I am a lover of all books written by Dr. Ross Greene, and before I left my former school district, I set them all up to take their next steps using his Collaborative and Proactive Solutions (CPS) model to support the behaviors in their students.
Yesterday I got caught in a spiral of Ross Greene YouTube videos, books, and quotes. I was searching for more things to inspire the schools and districts that I'm working with next school year, and to get them to start reimagining what SEL can look like at their sites. After spending some time watching a short video of him talking about how kids do well if they can, I felt extremely curious to see where everyone that follows my IG account stood on the topic of behavior.
I decided to take a little poll in one of my Instagram stories, and I simply asked, "Are you a KIDS DO WELL IF THEY CAN type of person, or are you a KIDS DO WELL IF THEY WANNA person?" And let me tell you, my mind was BLOWN!
The data was split in HALF. I had about 50% of my followers who believed that they CAN, and 50% who believed that they WANNA.
So the psychology nerd in me wanted to dive in even more. I was curious to see if there was any correlation between their profession and life experiences (aka did they have a child with special needs) and how they viewed behaviors in kids. Here's what I found:
If you were a General Education teacher, you were more likely to choose: KIDS DO WELL IF THEY WANNA.
And if you were a Counselor, Speech Pathologist, SEL Expert, a Special Education teacher, or a mother/father with a child with special needs (Autism, ADD, ADHD, Dyslexia...), you were more likely to choose: KIDS DO WELL IF THEY CAN.
After looking at the responses, and analyzing the data, I was shocked....but not really. And this is exactly the type of data and thinking that continues to push me to do the work that I do: To coach, mentor, and TEACH our TEACHERS and administrators strategies, systems, and supports that they can use in their classrooms to support ALL our children, and to continue the mind shift that we must TEACH social and emotional skills; we can't EXPECT them.
So my question to all my teacher friends is this...When kids come to us struggling in reading, we meet them where their skill set is at. We give them strategies that will support them and their learning, and our hope is that those reading skills that were lagging or lacking will grow, enable the child to read and comprehend more challenging books, and increase their confidence and growth mindset.
When kids come to us struggling in writing or math, we do the same thing. We figure out what skills might be lagging or lacking, we give them strategies to take them to the next level, we support them in whole group, small groups, and one-on-one teaching, and our hope is that they are able to be independently successful. Am I right?
But when it comes to "behavior", why do some of us tend to see things differently? Why instead of meeting a child where they are at socially or emotionally, deciding what skills might be lagging or lacking, and then guiding, teaching, and supporting them through the work...Why are so many educators, administrators, or parents quick to punish instead of teach?
You can't punish the negative behavior out of a child. You can't force a child with Autism or ADD or ADHD or Dyslexia to "just do it because you wanna."
I don't think your child with Dyslexia doesn't wanna read with ease. I don't think your child with Autism doesn't wanna make true connections with their peers. I don't think your child with ADHD doesn't wanna sit still during your lesson. And I don't think your child with ADD doesn't wanna follow every single one of your directions exactly in the order that you announced them to the class.
Because THESE kids, ALL kids, wanna. And sometimes, because of the brains that they were born with, or the trauma that they've experienced, their brains or their bodies just won't allow them to. Their brains make some things tricky for them.
So what do we do? Punish them for not showing the expected behavior? Punish your child with Autism for bumping into their peers (because they wanted attention from them but couldn't communicate it with words)? Punish your child with ADD for only being able to follow ONE step of your directions (because they got stuck after the first thing you said)? Punish your child with ADHD for moving their body in a million directions (because they needed a fidget to attend to your lesson)?
Because clearly they don't WANNA? Right????
As a former elementary school teacher, I remember talking with one of my former student's parents. The mother had said to me, "THIS is why I hate it when there's a substitute in the classroom. They reward all the kids who are showing the expected behaviors, and they don't give anything to the kids who aren't."
Now this mother has a child diagnosed with Autism. And this child just happens to be one of the main reasons why my life has pushed me to do the work that I do. And let me tell you, THIS child....if this child COULD, she would. Because kids do well if they CAN.
This child was born with a brain that makes navigating the social world extremely tricky. It's challenging for her to manage her emotions. It's challenging for her to follow the group plan. It's challenging for her to show the expected behavior. It takes a LOT of practice, a LOT of cuing and front-loading, a LOT of coaching and teaching of the social world, and a LOT of support from specialists, teachers, and family members to make responsible decisions, reach goals, stay on task, and be successful every minute, every hour, and everyday.
So do we just punish this child when she refuses to work on what is expected? Because clearly she is defiant?
Do we punish this child when she acts out, blurts out, displays big reactions to small problems...??? Because clearly she doesn't WANNA listen to her teacher, keep comments to herself, make friends, or work with others?
THIS is a child who struggles with all things social and emotional. THIS is a child who must be TAUGHT how the social world works so that she can work in the social world. THIS is a child that wants nothing more than to have friends. THIS is a child who wants to please their teacher. THIS is a child who wants all those PBIS rewards from those substitutes and teachers and administrators more than ANYTHING.
And when you have the mindset of, "SHE CAN DO WELL IF SHE WANTS TO" then you fail to see her lagging or lacking skills. You fail to coach, teach, and guide her. You fail to meet her where she is at, give her strategies that will support her, and then encourage her to keep going.
So what is fair for ALL students? What is equitable? What can we REIMAGINE as we start to think about next school year?
We must TEACH social and emotional skills. We must infuse SEL systems and supports in our teaching all day, everyday.
SEL is not a lesson. It isn't a read aloud. It doesn't come from people coming INTO your classroom to take over and work with YOUR students.
It comes from, and it starts with, YOU. You, the teacher. You, the administrator. You, the parent. You, the community.
We must continue this work together. We must speak a common language, give common supports, and encourage open, supportive, communications between the families of our students.
Because if a kid could, they would. Because kids do well if they can.