Student behavior may be the single most important topic with which educators are currently struggling. Make no mistake: students can behave well, they want to behave well, and behavior and academics are inextricably linked. Students with lower levels of academic readiness often exhibit their frustration through inappropriate social behaviors; inappropriate social behaviors can compromise students’ opportunities to learn. And yet, I do not believe that we have explicitly identified, communicated, taught, modeled, or reinforced the social behaviors we want students to display.
Schools across the country are increasingly taking responsibility for high levels of academic learning for all. We are similarly becoming much more adept at providing instruction and intervention to meet this goal. Schools recognize the critical importance of behavior; we must assume the same responsibility for high levels of student behaviors for all, and we must become more adept at providing instruction and intervention in the areas of behavior as we have in the domain of academic skills.
Moreover, social behaviors are not the only behaviors students must possess. They must also effectively employ academic behaviors, also known as self-regulatory or executive functioning strategies. Dr. David T. Conley and the Educational Policy Improvement Center (EPIC) have included, “Academic Behavior, the attitudes and behavioral attributes that students who succeed in college must demonstrate…to take responsibility for their own learning through self-awareness, self-monitoring, and self-control,” as one of the four dimensions of college and career readiness. (The other three dimensions are 1) Key cognitive strategies – the intellectual behaviors that lead to the skills and capabilities necessary for college and work. 2) Key content knowledge – a strong foundation within the academic disciplines of English/language arts, mathematics, natural sciences, world languages, arts, technology, and social sciences. 3) Contextual skills and awareness – an understanding of the college admissions process, career and college culture, and tuition and financial aid.) Behaviors, both social and academic, must represent a much more significant portion of our core, essential learning targets for students; they must be explicitly and consistently taught, modeled, and reinforced; and students must receive supplemental supports and interventions when they do not respond to initial instruction.
While our schools and our educators’ shared and working knowledge in the areas of social and academic behaviors may not be as complete as in the area of academic skills, the expertise to positively impact student behaviors does exist. There is a science of behavior and we can translate that science into content, instruction, assessment, and intervention in the domains of social and academic behaviors. Social and academic behaviors can and must be integrated within academic skill contexts; and they must occupy a space of their own in the work of schools and educators.
I became an educator because I believe in the unlimited capacities of all children and I believe education is among the most fundamental of human and civil rights. I believe we must stop trying to cover an inappropriately disjointed set of learning targets that represent far too much breadth and too little depth. Social and academic behaviors must be included in our set of essential learning targets. Given that the current quantity of academic learning targets alone is impossible for students to master, concentrating and re-examining the essential content and learning that students must master for college and career readiness is a fundamental task.