Make Your Life Better

When reacting to student behavior are you asking yourself the right question: “Has anything you’ve done made your life better?”

*This video contains graphic language*

In American History X Edward Norton (Derek) is a recently incarcerated neo-nazi skinhead. Avery Brooks (Dr. Bob Sweeny), one of Derek’s former teachers, visits him in the prison hospital. Despite Derek’s confidence in his racist beliefs and previous actions, when asked the question, “Has anything you’ve done made your life better,” he shakes his head no. This is the pivotal moment in the film as Derek finally realizes that everything he has done has not improved his life nor made things easier for his family.

There is a lot of preparatory work in education: teachers develop lesson plan, administrators create professional development, counselors review incoming student records, etc. However, as proactive as we try to be, sometimes decisions are reactive in nature, especially relating to behavior because it can be difficult to predict how students will behave, especially in middle school.

Derek was asked if his decisions made his life easier. I ask you if your decisions as an educator make your job easier? Or perhaps are you reacting to prove a point? Or responding to win? Or yelling to maintain authority?

Everyone knows that yelling at, belittling, and embarrassing students will not yield the long term results you are in search of. Yet, sometimes we do it anyway. If the outcomes we are in search of our improved relationships, increased instructional time, and higher student engagement, we must change the way we react.

We can use backwards design to identify what outcome we want to accomplish which will help provide clarity about how we need to react.

Unfortunately, there is no magic bullet when reacting to student misbehavior. Potential solutions include: ignoring the behavior and speaking with the student after class, consistent communication with parents, and collaborating with the student themselves on how to address “off days”.

Ignoring a behavior is not always possible if the behavior is disrupting classroom instruction. However, some students behave to get a reaction, so if you are able to ignore it, you are disarming a student.

No one knows a child better than the parent. Consistency is key with parent communication, because parents need to hear from you when their child is meeting expectations and when you need support. When a child knows a partnership exists between school and home, it can have overwhelmingly positive results.

Students are refreshingly honest. If you speak with them when they are not in an elevated state they can share insight on ways to de-escalate them.

When reacting to student behaviors keep the desired outcome in mind. This will help you make decisions that “make your life easier.”

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