There was an error in this gadget

Ever wish your students were more motivated? If you’re like most of us, you have tried an array of rewards and punishments to motivate kids. There’s only one problem: it doesn’t work. At least it doesn't work well enough. People (yes, even students) aren’t motivated from the outside so rewards and punishments only work to a point. We are internally motivated. That’s why it's essential to engage and inspire students to be motivated to succeed in school (and life.)

If you’re ready to move beyond the reward/punishment model and embrace a whole new way to understand motivation, I encourage you to come back regularly. It’s time to challenge the status quo and create schools and classrooms based on what really motivates behavior.


Sunday, August 26, 2012

Dealing With Students Who Bully: Part II


Once I’ve reminded myself of my role and goal, I’m ready to deal with Jon, the student introduced in “Dealing With Students Who Bully: Part I (The Essential First Step)." 

The next few sentences are a challenge. I’d like to write something that my audience will like. And I know what many of you want: a recipe for dealing with kids who bully. The “right” thing to say. Some of you may be wondering, “What’s the choice theory formula when faced with this situation?”

Sorry to disappoint, but there is no magic bullet. Many “experts” will promise you success if you follow their lock-step program. If you’re na├»ve enough to settle for simplistic solutions to complex human issues, there are plenty of purveyors of 21st century snake oil. I’m just not one of them.

If you have conquered your disappointment and continued reading, I can share two things that I always do when dealing with kids like Jon. The first is to build and maintain a positive relationship with him. I have dealt with many teachers over the years who have asked me in politically incorrect language, “How do you connect positively with a jerk?” Apart from the insensitivity of their language, the answer is really quite easy for me: I do everything I can to build a positive relationship with Jon and every other kid, parent, teacher, etc because that’s my job! Whether it’s “natural” is irrelevant. Whether it's 'easy" is irrelevant. As a professional educator, my job includes working with all students, including those who “don’t deserve it” and who are more difficult to like.

Creating and maintaining a positive relationship with Jon is not a one-shot deal. It’s an ongoing series of interactions that begins the first time we meet. And it’s something so fundamentally important that it serves as a backdrop to every interaction we have, including when he has behaved poorly.

The other thing I do with a student like Jon in this situation is to try to create (or explore if we have) a shared quality world picture. Dr. Glasser has identified four primary patterns of interacting, including counseling and managing. This is a situation that calls for managing. As a manager, I have an agenda and my goal is to invite or enlist the other person to embrace that same goal.

I don’t begin by asking Jon, “What do you want?” That question is perfectly appropriate in other contexts, but his answer may take us far from where I want to go and, as a manager, I want to structure the conversation carefully. I begin by asking, “Jon, do you know what it is that I want?” I don’t threaten him. I don’t punish him. Sensing that he is probably emotionally charged up at the moment, I ask him a question that gets him thinking and less focused on himself.

This may sound strange, but it doesn’t especially matter to me what Jon says. I have had situations where the poorly behaving student correctly identified what I wanted. Other times, they have no clue. Sometimes they express indifference. Whatever they say gives me information about their current state of mind and willingness to engage with me. And whether they correctly guess what I want or not, I have structured the conversation so I can tell them.

“What I want is for this to be a safe environment. Does that sound reasonable to you?

I have had countless interactions like this and I have never had a student tell me that my goal is unreasonable.

“OK, so we agree that it’s reasonable to want a safe environment. That’s what I want. Let me ask you, is that something you want as well?”

More often than not, students tell me they want what I want – a safe environment. When they do – and it’s important to me that they overtly express their desire – I say something like, “It sounds like we want the same thing. Since we’re on the same side, this should be easy.” I have taken a student who might have entered my office seeing me as an adversary and we have become allies, working toward a common goal.

There are rare instances when kids have told me that they were not interested in a safe environment. I’m not there to argue. At that moment, I’m not even especially interested in convincing them to change their mind. I’m simply seeking clarity of intent. “Well, it looks as if you and I want different things. You need to know that I’ll do everything I can to ensure that our school is safe. You and I get along well, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to tolerate behavior that interferes with my goal of making this a safe school.”

