It can be really easy to become judgmental about negative student behavior, especially when it’s repetitive. It’s always appropriate to be corrective about non-learning behaviors, but it isn’t right to place ourselves in a position of greater worth than the student. We might think, I would never do that. It’s like we think we’re superior in some way. And then we make generalizations about their motives based on the behavior. We act as if we know what’s going on in the student’s heart.
Every negative behavior a student exhibits is probably closely resembling a negative behavior I’ve exhibited in my own life at one time or another. If I’m really honest with myself, it’s probably like I’m looking in the mirror. I may not have done that exact thing to the degree that it was done, but I’ve struggled with that issue at some point and acted in a similar manner. There are only so many categories of mistakes, and I’m pretty sure I’ve covered them all at one time or another.
Number two is really important because it reminds me to have empathy, to be understanding, and to work with a student through the issue instead of towering over them and being iron-fisted about the issue. We want to correct the issue and preserve the relationship. We need to walk through this with the student.
The things that push my buttons the most might be the things that I actually struggle with the most. It’s ironic, but often we are less forgiving and less patient with the behaviors that are most like the ones we struggle with. Think about an issue that is a struggle for you. Are you especially hard on students when they make a mistake in this area? Maybe not if they make the mistake in the same way you do. But if they make it in a different way or to a greater degree, look out. It might push all your buttons.
When students show up poorly and have behaviors that are destructive, I need to also look at the environmental factors at play. If I was in the same environment as the student, might I also act in this way? What can be changed about the environment to help the student make different choices? That does not relieve the student of responsibility or accountability for bad decisions, but I don’t want to just enforce accountability. I want to help create conditions so the student will succeed next time.
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