Take CHARGE Day 20: Pivot
Updated: Feb 2
Take CHARGE of the Moment
In yesterday's (Day 19) post, we looked at how to positively notice and name the intentions we see behind student actions. Today is a natural extension of that noticing and is the second part to reframing the situation. Remember, the entirety of taking charge of the moment revolves around the presupposition that students have missing skills and that disciplining, rather than punishing, them involves teaching them those needed skills.
During the reframe, then, teachers have the opportunity to begin building up these techniques that students are either unaware of or choosing not to employ. In the hierarchy of steps for taking charge of the moment, reframing always comes after attuning (Day 6 and Day 7). Deciphering where students are with their emotions and even which brain state they are in will give you the best signal as to which step to take next. If students are in the survival state (Day 9) or emotional state (Day 10), they need either firm commands or two positive choices.
Sometimes, however, students are open to learning something new. Still being in the executive state, or awfully close, they present a real opportunity to address the missing skill right then and there. Through experience and empathy, teachers will develop a sixth sense as to what their students are open to learning at any given moment. When possible, fill the void with usable information. For too many students, their classrooms are filled with an endless parade of thou shalt nots. While that gives them usable information as to what not to do, it doesn't help them figure out what they should do instead.
That's where the pivot comes in.
As mentioned previously, pivoting begins with identifying the positive intention behind students' misbehavior. Take, for example, your student Joshua. He loves wadding up balls of paper and throwing them at/near/toward/around the trash can. Even though you've asked him again and again to stop doing that, he still finds it endlessly fascinating to hurl them from 25 feet away in the general direction of the trash can.
In Dr. Becky Bailey's Conscious Discipline, she uses the acronym ACT to discuss how to reframe misbehaviors into learning opportunities. The three steps are Acknowledge, Clarify, and Time. The first step is to acknowledge the child's desire or intent. "Joshua, I know that you like to challenge yourself. The fact that you continue to throw wadded up paper balls at the trash can shows me that you are always looking to push yourself to see if you can accomplish what you put your mind to." While this may or may not be the conscious intent behind Joshua's actions, assuming he could even enunciate them if pressed, they are as good intentions as any.
The second step is to clarify the skills to use instead. This is the pivot that depends on an accurate or plausible enunciation of the child's intention. "Rather that throwing them from so far away, let's try something different. During the last five minutes of class, after you've shown me that your work is complete, I'll let you bring your chair to the side of the room. You can spend that time trying to see how many paper balls you can get into the trashcan from 10 feet away." Instead of simply saying, "No," or, "Stop," which have already been tried to little effect, try building in a viable alternative for students.
The third step is to take time to practice right then and there. The final step is the most important and, unfortunately, the one that will be skipped the most often. At this point, the child has been listening to the teacher (hopefully) but the words might go in one ear and out the other. The final nail in the coffin is to practice. Stop what you're doing (in fact, their misbehavior has already done that) and take an extra 20 - 30 seconds to practice. "Joshua, let's try it out. Bring your chair over here and a few paper balls. I'll set the trash can up so you can try throwing them in from 10 feet away. Remember, this can be done during the last five minutes of class only after your work is complete. Obviously, you'll need to pick up any misses and throw them away before leaving."
When pivoting, there will be a real opportunity to insert sarcasm and shame. Don't. Resist the temptation. When showing Joshua a better way to test his skill, he'll most likely get embarrassed and not want to try. If not, that's fine. What you want to do is show him how to correctly channel his energy and need for a challenge. What you don't want to do is put him up for public shame and ridicule. Instead of telling him, "No," which you've done to no effect, you're pivoting to show him a better way. The choice of whether or not to do it is up to him.
Pivoting is something that takes a bit of creativity and experience to use effectively. If something happens out of the blue, such as James snatching a marker out of Jacob's hands, you don't have to reframe it immediately. When something simple like that happens out of the blue, you can walk over, take the marker out of James' hand and give it back to Jacob. Instead of pivoting right away, possibly because you need time to think about James' intention or you need to finish your lesson, you can simply say to James, "I'm going to come back in a moment to talk about this with you, James. For now, Jacob needs his marker back."
Once you've had a moment to collect yourself or complete your instructions to the class, you can go back and address the situation. "James, I know that you wanted to use Jacob's marker to add to your drawing. The pictures we are coloring are important and Jacob's purple marker is a pretty color. Grabbing markers out of another person's hand, though, is not the right way to use someone else's marker. Instead, you should ask politely like this. 'Jacob, can I use your purple marker when you're done with it?' Let's practice now. James, ask Jacob if you can use his marker."
Both James and Jacob have their emotions agitated because of James' action. After attuning to the situation, you might see that you can handle the situation with a reframe instead of something more drawn out or dramatic. Since it stopped your instruction and did not need to be ignored, you used a two-step pivot. The first step was to walk over and take care of the immediate problem (James had snatched Jacob's marker). More than simply fixing it, though, you told the boys you'd be back in a moment to talk about it. That lets James know there's more to come and gives Jacob some comfort to know that someone has seen his distress and righted the wrong.
Coming back and practicing the missing/underdeveloped skill of how to ask to use someone else's marker is key to helping James. If he simply has the purple marker taken from him and given back to its rightful owner, he hasn't been helped. This all started because he wanted to use the purple marker. Even though he got it the wrong way, he still wants to use it. Giving him the opportunity to try asking for it the right way helps him both meet his need and learn how to better meet it in the future.
Describe, don't preach
One quick word of caution with pivoting. Make it short and sweet. Describe what the correct behaviors are but don't get on your soapbox and preach. You've most likely already taught students what the correct behavior is. Rather than building a 15-point argument about the evils of snatching markers, cut to the chase. What should students do in place of the poor choice they made?
You have a short window of opportunity with reframing. Students will give you a little latitude if they "feel felt" through your empathetic attunement. If you take the opportunity to go on a 4-minute rant about how wrong their actions were, you'll lose their attention and openness. Keeping it short and sweet allows students to still feel validated as you verbalize their intentions (whether they were aware of them or not). It helps them feel that you're with them in the middle of their big feelings rather than judging them from on high.
Action: Practice a reframe with someone other than your students (e.g., a spouse, coworker, family friend). Have them act out the misbehavior and you go through the three steps of ACT (Acknowledge, Clarify, Time). Practicing outside of a tense situation will help you be more comfortable with the skill when its needed in the classroom.
Reflection questions: When have you ever used a reframe before, teaching positive skills to students? How effective was it? Did students use those new skills in future situations? How does the use of a reframe eliminate the need for administering a punishment?
Bailey, R. A. (2015). Conscious discipline: building resilient classrooms. Oviedo, FL: Loving Guidance.
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 21, click here.