• Aaron Daffern

Take CHARGE of the Classroom #16: Attitude


This is post #16 in a 20-post series designed to disrupt outdated behavior management models and help you create the classroom culture of your dreams. This post contains excerpts from my book Take CHARGE of the Classroom.


If you presume the best in your students, if you give them the grace to believe that they are predominantly making good choices, you have endless opportunities to provide scaffolding for teaching students about their attitude choices. Let’s take some simple situations and see how you can embed noticing both an action and an attitude with the power of your attention.


After you have given a set of instructions, typically after the direct instruction portion of your lesson, you expect students to get started right away. As a hum of activity rises in the room, you are naturally going to notice students who are making good choices. “Carlos has opened up his book and has already started working on the first problem. Genesis is writing her full name on the top of her paper, just like I’ve shown you, so that I can easily identify her work.” This litany of noticing hopefully flows easily from you as you see students initiating actions.


But how can you take that to the next level? Why not attribute some positive attitudes to the students as they are working?


“Carlos has opened up his book and has already started working on the first problem. He knows how to manage his time wisely and is choosing to get as much done as he can before we head out to recess.” Whether or not this is true of Carlos’ intentions, you’ve now doubled-down on Carlos’ good choice. Not only are you noticing his actions, but you’ve given them a rationale that promotes good decision-making and attributes intelligence and power to Carlos. He’ll certainly keep going now that he thinks, perhaps for the first time, that he should get as much done as he can before recess.


“Genesis is writing her full name on the top of her paper, just like I’ve shown you, so that I can easily identify her work. She’s not rushing but is paying attention to make sure everything is done right.” This gives Genesis two boosts, one for her action and one for her attitude. This subtle reminder will serve not only her but other students within earshot as they will look over their work to make sure that they’ve done everything right as well.


Ascribing attitudes and intentions to continuation behaviors also works. “Jennifer is quietly reading in the library center. She works hard at reading because she knows that the best way to improve is to practice every day.” Even though she’s been quietly reading and might even be oblivious to your comment, other students have begun to fidget. By drawing attention to her persistence in continuing to read, you bring to other students’ minds the expectation for sustained silent reading and its importance. The additional commentary about working hard and improving gives Jennifer a morale boost as she is seen (and hopefully sees herself) as studious and hard-working.


What can you do tomorrow?

Notice attitudes. Add attitudes to your growing list of things to notice about children. When noticing their attitudes and intentions, be sure to incorporate language that shows that students can choose their attitudes.


Highlight the choice. Instead of calling a child positive or happy, praise how they are choosing to be positive or selecting a good attitude for the activity. This keeps students from thinking that only certain people can be happy or studious, friendly or comforting.


What does this look like in the classroom?

Classroom tasks build camaraderie between students, as evidenced by:


· Positive attitudes between students;


· Interdependence and peer assistance; and


· Embedded supports that allows for successful independent completion of tasks (if desired).

So how can teachers help develop a strong moral identity in their students? The answer is not as obvious as it seems. If you simply use your gut instinct, you might begin to heap praise on students. Rather than building their internal character, the result of this misguided approach will most likely be to create little monsters.


Praise is a good thing and students naturally want (and need) to feel good about themselves. Too much focus on how wonderful students are, however, can lead some to focus too much on themselves. Students overflowing with praise can become self-centered, competitive, and cut-throat. If they become addicted to genuine praise in reaction to what they do or say, they will grow accustomed to it and need it to feel good about themselves.


When a child holds the door open for a classmate or picks up papers that have spilled on the floor, those actions are exactly what we are looking for as educators. Our natural instinct is to praise the student and thank him for being such a good helper. Unbeknownst to us, however, is the seed of addiction this can plant in students if we are not careful.


The solution requires a minor adjustment to how we recognize and praise students for doing the right thing. As they exhibit behaviors and attitudes that are conducive to their own and to others’ success, we want to notice them and give them our attention. When a child helps a friend pick up papers that have scattered on the ground, a recommended response simply notices the behavior. “Justine, you’re helping Maria pick up her papers. That’s very thoughtful!”


While this does give praise according to the praise acronym (personal, recurring, assorted, immediate, specific, and enthusiastic), it can be taken to the next level by referencing a moral identity. “Justine, you’re helping Maria pick up her papers. You’re the kind of person who always lends a hand.”


What can you do tomorrow?

Spotlight moral identity. When you notice the positive attitudes and intentions of students, you are speaking into their moral identity.


Stay positive. When talking to students about misbehavior, do not attribute their poor choices to who they are. Instead, declare that they are in fact kind, compassionate students who acted out of accordance with who they are.


What does this look like in the classroom?

Classroom responsibilities promote a positive moral identity in students by:


· Encouraging students to help and serve one another;


· Allowing students to build positive self-images through their actions; and


· Reinforcing the communal structure and interdependence of the classroom.


To read more posts in this series, click here.

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