Interestingly, the few times the conversation has taken this turn, kids typically shift position. Once they see that I am willing and able to both like them and hold them accountable for their actions, they usually decide to cooperate.

Finally, when dealing with a student who bullies others, I make sure I do two things. First, I enforce the rules of the school. It doesn’t make any sense in having rules if they aren’t going to be enforced. Second, I make sure I do everything in my power to teach the student a more responsible way to meet his needs. Imposing consequences without teaching a better way to behave is a waste of time. Punishment doesn’t magically equip kids with new, effective, responsible behaviors. That requires teaching. So while I enforce the rules and impose any consequences the school handbook includes, I also make sure to include a teaching component so the student learns how to get what he wants without taking unfair advantage of other students.

In summation, when dealing with kids who bully others, I suggest:

  • Beginning by remembering your role and goal (Part I) 
  • Building and maintaining a positive relationship with the offending student. (It’s part of our role as professional educators.)
  • Assessing if you have a shared want/goal/quality world picture: a safe environment.
  • Clearly articulating what you want.
  • Enforcing school rules.
  • Teaching the offending student a more responsible way to meet his needs.
 ***

As always, if you enjoyed this and found it useful, please send the link to your friends. Thanks.

Bob Sullo
PO Box 1336
Sandwich, MA 02563

For information about books by Bob Sullo and to schedule a keynote, workshop, or series for your school, agency, or parent group visit www.internalmotivation.net

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Negative Impact of Praise: Fostering Dependence and a Never-Ending Search for Approval


Those who know me are aware that I sometimes get a bit disheartened by our inability to fundamentally change our schools more quickly. The more I examine the ultimate legacy of the external, reward/punishment model, the more convinced I am of its limitations. As I have said on numerous occasions, the reward/punishment model works in some instances and with some kids. It simply doesn’t work well enough with enough kids. We can do better.

Despite my ongoing frustration, I am heartened by the fact that things are changing. I had a conversation with a friend and colleague last month who told me that businesses increasingly embrace the importance of relationships and other “soft” signs of success. Dan Pink offers many examples of businesses having great success following the principles of internal control psychology. In my consulting, I find more and more educators who are at least somewhat familiar with choice theory/internal control psychology. While they may not be as well versed as they believe they are, they are head and shoulders above educators I met ten or twenty years ago.

And every once in a while I stumble upon a quotation like the following one by Elisa Sobo, a professor of anthropology at San Diego State University, warning of the inherent danger of praising rather than helping kids develop the ability to self-evaluate and internalize important values, beliefs, and behaviors. (The quotation appeared in “School and Self Esteem, or: Thank You for Making Those Socks!”) 

“Children cultivated toward dependence on external praise through constant positive stroking are at risk for growing into poorly-adjusted adults who must always look to others for approval. They never have a chance to develop their own internal resources.”

Like Dr. Sobo, I want kids to develop their own internal resources and grow into responsible, self-directed adults who work to make the world a better place. If that’s what you want as well, I hope you’ll evaluate your use of praise and decide if there is a better way to help your students.
***

As always, if you enjoyed this and found it useful, please send the link to your friends. Thanks.

Bob Sullo
PO Box 1336
Sandwich, MA 02563

For information about books by Bob Sullo and to schedule a keynote, workshop, or series for your school, agency, or parent group visit www.internalmotivation.net

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Dealing with Students Who Bully: Part I (The Essential First Step)


After reading “Standing Up To Bullying: Refusing To Be A Victim,”  a reader from New Hampshire asked me to discuss how I would handle a student who bullies another. (Note: Just as I warned about the dangers of identifying kids as “victims” in “Standing Up To Bullying,” I try to avoid calling kids “bullies.” So even though it’s faster and easier to label a kid as a “bully,” I prefer to say “a kid who bullied another.” It might seem like a subtle difference, but I think it dramatically changes our perception and behavior.)

The following scene (or something like it) happened to me more than once during my time as a middle school administrator. I return to my office after supervising 200 fifth-grade students at lunch and my secretary informs me that Jon is waiting for me. He has been sent to the office for bullying other students. It’s not the first time. Apparently, Jon and was in the boys’ bathroom when a fifth-grade boy entered. Jon told him the bathroom was off limits unless he paid him. Scared beyond belief - Jon is a rather imposing sixth-grader and the fifth-grade boy is both small for his age and timid – the fifth grade boy left quickly and went to the nurse’s office where he asked to use the facilities.

