To be clear, the teaching, modeling, and nurturing of behavioral skills is not only for naughty students or students “at-risk” or students from historically underperforming subgroups. All students will benefit from developing more effective behavioral skills. We have met high-achieving students who do not persevere and gifted students with fixed mindsets. Schools need not worry about when they will pull vulnerable students to teach them behavioral skills. The teaching and learning of behavioral skills is for all and must be part of every school’s Tier 1, core environments.
There may be educators who feel that a focus on behavioral skills is now unnecessary, given the increasing popularity of facilitated learning experiences, project-based learning, the maker movement, and competency-based education. In other words, perhaps more contemporary pedagogies and practices (present in a growing number of future ready schools) represent the answer to the question, “How do we nurture behavioral skills within students?” They very well may, but while next-generation teaching may be more facilitative and learning may be more experiential, students still needed to be guided, habits need to be modeled, and behavioral skills need to be taught. As Farrington and colleagues report:
…students are not likely to develop learning strategies in the absence either of explicit instruction or classwork that requires the use of such strategies. It may be most helpful to think about noncognitive factors as properties of the interactions between students and classrooms or school environments. Rather than being helpless in the face of students who lack perseverance and good academic behaviors, teachers set the classroom conditions that strongly shape the nature of students’ academic performance. The essential question is not how to change students to improve their behavior but rather how to create contexts, that better support students in developing critical attitudes and learning strategies necessary for their academic success. Thus, teaching adolescents to become learners may require educators to shift their own beliefs and practices as well as to build their pedagogical skills and strategies to support student learning in new ways. Academic behaviors and perseverance may need to be thought of as creations of school and classroom contexts rather than as personal qualities that students bring with them to school (p. 72).
So how do we do it? What silver bullet or magic formula will help teachers and schools help students develop these habits? While there may be unique strategies about which we do not know, the practices that are likely to help develop critical behavioral skills are the very same research-based best practices about which we’ve read but may not have found time to implement or have not implemented well – rigorous and relevant teaching, collaborative learning, differentiation instruction…
The research is clear. The realities are understood. The natures of the future for which we are preparing students are undeniable. And, we know what to do, or could know what to do. We are the answer we’ve been waiting for.