“Great Scott!” – Behaviour can improve!

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Behaviour can improve

  • Be aware of targeting a single behaviour.
  • Get comprehensive about that behaviour.
  • Measure current and future improvement.
  • Connect it to individually tailored rewards.
  • Include all three components of behaviour change.

I’m a proud child of the 80s. This pride is manifested in my firm belief that the best movies came from the 80s. They catered, in a whimsical and deliberate way, to just about every type of young person who was growing up in that period.

If you were into teen drama there was The Breakfast Club. If you were into sport there was The Mighty Ducks. If you were into SciFi the Star Wars trilogy was in full swing. Horror nuts had A Nightmare on Elm Street and the alpha, cool kids had Top Gun.

These movies were not particularly big on teaching us life lessons but they tantalised our senses with a mixture of triumph over adversity and soft-rock power ballads. The one that got my attention was an amalgam of all of these movies, Back To The Future. It had a bit of everything, so it appealed to almost everyone. It had sci-fi, it had nerds, it had family, it had sports, it had love interest and it had humour. It had the lot.

What does all of this have to do with behaviour? Many of you will remember the Delorean car used as a time machine in the movies. The quirky Doc Brown created a machine that made a rather standard sports car take us back in time. It was the flux capacitor. Pictured in this article, it was three different energy sources combining into one perfectly timed and measured moment when magic happened. You can talk about each of the three power sources in isolation, but the actual flux capacitor didn’t work unless you talked to all three. Two out of three, as it turned out, is, in fact, bad.

“ A bad system will beat a good person every time.”
– W. Edwards Demming

So it is with improving student behaviour. Too often in schools there are two basic mistakes in the quest to improve student behaviour:

  • MISTAKE ONE – trying to improve too many behaviours at once. This would be the equivalent of asking the Delorean to not only take us back in time, but to also pay our bills, mow our lawns and file our tax returns. It would then do none of these things well.
  • MISTAKE TWO – using only one strategy or approach and complaining that “I tried that and it didn’t work” when it fails. This would be commensurate to cheating the Delorean by hoping it would function without two of the flux capacitor components.

Through this article, I’d like you to be fully versed in building a flux capacitor geared directly at improving student behaviour. You can talk about improving a targeted behaviour all you like, but if you ignore one of these, you’re going to land in a time and place you’d rather not be in:

  • COMPONENT ONE: Identify the Target Behaviour
    Of all the behaviours you’d like to change, select the one that is least acceptable for you. Be incredibly specific about it too. Hurting people is too broad. I want to know if he pinches, punches, bites, throws things, uses words or excludes others from play or other activities. If the student can’t tell us exactly what behaviour they are working on then it isn’t specific enough. Resist the temptation to make broad and unclear statements such as being good.
  • COMPONENT TWO: Measure the Improvement
    If your target behaviour is to Stay In The Classroom, first, examine how often that’s currently happening. Even if it as low as 5 of the 30 standard periods in a school week, you simply ask what’s a good stretch (not snap) target. You might aim for 8 or 10 out of 30. When the student hits that target on two consecutive occasions you scaffold it upwards.
  • COMPONENT THREE: Link to Individual Strengths and Interests
    What floats this student’s boat? What extrinsic reward, because these are valid for bringing target behaviours to attention, would cause this student to say “No way!” Is this student into the WWE, the AFL, or Pokemon Go or has some other high interest focus … and do you have a newsagent parent or carer who could donate some out-of-date magazines on these obsessions as a reward. Generic rewards, such as 30 minutes of computer time aren’t individual enough and are doomed to failure. Make the reward special for the student. We all like to receive gifts that are uniquely us. It turns out that it really is the thought that counts!

Further reading

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