As I entered my office and saw Jon, chair tipped back and just a trace of a smirk on his face, I immediately felt rage surging inside of me. At that moment, I wanted to berate him. I wanted to humiliate him. I wanted to punish him. A part of me even wanted to smack him. (Yeah, I’m a senior faculty member of The William Glasser Association and consult all over the world, but I haven’t fully eliminated anger from my behavioral repertoire.) As much as I genuinely like Jon, he can be horribly mean and he had gone after a weak target. I was enraged. This isn’t why I got into education.

Fortunately, I am well versed in internal control psychology/choice theory. Even though nearly everybody I know would blindly accept it if I were to say, “Jon makes me so angry!” I knew Jon doesn’t make me anything. Like everyone else, he just behaves. Unfortunately for me (and lots of others), he often behaves in hurtful, inappropriate ways. Today was no exception. But the fact remains: Jon doesn’t make me angry or cause me to lose it. He is responsible for his behavior; I am in control of mine, including how I choose to deal with him at this moment.

So my first rule in dealing with a student who has bullied another is this: remember my role and my goal. Forget the poorly behaving student for a moment. Instead, let me focus on the following:

What’s my role in this situation?
Given my role, what do I want?

It has been my experience that when I remember to ask myself these two questions, my anger dissipates and I can more easily access behaviors that will help the offending child in front of me, allowing me to do my job more effectively.

As a school administrator, my role included helping all kids behave responsibly, even those whose behavior was horribly inappropriate. Berating Jon or humiliating him wouldn’t help him grow, mature, and become more empathetic. Aggressively informing him of my displeasure would only model a version of the bullying behavior I abhor. No, my role required me to deal with Jon differently, even though my anger and frustration with him was perfectly understandable.

And what did I want? Did I really want him to feel humiliated? No. I might have harbored the false belief that humiliation would somehow magically lead Jon to enlightenment, but what I really wanted was to help Jon develop a more appropriate, empathetic repertoire of behaviors.

When I entered my office, my behavior was dominated by angry emotion. In that state, there was literally no way I could do my job well. By taking a moment to ask myself, “What is my role? Given my role, what is my goal?” I gave myself a new way to behave, one that would allow me to deal more effectively with a student who clearly needed adult help.

When we are faced with a child who has bullied another, we understandably want to take immediate, decisive action. Because bullying is so offensive to us, it’s easy to become a slave to our emotions in moments like these. For that reason, I believe the essential first step in dealing with a student who has bullied another is to calm ourselves by focusing on our role and goal. Once we get our own emotions in check, we will be better able to intervene effectively.

In an upcoming piece, I’ll discuss the kinds of things I might specifically say to Jon and identify my two primary goals when working with him.

***
As always, if you enjoyed this and found it useful, please send the link to your friends. Thanks.

Bob Sullo
PO Box 1336
Sandwich, MA 02563

For information about books by Bob Sullo and to schedule a keynote, workshop, or series for your school, agency, or parent group visit www.internalmotivation.net

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Taking a Stand for Better Education (A “Both/And” Solution)


I recently wrote about a teacher in Texas who plans to have her 4th grade students sit on exercise balls instead of chairs, having discovered that it has a number of positive effects. My excitement was tempered when I read that this “privilege” would be taken from the students who made “poor choices.” Sadly, this reflects the “either/or” thinking that entraps too many of us. We see a false dilemma: either I implement strategies that help kids or I maintain effective control of the students. When confronted with these false dilemmas, we can look for a “both/and” solution. More often than not, solutions exist (or can be created) if we’re willing to persevere and refuse to settle for “either/or” answers that leave us unsatisfied.

