The family systems you are charged with engaging have built in resistance to your best efforts. It may seem that families are choosing ignorance, but it is more sustainable to conceptualize their choice as a choice to reinforce their own valued. Your goal then becomes how to identify and incorporate the unique values and collective identity of each family system. This enables you to partner with the students and the parents resulting in their reinforcement of shared goals including academic success. In the language of operational modeling, you can structure “controllables” within your system engagement as you understand the inputs entering the system. Success increases as you creating multiple classroom interactions that intentionally connect with goals that each family system values. In addition to a lesson plan with multiple value-based examples and connection points, consider an individualized SMART education plan for each family system.
The Sustainability Perspective
The sustainability perspective is the center of self-management. It states that since individuals will choose behaviors that they perceive are most in line with their goals, it is more operationally predictive to model choice architecture according to their goals in the context of external rules. This is as opposed to modeling choice architecture on the rules and punishing non-compliance. Note that modeling choice architecture based on the individual’s goals is more energy efficient as well. Starting with the individual’s goals, you must remind them of goals in order to redirect choice. Starting with rules, your task is to remind them of the rules and redirect behavior.
The first rule of the sustainability perspective is to engage in interaction through a question of “sustainable” or “unsustainable” versus an approach that is based on “right” or “wrong.” Earlier in the series, we introduced Mauricio. He was the kindergartener who was often found talking to other students during class time. The teacher became frustrated with Mauricio because of what she perceived as insubordination. He insisted on talking even when informed of the rule to be quiet.
I propose, through sustainability perspective, that Mauricio was doing what was natural to him. I emphasized this by stating that his goal was to be a talk show host. But, the point is that children are inherently curious, social, and engaged with others. The teacher’s expectation was contrary to natural, developmental, and values in this situation. Rather than interpreting Mauricio’s behavior as “bad,” it is more operationally efficient to understand his goal predicting that he will consistently move toward this goal. Even in the context of the rules, Mauricio’s choice to talk is “sustainable”—talking gets him closer to what he wants and values. Punishment based on rules has no effect because it does not connect to Mauricio’s goals or what he values.
My point: This challenge is the teacher’s problem more than it is Mauricio’s problem. That means that Mauricio is not engaged or motivated to change his behavior. Basic rule of behavior change theory, no change will result without motivation. I must mention that many teachers are now being trained to recognize social and emotional learning (SEL) as an important component of student interaction. Some would recognize Mauricio’s needs and incorporate his goals into the classroom interaction. I am offering sustainability perspective as a structure for understanding operationally how SEL extends from the family system and requires suspension of “good/bad” and adoption of “sustainable/unsustainable” language in its place. The latest knowledge on behavior and behavior change suggests that motivation is perception of value and expectation of valued reward.
Consider the difference in public education if EVERY classroom was staffed with sustainability perspective-informed teachers who assess the values of each student and family system, then tied student expectations to the reward of meeting their valued goals. Rules provide context, but they cannot provide motivation. Sustainability perspective enables the teacher and the family system to reinforce values not rules. Moreover, the sustainability perspective connects with MY VALUES as a student or MY VALUES as a parent, which results in motivation to choose what is sustainable for me regardless of the rules. This is the default state of human behavior. The sustainability perspective allows teachers to influence the choice architecture—the choice of what is sustainable versus what is unsustainable.
My frustration: SEL integration (e.g. allowing students to talk in class) should not be considered as a preference for teachers that are just built that way. It should be the cultural norm in education.
Sustainability perspective is supportive behavior theory that ALL teachers must adopt for efficacy in education. The current system of classroom management trains kids from kindergarten through high school to “sit down and shut up.” The students who are applauded later in secondary education and sought after for higher education are those who volunteer, engage in public speaking, go beyond what they are told to achieve, take risks academically, and challenge convention in extra-curricular activities. Yet, these traits are not the perspective of classroom management—to create articulate, free-thinking, thoughtful risk takers. Sustainablity perspective moves beyond “allowing students to talk” into structuring the classroom interactions allowing students to determine the engagement approach to the material that is most sustainable for them. This promotes student self-management and also sets the stage for more fruitful interactions between the teacher and the family.
