In the previous Newsletters we have discussed changing the behaviour of those kids who, through their dysfunctional behaviour disrupt their learning and the learning of others. What we are focusing on is our attempts to change this situation, and that, of course, leads to the need to modify their behaviour. If you have been following these Newsletters and the books you will understand that all behaviour, including that of these kids, is an attempt to achieve a state of personal equilibrium in the presenting conditions. We act because we become uncomfortable, we become stressed known as a state of disequilibrium, and our actions are an attempt to change that situation. If the response moves us back into equilibrium; that is we feel better then the resulting feedback will reinforce that connection between the situation, the action, and the consequence, if not we will continue to seek an action that will. This simple definition requires an enormous amount of understanding of a person's sense of ‘equilibrium.'
The illustration crudely explains this process
This model attempts to capture just one ‘behaviour cycle'. Of course, this is extremely simplified but helps in our understanding. If we apply this to the following scenario:
1. Antecedent Condition
Little John comes to school after being scolded by his father for being a waste of time. John’s father is an alcoholic who regularly beats his wife. Yesterday he was sent from his math’s class for being disrespectful.
The teacher asks John to sit down the front after a couple of other boys were making noise while the teacher was writing instructions on the board.
At this point John decides what to do. This decision will be arrived at through his memories both cognitive memories, techniques he has been taught by the counselor and emotional memories, what he has learned when dealing with his father as a young child.
John refuses to move because he didn’t make the noise. He is yelling at the teacher telling him he is unfair.
Most likely he will again be removed.
How can we change this process? John is a child, and even before he entered the classroom, he was destined to fail. He came to school already expecting to fail, and at the first opportunity, he made sure he fulfilled this likelihood. But the professional adult in the room is the teacher. What could he do?
The process that changes this cycle is the feedback from the consequences. That is if our actions make things better this information is stored in our memory. The more a particular consequence is linked to the action the stronger the synaptic pathway becomes. This process is especially crucial for the emotional memories. In a sense, it becomes a bit of a competition between the existing synoptic schema evolved in earlier times and the newly created pathway. The consequences are critical, and in the model, the consequences are not in the control of the student but are provided externally. For classroom management, it is the teacher, or it should be who chooses and delivers the consequence.
So how would we deal with John in this situation? It is the teacher who ‘decides' on the consequence. In this instance, there is not much in the short term, but it is through the delivery of consequences that change can be achieved.
The molding of behaviour from being dysfunctional involves the application of consequences. These consequences can be in the various forms:
- Natural - The result of the action always follows. That is, you play in the rain, you get wet. This type of consequence is not usually available because the lessons learned here have already been taught.
- Logical - This means an understood connection between behaviour and consequence. It includes things like if you waste time in class, you are kept back after the bell. The time is made up. Using a logical consequence may not always be ethically appropriate. For example, if one student hits another, logically, they should be hit back. For so many reasons this is inappropriate, so another consequence should be sought.
- Chosen - Although there is no natural or logical connection between the action and consequence, there is an agreement that the connection is an acceptable practice. Most class rules are chosen ones.
The consequences must have the goal as one of the following:
- Rehabilitation - The long-term goal of the behaviour intervention is that the inappropriate behaviour the child had used to get their needs met is replaced by one that addresses the need in a socially acceptable way.
- Quarantine - The rule should be such that the other students are protected, physically and socially, from the actions of the perpetrator. This need to provide a safe environment is why timeout is often the appropriate consequence.
The selection of consequences determines the effectiveness of the intervention, and this is a crucial decision that should be made by the teacher. But on top of this, the application of these consequences should be consistent, persistent, fair and targeted at the behaviour, not the person.
This topic is discussed in more detail in a following Newsletter.