I was delighted to read about a “both/and” solution in an article entitled “Standing Desks: The Classroom of the Future?” Whereas exercise balls can result in problems (the whole kids making “poor decisions” fiasco), this strategy uses desks that are raised so students can stand during class. Best of all, stools are provided for those students who want to sit or at least take a mini-break from standing.
Not only did most kids prefer to stand – “After six weeks, 70 percent of the students never used their stools to sit and the other 30 percent stood the majority of the time they were at their desks” – they burned more calories and, perhaps most importantly, “according to the researchers, standing ‘actually improved attention, on-task behavior, alertness and classroom engagement,’ said (Monica) Wendel, director of the Center for Community Health Development at the Texas A & M Health Science Center. ‘In fact, after several weeks, the teachers requested that their desks be raised also.’”
Whereas the use of exercise balls in lieu of chairs seems to invite the unnecessary “either/or” dilemma for teachers, the use of “stand-biased” chairs provides a host of health and educational benefits without corresponding challenges.

It’s encouraging to read about innovations that reflect creativity and a willingness to develop “both/and” practices that allow teachers to maintain appropriate classroom control while providing kids with an environment that promotes good health and learning.

***
As always, if you enjoyed this and found it useful, please send the link to your friends. Thanks.

Bob Sullo
PO Box 1336
Sandwich, MA 02563

For information about books by Bob Sullo and to schedule a keynote, workshop, or series for your school, agency, or parent group visit www.internalmotivation.net 

Sunday, August 12, 2012

“Natural Consequences” and Responsibility


When I encourage minimizing the use of punishment in school (for those unwilling to give it up entirely), teachers frequently tell me, “I don’t punish students. I use natural consequences.”

I then ask for examples of the “natural consequences” they use.

“If a child disrupts my class and it ‘costs’ me 5 minutes of instructional time, the natural consequence is that I take 5 minutes of the student’s time. And since I make it clear that I value promptness and expect the students to respect due dates and deadlines, the natural consequence is the loss of one letter grade for each day an assignment is late.”

Precision in language matters if we want to communicate effectively with each other. And the examples offered above of “natural consequences,” well…they simply aren’t “natural.”

A “natural consequence” is something that occurs in nature. If I fail to get enough sleep, the natural consequence is that I’m tired. The natural consequence when I don’t take in enough fluids is dehydration. The natural consequence of consuming too much of certain fluids is the pounding headache commonly known as a hangover. The natural consequence of a student being five minutes late to class is missing what was said and done during that time.

But there’s no law of nature that requires late papers to be penalized one letter grade every day. There’s no natural imperative that students “pay back” time wasted in class.

If you choose to use “consequences,” I hope you’ll at least identify them accurately. Maybe they are “logical” consequences or “fair” consequences. (Maybe they aren’t, but that’s a separate discussion.)

The consequences we impose in a classroom are developed by people - usually with a positive intent, even if the results are dismal. They aren’t “natural.” When we take what we do (for example, deducting a letter grade for a paper turned in late) and say it’s a “natural consequence,” we are failing to take responsibility for our actions.

Students are responsible for their actions. Teachers are responsible for theirs. Hiding behind the curtain of “natural consequences” is dishonest. I encourage all of us to act in a transparent way when dealing with students by owning our behavior.

***

As always, if you enjoyed this and found it useful, please send the link to your friends. Thanks.

Bob Sullo
PO Box 1336
Sandwich, MA 02563

For information about books by Bob Sullo and to schedule a keynote, workshop, or series for your school, agency, or parent group visit www.internalmotivation.net 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

What Matters? Doing What Is Best For Kids or Maintaining Control?


Looking through ASCD Smartbrief recently, I saw the headline “Exercise balls replace students’ chairs in Ind. Classroom.” It looked interesting so I clicked the link and was brought to “Fisher Kids Swap Chairs for Exercise Balls.” 
The article discusses how a 4th grade teacher is planning to replace student chairs with exercise balls, a decision based on sound research: “A study at the Mayo Clinic supports chairless classrooms, saying that exercise balls improve students' posture and muscle strength. Students also can burn off excess energy. And their concentration may improve.” Mayo Clinic. Well-respected. Impressive. Plus the teacher, Angelika Thompson, did her own action research. After experimenting with exercise balls last year, she reported that 70% of her students increased their core muscle strength.

