“You all know how to line up, so I don’t know why you are not doing it!”
“Quiet down now! Sit down, please!”
“How many times do I have to tell you not to yell out?”
“We will stay here all day until you get it right!”
I was walking through a building with a principal and these were just some of the comments we heard during our 15 minute walk. The last line is always my favorite. It was directed at students lining up to go back to class after lunch. I thought to myself, “Is that really a punishment to students? Not going back to class?”
The situation became a bit more surreal, as the principal stopped and said to me, “Give me a minute, I need to fix this.” He then proceeded to repeat what the teacher had said and done, but louder and with additional gesticulations.
Behavior is an integral part of culture. When we can change the behavior of people they will change the culture.
How can we change behavior?
Here is a very simplified approach:
First, identify the behavior you want—what do you want to see?
Second, reinforce the heck out of it—be specific!
Positive to Negative Ratio
Research is pretty clear that there should be a 5:1 ratio between positive interactions and negative interactions:
“Parents and teachers should strive to achieve the “magic ratio” of 5:1 positive interactions with children because higher ratios of positive to negative interactions have been found to predict favorable attitudes to work and relationships and are a component of an effective approach to classroom management.” (Fabiano et al , 2007)
The comments overheard at the beginning of this post are examples of negative interactions. So, what does a positive interaction look like?
“Thank you for sitting down and getting right down to work.”
“Mary, you are so good, raising your hand and waiting to be called on.”
“Bobby, thank you for quietly lining up.”
Now what? Monitor!
We have identified the behavior we want: a ratio of at least 5:1 positive to negative teacher student interactions.
We have established what a positive interaction looks/sounds like and what a negative interaction looks/sounds like.
Now we need to monitor this behavior or lack of this behavior in the classroom. What we monitor is what grows! Here is a simple, low-tech strategy. During your classroom visits bring a stopwatch or use timer app on your smart phone. Count how many positive and negative interactions you hear over a 30 to 60 second time span. That should give you a good sample of what is happening in that classroom. Share your observation with the teacher. If the ratio is on target, reinforce the behavior. If it is not, be specific on the feedback and determine the “why.”
If you see a pattern of similar behavior across the building, consider providing professional development. The professional development should address the behavior observed during the visits providing skills and strategies. It should close with a clear call to action that provides a clear picture of the behavior you expect from staff. Then monitor and see if interactions have changed. Provide feedback and reinforcement.
What’s good for the goose is good for the gander
People are people, student or teacher. If a high ratio of positive to negative interactions help change student behavior, it will also change staff behavior. That means leaders should be thoughtful in how they interact with their staff, just as they ask teachers to be thoughtful in how they interact with their students.
Reflect on your staff interactions or better yet, keep a log for a week and document how many positive interactions versus negative interactions. Here are some factors to consider:
- Who are you interacting with? How often?
- Are you seeing the same people? Why?
- Are your interactions positive or negative?
- Do you have an agenda when you visit them?
Time is a precious commodity. Use your time with focus and purpose.