Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Psycho-Educational Insights: Disruptive Students Need a New (and Positive) Script for Better Classroom Behavior

Let’s get acquainted with the concept of life scripts, a popular behavior analysis construct from Transactional Analysis Theory.  Life scripts or behavior scripts are specific sequences of expected behaviors for given situations; more specifically, habitual ways (patterns) of reacting and responding to specific situations. Because they are repetitive, both the individual reacting to the event and the individual witnessing the reaction to the event were already expecting, and even predicting, specific reactions (scripts) to happen. According to Transactional Analysis Theory, behavior scripts influence self-perceptions (i.e. the way I think I am) as well as other perceptions (i.e. the way I think others are). More importantly, life scripts are always interactional, both first person (e.g. student) and third person (e.g. teacher) in the interaction are aware of the other individual’s life scripts, and more or less consciously, encourage each other to use these personal life or behavior scripts. For instance, while interacting with Lawrence, my mischievous student, I (teacher) have an expected pattern of behavior (expected script) for the child (e.g. “acting-out and troubled kid”) as well as an expected pattern of behavior for myself (e.g. “annoyed teacher”). To make things more interesting, Lawrence too has two expected behavior scripts; one for himself (e.g. “bad kid”) and the second one for me (e.g. “annoying teacher”). Our respective internal tapes (self-messages) remind us of our scripts, ensuring for Lawrence to behave in perfect alignment with his well-rehearsed “bad kid” script, as well as for me, his teacher, to react accordingly to whatever is already written in my “annoyed teacher” script. In other words, our personal life scripts narrow the things we can do or behavior choices available to each one of us while interacting with the other.

 Focusing on the child, behaving in agreement with his “bad kid” script, Lawrence’s behavior script plays a major role in defining his identity (i.e. the set of characteristics by which Lawrence is best known). Although poorly developed, Lawrence’s “bad kid” behavior script permeates his whole character, feeding a negative perception of self or self-image. With a strong and unchallenged “bad kid” self-image, Lawrence’s behavior choices seem doomed to “bad kid” choices. And with every “bad kid” choice taken by Lawrence, his negative self-image grows stronger and stronger.  Annoyed and frustrated, I inadvertently reinforce Lawrence’s “bad kid” script with comments such as “Here you go again!” and “How many times do I need to tell you…”  If I, the teacher, conclude that my easiest way to handle Lawrence’s behavior is for me to rewind and replay my familiar “annoyed teacher” script, very little will be accomplished; Lawrence continues behaving the way he always behaves, and I continue feeling the way I always feel. On the other hand, if I commit to help Lawrence revise and rewrite his “bad kid” script (as well as revising and rewriting my own “acting-out and troubled kid” and “annoyed teacher” scripts), I stand a better chance of improving the status quo. Once committed to change, a good starting place would be to help Lawrence visualize (see in his mind) negative or disruptive behavior as a script or text of a movie. Explained to the child in terms of a behavior script, Lawrence’s behavior no longer links to his character (something permanent and with little room for modification), but to his actions or what the child does; in transactional analysis terms, the action of writing his own behavior script. By encouraging Lawrence to see behavior as a life script still under construction, I empower the script’s writer (Lawrence) by focusing him on editing (revising and adapting) his behavior script until he makes it acceptable, creating a better (more positive and socially appropriate) plot or story line with a main character that may struggle occasionally, but endures. Central to this positive approach is the optimistic belief that, as part of a script, behavior is not a finished product but an ongoing process, always changing and evolving.

To help Lawrence identify patterns of behavior in his old script (the things that he keeps doing), and then, outline a “new and improved script” for publication, some guiding questions can be:

1.     Where is this story taking place (setting)?

2.     How does this story start? Alternatively, what is the main character’s problem?

3.     How does the main character try to solve the problem?

4.     What obstacle or obstacles the main character is facing?

5.     What happens to the main character when he tries an old solution (negative consequences)?

a.     First:

b.     Next:

c.      Last:

6.     When the problem is not solved, how is the main character feeling about these old solutions?

7.     What the main character can do instead, or can do differently, to solve the problem (new solution)?

8.     What is the main character’s plan?

a.     First:

b.     Next:

c.      Last:

9.     Imagine that the main character follows his plan for a new solution, what happens then (positive consequence)?

Related Reading:

Watch Your Language! Ways of Talking and Interacting with Students that Crack the Behavior Code- To preview this book on Amazon, click here.

A Call to All Teachers:

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