The Power of Awareness
Consider this: When young adolescents behave in ways that undermine a positive learning climate, they might not be aware that they are being disruptive. Really, it's true! Awareness is a powerful element in human development.
A common conversation I have with students who are sent to me because of behavior issues centers on their level of awareness about why they landed in my office. I simply ask a few questions about what happened, and, in an effort to encourage honesty (especially with someone who is not prone to visiting with me), I let the students know they are not in trouble. That first visit is about raising awareness and praising and rewarding honesty. With that foundation, we can move on.
On one occasion a teacher told me that an "active" sixth grader was increasingly disruptive and argumentative in class. I decided a visit to the classroom was in order.
During one class period, I watched him drop his pen, notebook, and calculator—more than once. He also tapped his foot non-stop for 42 minutes. When the teacher asked him to stop "it, "he responded angrily with a look of frustration on his face, "I'm not doing anything."
The next morning, I asked the student and his parents to sit with me in my office and talk about how we could help improve his behavior in class. As was my strategy, I asked him a few simple questions.
I asked him if he knew that dropping his materials in class was a distraction, to which he muttered, "I guess."
I asked if he knew that he had dropped items six times in 25 minutes, each time drawing attention from his classmates and his teacher. He looked up at me with disbelief. He truly was not aware that he had dropped his supplies that many times.
I explained that his unawareness of his actions is what caused his frustration and his argumentative attitude when the teacher asked him to stop. I encouraged him to take the teacher's prompts as awareness cues. He agreed. At that point, he was looking me in the eyes, attentive to the conversation.
Finally, I asked if he realized that he had been tapping his foot the entire time we were talking. He looked at his leg, which was pattering away, then at me. He shook his head no—he hadn't been aware.
I didn't accuse. I didn't threaten. I ended our talk by asking him to make a deal: we, as the adults who supported his learning, would make him aware of behaviors that were disruptive. In turn, he would try to curb his disruptive actions at every opportunity. He agreed.
Awareness is an enlightening and magical thing.
Jeffrey Rothstein is Director of Grades 6–8 at Cliff Valley School in Atlanta, Georgia. Email: email@example.com. You can follow him at http://jeffreyrothstein.wordpress.com/
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