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If we as educators would like to see changes in student behaviors, and if we commit to doing whatever it takes to serve all students and ensure that all students achieve at high levels, then we must also prepare ourselves. While you have already established a culture of collective commitment to the need for a curriculum of behavioral supports in your school, it is also important to establish a shared vision of how to integrate these supports and to establish a safe, positive environment that engages your students. It is also crucial to develop, within each individual teacher, the attributes necessary to nurture such practices in others.
Behavioral skill planning, instruction, and assessment will continue to be an afterthought if not integrated into all aspects of the teaching and learning process with consistency. This shift begins with a commitment to integration. The integration of behavior and academics will only be effective if there is a true belief that the two are complementary and interdependent. We should apply the same vocabulary, thinking, and processes to planning and implementing Tier 1 behavioral instruction as we apply to planning and implementing Tier 1 academic instruction.
There are some who will not believe that it is their job to teach behavioral skills; others who do not believe that they have the time; and still others who do not believe they possess the skills. If not us, then who? We will achieve when we make a commitment to nurturing behavioral skills; when we make the time to define, model, and teach these skills in our classroom; and when we consider academic and behavioral skills as two sides of the same coin. The coin, in this case, is readiness for college, career, and life. Integration applies to how we prepare and implement.
High-quality instruction in both academics and behaviors requires a school culture and classroom community where every student feels safe and affirmed and is fully engaged. Knowing students is the key to growing students; student growth in both academics and behaviors requires that staffs commit to improvements in our relational skills with students and our pedagogical skills in facilitating the teaching and learning process. Understanding the complexities of behavior requires that we understand the complexities of communication. Communication is a vital skill, and while students often have a difficult time with understanding what they are communicating and the implications of what has been perceived, adults also struggle with communication. We should reflect on our communication and ensure that none of our words leave students feeling angry, misunderstood, judged, or devalued. As Jim Wright notes, “Helping educators to adopt positive communication as a routine, consistent ‘habit’ should be the goal of every school.” In my own experience, my staffs collectively created and maintained a list of “things we should never say to students” and “things we should say to students” in an honest effort to communicate positively with students and give honest recognition that we haven’t always succeeded.
Finally, we must prepare to teach behavioral skills by developing our own precognitive skills. Precognitive self-regulatory skills involve:
- Learning how to read, reframe, and redefine student misbehaviors
- Assuming that every student has the capacity to change
- Teaching, modeling, and nurturing appropriate behaviors as a preventative endeavor
- Helping students recognize stressors
- Guiding students to master the steps involved in self-awareness
- Ameliorating causes of high stress within schools, in neighborhoods and homes, and in collaboration with community partners
- Reframing misbehaviors as stress behaviors
There is no magic formula or shortcut to developing these skills. These skills will only be improved through courageous and vulnerable self-reflection, professional learning, and collaborative practices with our colleagues as we seek to continuously improve.