applied. Most have done it themselves. I did it, too. On particularly stressful days, I’ve found myself falling into my old habits more than I’d like.

This mentality creeps in not when we’re providing instruction on academic content, but it appears regularly when we address inappropriate behavior on campus. The reality is, we expect our students to know how to behave before they enter the door.

Much to the chagrin of some, our expectations for student behavior have to be taught for students to become the young men and women we hope to graduate from our schools. Still, in too many schools, that’s what we often do with student mistakes regarding behavior.

The more I’ve thought about it and read about it, the more I believe the issue is less about differing perspectives regarding the way we teach our academic concepts or correct identified behavior concerns. It’s much more closely tied into how the brain works and how people learn. Without looking at how we learn, we’re going to fall short teaching both academic content and behavior expectations to students.

Brains forget (2)

More than likely, you have a vast repertoire of covert and overt methods of reteaching your academic standards to struggling students in your classroom. Maybe you intervene by asking the student where he or she got stuck (or figure this out by asking the student to explain his process for solving the problem for you). Maybe you ask one of his peers who understands the process to step in and teach the concept in a different way. Maybe you produce something visually that helps make sure you and your student are on the same page. Regardless of the particulars of your strategy, you have many effective options at your disposal.

Think about how powerful it would be to teach behavior with the same fervor and authenticity and passion on your campus. Next time you are frustrated by the way your students are behaving, remember that (in all likelihood), they’re not actively trying to drive you up the wall. Their brains forget and think of an inventive, novel way to reteach your expectations.

Reframe your best teaching practices for teaching behavior expectations and reap the benefits of a classroom and campus where nobody has to guess about behavior expectations.

While this sounds easy in some respects, so does good teaching (and we know what a challenge–albeit a very rewarding challenge–good teaching can be).

Brains forget (1)

Here’s a model based on our first attempts at my school. Keep in mind that this is intended to be a model to spur you on to think of what will work for your learners on your campus. This was a start down the road toward the answer; not the answer. I hope it’s a decent first step in the right direction.

My goal was to keep in mind the principles of learning our district was refining and use them to clearly present a very brief overview of how people learn and reiterate our campus expectations for a few situations that had the tendency to escalate unnecessarily.

So, knowing that I have no future in a career as a video narrator and that I will do a lot differently next year, here’s a link to a video we showed our students that hits on a few of these issues.

Let me know what you think. I’d love to hear what you’re doing to help students learn how to learn.