Why should we recommit our focus on the teaching of behavioral skills? To be clear, we are admirers and followers of the tenets of Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports and other efforts at inculcating a consistent set of expectations across a school. And yet, we repeatedly hear that student misbehaviors, apathy, and disorganization are inhibiting learning. Many existing approaches offer plans for improving student behavior through a classroom management lens, and evidence exists of their success. Yet, schools continue to struggle with the student motivation and academic success for all and are seeking other options.
Building on the principles of existing approaches, we are attempting to accomplish the following:
- Employ the same planning procedures, with the same emphases, for the teaching and learning of behavioral skills as we follow for the teaching and learning of academic skills
- Make explicit the connection between academics and behaviors, and embed the teaching and learning of behavioral skills into the teaching and learning of academic skills.
- Elevate the teaching and learning of behavioral skills to its rightful place, alongside academic skills. Many of us have included the four Cs of 21st century learning into our practice – communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity. These four skills are as connected to behavioral skills as academic skills.
- Blend the complementary sets of behavioral skills that are increasingly gaining attention in educational circles into Tier 1, e.g., self-regulation, executive functioning, social-emotional learning, academic mindsets, restorative practices.
Behavioral skills are critically important for learning and they are critically important for life. We are not born with these behaviors fully developed and they are not (and we should not expect them to be) learned at home. Who should teach the behaviors we want to see in school, if not us? We do not need to be “behaviorists.” We simply need to be committed to nurturing relationships and behavioral skills and committed to learning what we need to accomplish these goals.
Teaching behaviors requires a collaborative approach greater even than the need for collaboration when planning for the teaching and learning of academic skills. While we must engage in both horizontal and vertical articulation for essential academic skills (e.g., mathematics), behavioral expectations must be the same across all adults, subject areas, and environments across the school. A failure to align behavioral priorities and expectations, instructional practices, assessment measures, and differentiated practices across the breadth of a school severely compromises students’ chances at mastery of behavioral skills. We must expect students to practice effective self-regulatory strategies, for example, no matter the adult with whom they are learning and working, no matter the subject area, no matter the time of day, and no matter the physical setting.
We must erase the “can’t do – won’t do” distinction. Students labeled as lacking the will to succeed are lacking proficiency in certain behavioral skills, just as a student experiencing difficulties comprehending text lack proficiency in certain reading skills. There is an underlying cause of all student difficulties. Our successful approach to meeting all students’ behavioral needs starts with a well-defined, explicitly taught, and robust Tier 1 – just as it does for academic skills.