Saturday, November 11, 2017

Great Expectations. Or Not?

An article came out this week that is getting quite a bit of attention in the education world. Goodbye Clip Charts, Marble Jars, and Stickers for Behavior was written by Kristine Mraz, an author and kindergarten teacher in New York City and member of The Educator Collaborative.

Behavior management systems.

Huh? If you’re not a teacher, you may never have stopped to consider how one adult orchestrates a large group of children (25-30 typically at a time, more as they get older and/or if districts cut back teacher positions) by his/herself all day AND gets stuff done. Things learned. Projects started. Full thoughts conveyed. How?

If you’re a parent, you know the temptation to bribe and coerce.

We’re entering that peak bribery and coercion time of year, in fact. “You better behave! Santa’s watching you!!” Here in Wisconsin, there’s yet another character employed to solicit compliance: Elf on the Shelf. This creepy elf (my personal opinion, granted) is WATCHING YOU.

This compliance approach has led to a variety of practices used today in many schools. Check Ms. Mraz’s article for specific details if you’re interested. For my purposes, I’d like to focus on our overall use of this in our culture, and see if I can tease out some more general problems we may all be familiar with and reveal some possible alternatives.

Bribery and coercion are effective in the short term.

Beyond the whole Santa thing, which obviously only lasts a month or two before you’re right back where you started (and perhaps worse off because the kids are coming down from a holiday free-for-all), we see bribery and coercion used in us adults. Rebates if you stop smoking or lose weight. A free month of gym membership if you sign up for a contract. Points for preferred customers.

We’re tempted to comply. It works for a while. We know we’re getting played, even as we comply. Many times, we slide back into our old ways. Or, we’ll pretend things have changed and we’ll hide the cigarettes and cupcakes.

Real change (growth) takes vested interest and a plan.

If I want to be healthier, if I want a specific job, if I want a relationship- I own that decision. To reach that goal, MY goal, I will find steps to get there. I need to understand what I can do and what I need to obtain. Training? Supplies? Expert advice? I will start the process and I will probably stumble. Repeatedly. If I’m really committed, I’ll step beyond myself and ask for teammates- family, friends or professionals- to work with me closely. They will help hold me to my plans and support me mentally and physically. I will practice and perhaps revise my plans and then try again.

When I reach my goal, I will feel that success deep in my bones. I’ll be grateful to all those who helped me. If I don’t succeed, I’ll still feel that gratitude and I’ll know that I tried as hard as I could. I will feel good for those 2 facts. My failure may eventually give me ideas that will lead to a future success or others may see my successes and failures and be inspired in their own journeys.

How do I become an adult who will do all that work?

I need to learn how to define what I want. I need to learn how to commit and to hope. I need to learn how to work with people. I need to learn how to pick myself up when I fall. I need to learn how to adapt. I need to learn how to ask for help. I need to learn that we all make mistakes and that’s just a part of life and that something good can still arise from “failure”.

This line from Ms. Mraz’s essay spoke volumes to me:

“Who cares if kids can read at level Z in first grade if they grow up to be narcissists, seeking rewards for kindness and masking shame behind bravado and cruelty?”

How do I become an adult who will do all that work? It’s by learning about and practicing those “I need to learn” skills I just outlined. At home. At school. At work. Practicing and living them every day. From birth. These are the things that teachers like Ms. Mraz are seeking to teach in their classrooms.

Is it necessary?

To answer that, I will leave you with these questions. Do you see many people today who seem rudderless, just looking for praise or fun? Do you see many people today who hide behind bravado and cruelty? Of those people you consider truly successful and positive, what traits do they embrace? The ones I indicated here and those advocated by Ms. Mraz and others, or the ones that are supported by bribery and coercion?

We all have a role in this, just as we all can play a role by changing our behaviors if our answers lead towards that call.

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