“OK,” I thought to myself. “This is good. An innovative teacher implementing strategies supported by research that will increase her students’ strength while helping them concentrate.” I should have stopped reading when things were going well, but fool that I am, I plowed ahead and got to this line:

“But sitting on the exercise balls is a privilege. If students make poor choices or don't behave in class, they must sit in a chair the rest of the day.”

What??? Don’t exercise balls improved posture and muscle strength and maybe help students concentrate? How in the world can this be a “privilege”? Think about this for a minute. A kid makes a “poor choice” (Note: Code for “does something the adult in charge doesn’t like.”) So how do we handle it? By saying, “You don’t deserve the opportunity to improve your posture and muscle strength. You have forfeited the right to improve your concentration!”

This is today’s world of education, where “privileges” must be earned and where we are infinitely more interested in exercising control than in doing what research shows is best for kids. In that spirit, let me offer a couple of additional strategies to ensure kids remember who is in charge and remind them that “privileges” must be earned:

  • Take the case of a kid with a vision impairment. If they make a “poor choice,” simply take away their glasses for the rest of the day. (Give them their glasses tomorrow morning with a smile and friendly reminder that, “Today is a new day. I hope you choose to make better choices.”) I know research suggests glasses are helpful, but, really, they are a “privilege” and must be earned, right?
  • And you know that kid who is easily distractible (and distracting)? The one who we let wear headphones while listening to his iPod. It seems to help him concentrate and he is certainly less bothersome to his classmates. Well, if he makes a “poor choice,” take away the iPod and headphones for a day. He may not learn as much and he may interfere with the learning of others, but, hey, he has to learn that “privileges” are earned by compliance. 
I just celebrated my birthday. I’m 61. I’ve been in education for nearly 40 years. I don’t know how much more insanity I can tolerate. I’m not overly religious, but I’m praying for strength as I continue to fight the madness.

Final thought: I don’t mean to be critical of the teacher. The whole “privilege” paragraph was written by the reporter. It’s possible she included it as a “favor” to the teacher so readers of The Indianapolis Star would perceive the teacher positively, as a no-nonsense adult who makes kids earn their “privileges” and not some hippie-type liberal who brings innovative strategies into the classroom simply because they are good for kids.

***
As always, if you enjoyed this and found it useful, please send the link to your friends. Thanks.

Bob Sullo
PO Box 1336
Sandwich, MA 02563

For information about books by Bob Sullo and to schedule a keynote, workshop, or series for your school, agency, or parent group visit www.internalmotivation.net

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Goals: The Importance of Attainable Wants


In “Quality World Pictures: The Importance of Flexibility,” I discussed what can happen when quality world pictures are too rigidly defined. But what about students who have goals that are both laudable and beyond their current capacity? You may hear this referred to an the “unrealistic want.” I try to avoid that term because I am reluctant to identify another person’s want as “unrealistic.” I can’t count the number of times students (and other human beings) experienced success even though I might have identified their goal as “unrealistic.” That’s the power of internal motivation. When people are adequately motivated, they frequently amaze us with their success.

Still, what’s a teacher to do when faced with  students who create grandiose goals that have little chance of being achieved, at least in the immediate future? Certainly, we don’t want to discourage student enthusiasm. At the same time, encouraging students when we see a high likelihood of failure seems both cruel and unprofessional.

It’s not unusual for students to create lofty goals and make promises they are unlikely to keep, like “I’ll never miss another homework assignment for the rest of the year,” even though this same student has turned in less than 20% of the assignments so far! This is particularly common with students who are struggling. Why? Remember that we are always motivated by what we want at that moment. A struggling student working with a caring teacher is driven to please them and connect with them. They are primarily interested in figuring out what they can say and do that will help them connect positively with their teacher at that moment. Even if what they say represents something beyond their capacity, that’s a problem for another day. Right now, they are driven to connect with their teacher so they tell them they will do everything possible to magically morph into an ideal student.

Here’s the rub: teachers listening to a student promise to complete all assignments, do their best, achieve excellence, etc are hearing something that matches their quality world picture. It’s only logical for teachers to encourage and support the student because it represents what the teacher wants.

