Take CHARGE Day 19: Notice the intent
Updated: Jan 31
Take CHARGE of the Moment
Everything is done for a reason.
When a student kicks a friend's backpack, there's a reason. When a rambunctious student attempts to imitate a whirling dervish in the middle of your morning circle, there's a reason. The fact that the reason is not readily apparent doesn't mean it isn't there. Just because I can't see gravity doesn't mean I question its existence.
The reasons for misbehavior are rarely easy to nail down. One area to eliminate before a root cause analysis, however, is personal vendetta. Before we can empathize with students and help them out of their emotional state, we must stop equating disobedience with disrespect. It does us no good to pin a deep and devious reason behind students' misbehavior, even when it clearly appears to be of a personal nature. Nothing is ever as personal as we think it is.
Underlying all acts of misbehavior are needs, so we must meet misbehavior by meeting the needs. Students are shouting (with their actions) that they need acceptance, attention, or to release some pent up energy. Their misdeeds are caused by hurt at home, poorly healed emotional scars, or frustration with difficult classroom assignments. When we reflect what we see as the child's intent without judgment, it allows the student to feel heard and understood. It's extraordinarily calming, even healing, to feel understood. It gives them the message that they have not only our affection but our attention.
From negative to positive
What you focus on you get more of. Where you point your attention determines your experience. When in the midst of a crisis, focusing on insidious intentions takes both you and the student down a path toward more hurt and frustration. Instead, step back from the situation and view it through a positive lens. Try and see what the need is that the child is trying to communicate.
This change of viewpoint keeps us out of the negativity spiral that the student is threatening to drag you down into. When the student's intentions are viewed negatively, it defines the core of the child and his behavior as "bad". It brings you, the adult, into the lower, emotional parts of your brain where blame and punishment are the only options. Negativity labels the child as "bad" in the eyes of his classmates and other teachers. The most damning effect of assigning negative intentions to students is that it ends up encouraging them to be more oppositional.
Even if the rationale behind a seemingly random act is hard to nail down, err toward the side of positivity. This defines the core of the student as "good" and that his behavior, not his character, is needing change. Positivity keeps us in the higher centers of our brain where solutions and change are possible. It defines the student as one who makes mistakes and is willing to learn in eyes of classmates and teacher.
Instead of ascribing devious designs to students, take the high road and presume positive intent. To make things personal is both egocentric and futile. I guarantee you that students do not think about you nearly as often as you think they do. You are not the center of their universe. And even if an act of misconduct was designed to purposefully injure you, taking the low road closes both you and the student off to many possible solutions.
Focused on solutions
If your attention is focused on the misbehavior, it will be hard to see a solution. As much as we'd like to turn back time and undo what has been done, that's impossible. Instead of dwelling on the blow-by-blow of what has happened, teachers should instead look ahead. Learning instead to focus your attention on the outcome you desire brings enormous power and the opportunity to problem solve.
What's the next step? What is the natural consequence that results from the action and how can the child begin to make it right? Teachers must shift their focus to the positive action they want children to use in order to see the teaching that's necessary for them to scaffold their success. It keeps the energy on how to move forward rather than reimagining every intricate detail of what went wrong.
A key part of reframing, then, is to identify or, if identification is elusive, assign a positive intent to the child's action. What were they trying to accomplish or communicate? In the eyes of the student, what would be the ideal outcome? What do they want done or stopped? How does their view of a perfect world differ from reality? Once you can stand in your student's shoes, it allows you to empathize with them and begin to focus on a solution.
Name and acknowledge
To begin, start with something simple, such as naming the feeling that you believe the child is exhibiting (Day 6). "Desiree, you seem angry. Your fists are clenched and you have a frown on your face." Once you've named the emotion, stop a moment and listen. If your intuition is correct, the child will most likely look at you or do something to acknowledge your accuracy. If you are completely off, then the student will correct you with the appropriate emotion. Either way, you've taken the first step.
Naming the feeling you believe the student is communicating validates them and let's them "feel felt". It opens a connection and, bringing their analytical portions of the brain into the situation, begins to integrate them by throwing them a lifeline to grasp onto. A follow up to this is an acknowledgement of what the student was seeking to accomplish. Remember to view her intent through a positive lens to keep the focus on solutions rather than the problem. "I know you don't like being made fun of. That's why you screamed, 'I hate you," at Julianna."
In tense, emotional situations, students want more than anything to be acknowledged. They want their experiences validated even if their responses are completely irrational. Whether or not you agree with their actions or even with the validity of their concerns, students' problems are very real to them. When they are minimized or ignored by teachers, when students are told to get over it or shamed for feeling the way they do, their emotional distress only worsens.
Remember that positivity means you ascribe good intentions to students' actions. You might not have any clue as to why they would throw a wadded up paper across the room, but you can certainly hazard a few guesses. Quite honestly, students themselves are usually not aware of the reasons behind some to their actions. Your assistance in naming their intentions helps them reflect on them analytically. Once students feel acknowledged and validated, you can take the next step in reframing the situation. We'll take an in-depth look at pivoting in tomorrow's post.
Action: Think through some typical behavioral infractions that happen through your class. Try to deduce or assign positive intentions to these actions so that they are readily available the next time they occur.
Reflection questions: How often do you take things personally in the classroom? Do you unintentionally believe that student misbehavior is directed at you and your authority? How does that viewpoint affect your ability to find peaceful solutions or encouragement to offer students during their moments of crisis?
Bailey, R. A. (2015). Conscious discipline: building resilient classrooms. Oviedo, FL: Loving Guidance.
Shapiro, S. L., & White, C. (2014). Mindful discipline: a loving approach to setting limits and raising an emotionally intelligent child. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.
Siegel, D. J., & Bryson, T. P. (2016). No-drama discipline: the whole-brain way to calm the chaos and nurture your child's developing mind. New York: Bantam Books.
To read Day 20, click here.