Monday, December 6, 2010

Communicating High Expectations to Students with Behavior Problems

 An expectation is a belief that some future event will happen. The cognitive literature agrees that our expectations greatly influence both the way we feel and the way we behave. Consciously or not, teachers constantly cue students as to what our behavior expectations are. We exhibit hundreds of nonverbal cues, some as subtle as tilting up the head, raising the eyebrows, head nods, the breathing rate, eye contact (or absence of eye contact), and/or the dilation of nostrils. Other cues are more obvious, including a certain tone of voice and our verbal messages, and children notice those cues and messages. Teachers’ expectations often play a major role in bringing about the behavior we expect from individual students. We transmit our higher or lower expectations to each individual student, and soon children begin to reflect the image that we have created, and may be inadvertently reinforcing in them. On most occasions, we are not even aware that we are expecting and communicating disruptive behaviors, because the cues we are sending are often non-verbal and unintentional. Once we set our behavior expectation for a habitually disruptive child, the student will act more and more in ways that match the expectation. In addition, consistent with our low expectation for the child, we give up easily, feel discouraged easily, and act resigned, not staying with the child during setbacks and failure situations. This never-ending cycle of student’s misbehavior and teacher’s discouragement gets stronger by the day, moreover, like a self-fulfilling prophecy, the less we expect from the child, the less we get.
 Tollefson (2000) states that teachers develop outcome expectations, that is, the belief that particular students will learn the material taught (or will behave in a particular way), and efficacy expectations, or our belief in our personal ability and professional skills to help each student in our classroom to achieve academically and/or to behave. According to Tollefson, in combination, our outcome and efficacy expectations influence the way we interact with students as well as our willingness to spend effort to help individual children. Simply put, the higher our expectations, the higher the quality of our interactions with the student, for example, we smile more, make more eye contact, are more supportive, give more assistance to the child, encourage the child in generating solutions to problems,  and pay closer attention to the child’s responses. The opposite is true for a child for whom we have lower expectations. Even when the amount of time we spend with both kinds of students is similar, the quality of time spent and the quality of interactions are not the same. To promote behavioral change in a habitually disruptive student, the key is not in what we say to the child, but in how we say it and how we interact with the child.
Teachers need to believe that we have the skills and ability to influence positive behavioral change in our most challenging students (teachers’ efficacy expectations). A teacher with a high level of personal efficacy, or self-efficacy, believes that he or she has the ability to motivate and engage students both in learning and in behaving. The teacher perceives the student’s habitually disruptive behaviors as a challenge, not a threat, and explains the behavior to the child in a way that encourages the student to evaluate his success or failure in relationship to the amount of effort the child spends and the strategies the child knows and applies to self-regulate behavior. In addition, the way we explain to children their successes or failures influence how we interact with children, for example, the teacher provides feedback that is more positive and constructive, and keeps criticism to a minimum. Constructive feedback does not just review the past, or what the child did wrong, but help outline future performance, or what the student needs to do to master a skill or behavior.  In a friendly and accepting way, behavioral setbacks are explained as errors or mistakes necessary for growth and learning, and the teacher encourages the student to fix his acting-out behaviors the way he fixes an academic error.  A teacher with high self-efficacy expectations and the right psycho-educational skills is able to influence and develop strong self-efficacy expectations in students.
Teachers with high self-efficacy expectations aim high, developing goals of high academic achievement and positive behavior for all students. High self-efficacy teachers keep children’s potential in mind, and are tenacious in not giving up, even when we realize that we are going to face roadblocks right in the next corner. Children feel motivated when they believe that putting in more effort and using the right coping strategies will result in improved behavior. In addition, just perceiving that the teacher has high expectations for him improves the teacher-student interaction and enhances the child’s motivation.
 To modify behavior, the habitually disruptive child needs both resources and skills to do the job. It is not enough to tell simply to the child that you believe she can behave better. We need to provide resources like information and teacher’s time coupled with psycho-educational skills and strategies, for example, a problem-solving plan, coping skills for anger management, and/or self-monitoring strategies. With higher goals, encouragement, extra support, adequate time, and the right skills and strategies any child, including a child with behavior deficits, will eventually learn to replace disruptive behaviors with more positive ones.
Tollefson, N. (2000). Classroom applications of cognitive theories of motivation. Educational Psychology Review, Vol. 12 No. 1, pp.63-83.

Related Articles…
A Psycho-Educational Model for Managing Habitually Disruptive Classroom Behavior: The Solution-Focused Model
Psycho-Educational Insights for Managing Habitually Disruptive Students: Contributing Factors to the Escalation of Behavior Problems
Creating Rapport with a Disruptive and Acting-Out Student: Psycho-Educational Interventions for Students with Special Needs

Of Interest to Teachers…
Alternative Teaching Techniques for Low Achieving Students: Teaching Listening Skills to the Inattentive Student
Alternative Teaching Techniques for Low Achieving Students: Helping the Student Having Difficulty Following Directions

Responding Skillfully to Disruptive Behaviors and Troubling Emotions...
Watch Your Language! Ways of Talking and Interacting with Students that Crack the Behavior Code. To preview this book on Amazon, click here.

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