After this momentary feel-good moment, reality sets in and teachers are all too familiar with students who fail to live up to the promises they made. Contrary to popular belief, this is usually not a case of a student “playing you” or being manipulative. It is related to one of the needs that drive all people: the need for competence. Students who struggle and then make promises that are nearly impossible to keep feel overwhelmed and miserable. Rather than facing their pain directly, many defend themselves by abdicating responsibility. Put simply, it’s less painful to be thought of as a lazy, irresponsible student than to be perceived as incompetent. How often have you heard struggling students defend themselves with comments like, “This is stupid. I could do it if I wanted to. It’s just lame.”

To break this cycle, teachers can help kids set realistic, attainable goals and make reasonable plans that have a good chance of being successful. When kids come to you with grandiose plans, you don’t have to shoot them down, but you can ratchet things down a notch by identifying an interim goal that gets them moving in a positive direction rather than repeating the cycle of failure they have already mastered.

We are driven by what we want at that moment. When a student creates a goal and plan that you think is doomed to failure, remember that they are driven to connect with you, to please you, to be OK with you. Help them realize that they can attain what they want by simply moving in a positive direction, creating realistic goals, and developing reasonable plans. This helps them gradually (but effectively) transition from a failure identity to a success identity. Over time, they will develop the capacity to satisfy their need to connect as well as their need for competence by experiencing more academic success.

Goals. Quality World pictures. We need them. But it’s crucial that we create attainable goals to sustain the motivation necessary to achieve lasting success.

***

As always, if you enjoyed this and found it useful, please send the link to your friends. Thanks.

Bob Sullo
PO Box 1336
Sandwich, MA 02563

For information about books by Bob Sullo and to schedule a keynote, workshop, or series for your school, agency, or parent group visit www.internalmotivation.net

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Standing Up to Bullying: Refusing to be a “Victim”


Note: The issue of bullying is serious and multi-faceted. I am in no way suggesting that we don’t intervene. I am in no way suggesting that we “blame the victim” and withhold necessary support. My goal in wring this piece is simply to make sure that our attempts to help don’t result in exacerbating an already horrendous problem.
***

A teacher in Florida wrote and asked me to address the issue of bullying, specifically asking how we can help kids stand up to bullies. First, I encourage you to read “Getting at the Roots of Bullying,” an article I wrote for the Virginia Journal of Education a couple of years ago.

Those of you familiar with my work know that I’m particularly interested in language because I believe the words we use contribute to the reality we create, something I discussed in “Watch Your Language!”
So how does our use of language relate to bullying? How does our language impact kids who have been victimized? When exploring the dynamics of bullying, we typically read about three main roles: the bully, the victim, and the bystander (or “egger.”) While I appreciate that labels can help us communicate, the use of labels frightens me and can lead to a host of unexpected problems.

Look at what happens when we label a child as a “victim.” We begin to interact with the child with the label of “victim” in mind, nonconsciously treating them in ways we consider appropriate to use with a “victim.” It doesn’t take long for the child to perceive himself/herself as a “victim,” internalizing the limitations that label brings.

I don’t want kids who have been victimized to internalize the experience and become “victims.” In other circumstances, we separate the child from the behavior. A child may choose to act badly, but that doesn’t make them a “bad kid;” a child may do poorly on a test, but that doesn’t make them a “poor student;” a child may lie or steal or take drugs; that doesn’t make them a “liar,” or a “thief,” or a “druggie.”

Noted developmental psychologist Erik Erikson emphasized the importance of avoiding labels because children often subsequently behave in ways that fulfill the label in an effort to be on the fast track of identity formation, the central developmental task of adolescence. It’s far better to separate the behavior from the child.

The same applies when dealing with children who have been victimized. Even if our intention is designed to help and protect, when we label the child a “victim,” we unintentionally help them become one. Instead, support the child without using a potentially damaging label. Affirm that they have been victimized - things do happen to us but they don’t have to define us. - but let them retain their dignity by refraining from identifying them as victims. One way to stand up to bullies is to refuse the label of victim.

***
As always, if you enjoyed this and found it useful, please send the link to your friends. Thanks.

Bob Sullo
PO Box 1336
Sandwich, MA 02563

For information about books by Bob Sullo and to schedule a keynote, workshop, or series for your school, agency, or parent group visit www.internalmotivation.net