There are a few things I'm struggling with as I observe my students and begin to chart the course for the year.
Some times kids in fourth grade raise a stink when they don't get what they want. They do this for a host of reasons. Mostly, it is because they don't have the skills to get what they want in an appropriate way. Or, they don't have the ability to react to disappointment in a way that is grade-appropriate. Sometimes it is because they have a very real disability and they're learning at their own rate. These kids are working hard but they may just not have these skills yet. Other kids may not have a disability but there is something else going on. Perhaps trust is lacking and as a result, they do not feel like they belong or have power in the classroom. At the end of the day, the result is the use of negative or inappropriate behaviors to get what they want or need.
Maybe it is not that hard? Just encourage desirable behavior with incentives and discourage bad behavior with consequences.
Here is what happened in class today. The children were asked to meet me at the smart board with their math notebooks. One of my students was none too happy to comply. He complained and took his time gathering up his notebook and pencil. He huffed and puffed his way over to the meeting area only to become increasingly agitated when it came time to pick a seat. Apparently there was no room where he wanted to sit. He tried to wedge his way into a spot. When told by an adult in the room that there really was no room in that space and to move to another, he started to whine loudly and to complain. After just a few seconds, a classmate offered up his seat. The disgruntled child took the seat and sat down. The behaviors stopped. The other adult in the classroom looked at me and put her hand on her heart. She made a face that said, "how heartwarming."
I wasn't so sure I agreed. There is an outside chance that I'm getting a little crusty after all these years but I worried about what had just gone down in the classroom.
For a moment, let's assume the very best. Let's assume that the child who gave up his seat did so because he was empathetic. He felt for this child. He saw that his classmate was upset and he wanted to lighten his load. He gave up his seat. It wasn't a big sacrifice. In fact, the seat he held had meant very little to the boy. It was easy to do the right thing. It felt good when the boy saw his classmate settle in and heard the room come to a hush. He was relieved when the instruction began and his teacher assumed her normal posture and tone. He did this. He solved the problem with his kindness.
For another moment let's consider a second possibility. Perhaps the boy wanted to restore peace to the classroom. Perhaps the unrest made him feel stress. Perhaps he gave up his seat so that his lesson could start. Perhaps.
When I looked to my colleague I could quickly tell that she was touched by the student's empathy and kindness. I was too. I assumed the best. I always try to.
But I wondered about the two lessons learned before the math lesson even began. The empathetic boy learned that when someone is upset, it is our responsibility to help solve their problems. He took a very active role in the problem solving and as a direct result of his actions, peace was restored and the lesson began. The boy who had been in a state of upset learned an important lesson too. He learned that should he really want something, he could pitch a fit, whine, moan, carry on and eventually someone would give in to him and he'd get what he wanted. It was just a matter of time. He may have learned the art of manipulation today. At the very least, his bad behavior was reinforced. I predict we'll continue to see bad behavior from this child if we continue to reward it.
Does the situation change when one child has a disability? Does the situation change when on child is hurting and having a hard time finding his place because of something that is happening at home, in his head or in his heart? Does the solution change? These are not rhetorical questions. They are very real questions.
I know we can do better with our students who struggle with behavior. I know that we need to coach in a advance of every transition. I know that our students will benefit from feedback that is specific. We're still building our relationships and trust with our kids. There has to be a place where empathy is encouraged, were kindness counts, and where we all believe in one another. This is hard. It is hard to imagine a place where a child can be empathetic and another child is not rewarded for poor behavior. Perhaps there is a place where a child can work a little harder, have his effort be recognized by the empathetic child, receive an authentic reward for positive effort. I'm imagining a classroom where we all work together to make sure everyone gets what is needed and where no one takes advantage of kindness and where no one manipulates to get what they want.
Tomorrow, we'll try again. I can do better.