3 Questions To Challenge Practices That No Longer Work in Education

I read this snippet from the article, “Why Children Aren’t Behaving, And What You Can Do About It,” (a great read) in an interview with author Katherine Reynolds Lewis, regarding her new parenting book, The Good News About Bad Behavior:

Whether you’re trying to get your child to dress, do homework or practice piano, it’s tempting to use rewards that we know our kids love, especially sweets and screen time. You argue in the book: Be careful. Why?

Yes. The research on rewards is pretty powerful, and it suggests that the more we reward behavior, the less desirable that behavior becomes to children and adults alike. If the child is coming up with, “Oh, I’d really like to do this,” and it stems from his intrinsic interests and he’s more in charge of it, then it becomes less of a bribe and more of a way that he’s structuring his own morning.

The adult doling out rewards is really counterproductive in the long term — even though they may seem to work in the short term. The way parents or teachers discover this is that they stop working. At some point, the kid says, “I don’t really care about your reward. I’m going to do what I want.” And then we have no tools. Instead, we use strategies that are built on mutual respect and a mutual desire to get through the day smoothly.

I have written about the impact of awards before and although we know long term that awards often do more harm than good for critical thinking skills and intrinsic motivation, why do schools still use them? My gut tells me this is more about tradition than what is good for our learners.  It is hard to move away from what always was, and move to what could be, because we are often too scared to challenge and ask questions.  “Tradition” from the past doesn’t ensure success for the future.

This is not to say that some “traditions” haven’t been challenged and rethought for the betterment of our students. As a kid, I hated reading because I was continuously forced to read books that were of no interest to me. Now, you are seeing educators focusing on helping students find books that they love, even if they are harder than their “level.” Kids are becoming more interested in reading because they get to read texts that interest them, and in many ways, represent who they are.  Of course, we have a long way to go, but I have seen a significant shift in this practice alone because it is more about what is best for learners than this is what we have always done.

If we want to challenge our schools to move forward, we have to start questioning some of the things that we have always done and thought about and focus on what we can create.

Here is a simple exercise that can make an impact to move forward.  Ask your staff to identify something that we need to rethink in our schools.  Have them answer these three questions:

  1. Why did we do that practice in the past? 
  2. Is it beneficial to our current students in the long-term?
  3. What could we do instead that would be better for our students?

There are two major reasons why these questions are crucial.

The first, which is obvious, is to ensure that we are doing what is best for students.  The second reason is that we do not shift to something new in our school without really thinking about whether it works or not.  There are some practices from the past that are still relevant in schools, and when you change something solely for the sake of changing it, you will cause more issues than solve.

If you are interested in implementing this process with your schools (or a modified version), please involve parents and students in the process.  NEVER change something that has been a tradition for years in your school without involving your community.  They need to understand and be able to contribute to the solutions, not just sit on the sidelines.

As I stated earlier, not all past practices are wrong, as well, not all new methods are suitable.  That being said, it is crucial to ask, “Why do we still do this?” and not just get comfortable with what has been done in the past while we know there are better ways.  Tradition has its place but it should never limit the opportunities for the future of our learners.

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Source: George Couros