Staff might ask when they should teach behaviors. They might feel that their daily schedules are already jam-packed and that instructional minutes are at a premium. We are teaching behaviors all day, every day, whether we know it or not, whether we like it or not. If we don’t proactively provide instruction on behaviors and authentic opportunities to apply these skills, misbehaviors will either inhibit student mastery of critical concepts and both academic and behavior skills, our successes in ensuring all students master prioritized skills will be less than we desire or both.
So, when can we teach these behaviors? There are at least six opportunities.
- The first six weeks of school: I have been embarrassed to hear from the teachers I work with that they have felt inhibited from establishing positive learning environments with students—with clear expectations, procedures, and routines, and positive relationships between staff and students—because they could not afford to get behind on their curriculum maps. Depth of learning is more critical than coverage of content. To combat this, I suggest revising the quantity of academic concepts and skills to be addressed during the first six weeks of school in acknowledgment of the time teams require to frontload the instruction of critically important behavioral skills and to build relationships. Teachers, teacher teams, and administrators with whom I have worked have found, after implementing this revision, that learning of all kinds has been much more productive the rest of the school year.
- Classroom meetings or minilesson: Set aside ten to twenty minutes on a regular basis (once a week, twice a week, once a day) to engage in mini-lessons on the behaviors and noncognitive factors that the school prioritizes (those it aligns, for example, to a scope and sequence of the curriculum. Occasionally, these meetings can occur across classrooms or across the school. The Responsive Classroom approach, for example, suggests a daily morning meeting and a closing circle (Center for Responsive Schools, 2015). In the Responsive Classroom approach, teachers emphasize social, emotional, and academic growth in a strong and safe school community; the sense of community is enhanced through morning meetings. In secondary classrooms, these may be known as restorative justice circles. These meetings may help you meet many important goals, including—
+ Setting the tone for learning
+ Establishing trust and building relationships
+ Motivating students to feel significant and competent
+ Creating empathy and encouraging collaboration
+ Supporting the integration of social, emotional, noncognitive, and academic learning
+ Practicing metacognitive modeling, examining scenarios, studying examples and nonexamples, practicing skills, checking for understanding, and providing immediate, specific corrective feedback
- Behavior previews: Prior to beginning a minilesson in mathematics, reading, or any other content area, remind students of one behavior on which you want them to focus—perhaps the behavioral priority that is a current area of focus within the schools’ scoped and sequenced behavioral curriculum map. Or, engage students in a brief (ninety-second) preview of a behavioral priority prior to the transition to small-group work or prior to initiating a lab-like activity. Alternatively, ask teams of students to generate a list of two behaviors they should not see and two behaviors they should see within the upcoming brief period of teaching and learning. Call on students to share their team’s ideas, validating or providing corrective feedback as necessary. Prime students to approach learning conscious of the mindsets and behavioral skills necessary to learn and grow at optimal levels.
- Behavior reviews: Following a minilesson or other short period of teaching and learning, ask students to engage in a brief (ninety-second) review of less-than-appropriate behaviors that they observed (keep these objectives; consider keeping them anonymous) and also appropriate behaviors (also keep these objective; consider recognizing the individual or individuals who behaved in a positive manner). Particularly when the practice of a specific behavior is less than optimal, consider revisiting the situation and the behavior during subsequent classroom meetings and previews. Carve out time for the reflection and feedback that leads to continuous improvement.
- Multiclass meetings: Periodically, facilitate the same type of teaching and learning employed during classroom meetings across multiple classrooms, entire grade levels, or the entire school, or swap staff members between classes or groups of students. The consistency of explanations and understandings of the behaviors that the staff wants to see and hear students display in classroom and non-classroom environments across campus is critical. Reinforce with students that it does not matter which staff member with whom they are interacting and it does not matter where they are—the expectations are the same. Furthermore, multiclass meetings allow staff and students to learn from and with their colleagues and peers—collaboration is powerful (Buffum et al., 2009, 2010, 2012).
- Within academic tasks: Explicitly modeling and reinforcing behavioral skills during the completion of academic tasks enhances behaviors, engagement, and motivation. This will require that a positive learning environment, healthy relationships, positive beliefs, and clear expectations (procedures and routines) exist. The following are strategies and approaches to integrating behaviors.
+ Design and complete rich, rigorous, and authentic tasks that lead to deep learning and that require that student employ behaviors skills. Students will learn academic concepts while they learn to fully participate and persevere in a task.
+ Provide differentiated options and choice. Student engagement will increase as they explore an activity that they have selected and their academic mindsets will be enhanced (“This work has value for me” and “ I can succeed at this.”)
+ Require that all students complete a second draft of their work. Students will learn at deeper levels, demonstrate to teachers that they have mastered essentials (mastered essentials more richly), and reflected, monitored, and persevered.
+ Encourage students to try more than one approach and find more than one solution (if appropriate). Student learning with be more agile and they will practice their adaptive skills.
+ Foster a not yet approach to learning. Difficulties learning academic concepts will not allowed to represent an impossible obstacle and positive mindsets will be reinforced (“My ability and competence grow with my effort”).
+ Include the requirement that students find and fix errors within tasks. Student learning deepens and they practice the skills of reflection, monitoring, metacognition, and perseverance.
+ Reverse an outline from a sample solution. Students learn from and strive to model their solutions from an exemplar as they simultaneously learn to analyze and reflect upon their learning.
+ Explicitly teach and require students to employ a specific learning strategy or set of steps when completing a task, such as metacognitive modeling, executive functioning, and self-regulatory strategies the staff has collaboratively defined and that the staff consistently use. Students complete an academic task while as explicitly employing behavioral skills.