Some Common Goals
As with much in the human experience, family self-management is not about you, the teacher, but you do have responsibility for creating the environment for efficacy to flower. You can ask them about their goals in a simple 4 question survey. Notice that the survey avoids questions about parent expectation for the teacher. Those may exist, but are dead ends in constructing your facilitation of learning and engagement of the family system.
What Assessment Looks Like: Simple 4 Question Survey
What do you want your child to be?
How do you motivate your child to reach your goals?
What does your child want to be/love to do?
How do you reinforce what your child wants to be/love to do?
It is helpful to know that public school families have a typical set of goals. Parent aspirations for their children often center on medicine, law, sports, music, or computers. Child aspirations for themselves are not much different. Sports star, singer/rapper, pediatrician, businessperson, or gamer are usually in among the options. Your job as a facilitator is to construct all communication in the context of the identified goals. These are of value to the parent and the child. They are the source of motivation. Your ability to increase expectation of success will result in actual motivation.
Maintain Goal-Centered Interaction
Key for Teachers: This is operational. It takes less time than you think when you set up the sustainability system ahead of time. Each implementation is easier within the structure. With student self-management, parent reinforcement of goals, your list of tasks is reduced. You are able to focus on instruction rather than individual student management.
Tie Lessons to Goals. Once you find out the goals of the family systems represented in your class, think of “hooks” relating each lesson to the groups of goals in the classroom. For example, sports will be one of the hooks. If you are delivering a lesson on the rainforest, include a discussion of how the NBA or NFL are expanding around the world. Explain to the student that knowing the levels of the rainforest will make for a better, more informed teammate when the team travels to the Amazon. Or, discuss statistics like a rainforest the size of a football field is being destroyed each second. Challenge students to find information and make connections as well.
Tie Evaluation with Parent to Goal. Communicate with the parents based on their goals as opposed to state or district standards. When students need remediation or more focus on a subject, present the value and mechanism of remediation in terms of the goal. For example, if the goal in a musical household is for the child to excel as a musician, explain that Jimmy’s motivation for Math seems to be waning even though you present the lesson and have him perform projects based on score timing and music site-reading (teaching fractions). Parents will encourage Jimmy because they see value in his learning of these important tools of the musician. You have just co-opted family support for Jimmy’s learning of fractions.
An advanced technique would be to utilize your assessment of the family system goals to create an individualized plan for each student in your class. This plan would go a step beyond lesson planning and seek to engage each family system to collaborate on key learning they want to gain in the course of the semester.
You have two tasks that are opportunities in this scheme. First, you are able to draw out and build a contract of collaboration with the family system that integrates the common core education and curricular requirements of your state and district. Second, you are able to evaluate process in the context of the individual family system and its goals. Be sure to create SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time Oriented.
Specific means that the goals articulate who will do what and how. Measurable communicates how we will know that the goal has been met. This may include creation of smaller objectives. Attainable reviews the goals and objectives to ensure that they are both agreeable with the family system and possible within the household and the classroom. Relevant reviews the goals for relationship to the values of the family. Time oriented ensures that a deadline or frequency is set for execution and review of each goal.
Adoption of the sustainability perspective gets teachers out of judgments of “right behavior” or “wrong behavior” with students and parents. It refocuses the evaluation on GOALS related to the values reinforced by the family system. This allows the teacher to work WITH the family system rather than against its values. Rather than attempting to redirect the Mauricio toward general “classroom management” standards that he finds no specific role within to uphold, sustainability perspective reminds the Mauricio of the role he wishes to play (talk show host). If Mauricio is talking out of turn, the teacher may say, “You can’t talk through commercials or someone else’s interview, Mauricio.” The teacher is able to inspire self-management as Mauricio redirects himself to be more in line with the role valued by him and his family.
[ Michael A. Wright, PhD, LAPSW is a leadership coach and organization consultant based in Nashville, Tennessee. With over 16 years of experience guiding individuals to their goals, Michael has the techniques and patience to help you succeed. Follow @MAWMedia on Twitter or connect for a consultation at MAWMedia.com ]