It is sometimes too easy for teachers to see the bad behavior of their students. We can notice a student who is distracted, or not doing what they are supposed to, from the other side of the classroom. The students who misbehave often only get noticed when they disrupt the class.
Most advice for teachers in dealing with these students is to find out what makes them disruptive. We often find out about the students having problems at home, having interpersonal issues with teachers or students, or sometimes just being hungry, tired, and cranky. Specialists then go on to link these behaviors with poor socioeconomic situations, broken homes, learning disabilities, or a host of other maladies.
While the research is interesting and can point to new strategies to be adopted by governments and schools, the majority of the research can be labelled, at least from the perspective of the teacher in the class, as T.B.U (True But Useless).
The effect of this observer’s paradox is that many students come to believe that they are “bad” students because their teachers only seem capable of noticing bad behavior. This creates a reinforcing circle where the only feedback the student receives is of a negative/corrective form. At the same time, teachers notice more misbehavior because they expect to see it.
There is another way of looking at the behavior of students that can prove very useful to counteract this problem. This is called Bright Spot Analysis.
While it is easy for us to recognize when a student is misbehaving, it is more profitable for us to look at when they are not.
When is the student behaving in a positive manner? What type of activity is most likely to engage this student? Who is their favorite teacher and why?
In other words, we look for the bright spots in the behavior and attempt to create a system where they can expand.
This information gained from bright spot analysis can help in two different ways. First, it combats the perception of the “bad” student. This helps us to shift our beliefs of the student from one who is constantly misbehaving to one who is good in specific circumstances.
This shift in belief is important when you consider the huge effect of teachers’ belief in students, on student performance.
Second, it reminds teachers that behavior in class is a product of the conditions within the class. While we can not control the students’ responses to activities, we have control over the activities. Learning which ones are engaging helps us to grow and learn as teachers.
After beginning to discern the pattern of positive behaviors, it is very important to discuss them with the student. Remember that the student’s interpretation of events is more important than the teacher’s for deciding their behavior.
For examples of how to engage in these types of conversations with students, take a look at Dr. Ross Greene’s book Lost at School.
By shifting the focus away from when they are misbehaving to when they are behaving in an appropriate manner, we move from focusing on what the student is doing wrong and how they must change to conform with the system, to looking at how the system could be better adapted to serve the needs of the student.