Tuesday / June 18

So…How is Student Behavior Going?

In this episode of the Leaders Coaching Leaders podcast, How is Student Behavior Going?, Larry Thompson and Peter DeWitt discuss behavior strategies in the classroom and how to come alongside students for everyone’s growth and learning.

Larry Thompson has served in a variety of roles in education. He’s been a general ed and special education teacher, and the principal of a traditional and an alternative high school. His niche and his focus area of expertise is discipline. The solutions he offers help take the issues that so many schools are having with classroom management and discipline to not just another level, but to the place where educators dream and wish, especially when trying to support really challenging students in classrooms.

PETER DEWITT: You had mentioned earlier– I want to get back to the whole idea of gimmicks. What kind of gimmicks have you seen people use that they think would work, but they don’t work? Is that a fair question.

LARRY THOMPSON: Yeah, and it’s hard to not go into the real depths of challenging behavior in a short segment. But I learned long ago– and then research backed up my belief system, so it wasn’t just me thinking it. But when you start to try to manipulate me to change my behavior– and there’s a lot of ways to do it. One side goes to a little more of threat, of punishment, or something like that. So it sounds like this in a classroom: “Well, if you’re not going to listen, then maybe I need to make a phone call.” I mean, they subtly let me know I’ll put the pressure on you, and then you’ll do what I ask. The other side leaned towards incentives and I’ll reward you into being good for me.

But we know that the research actually tells us the brain knows when it’s being manipulated, even a five-year-old brain. And I’ll give you this if you’ll– a lot of us in our training and college prep, they actually encourage those systems. And I just got so deep into schools that struggled with behavior, Peter, that one, the kids weren’t scared of anything. So what were you going to say if it worked at your old school– well, you want me to call your parent? Like, yeah, good luck.


LARRY THOMPSON: My dad will come down here and tell you what for.

PETER DEWITT: Yeah, exactly.

LARRY THOMPSON: OK, forget that. That’s not an option. And then I don’t want your cupcakes. So what I began to see is that part of the brain– and I talk a lot about this to help teachers with training.

That part inside of us that they call the mastery, like I feel like I accomplished something, is where we have to ignite the brain, versus the part where you’re taking away my autonomy. And I just explain it, lots of simple ways in training. But so many times, kids are fighting to have some autonomy. And those are the very kids that aren’t going to go into either one of those systems. Those are the children that are going to say, I didn’t want to go to recess anyway because it’s hot outside.

That’s the kid in the hallway– why are you in the hallway? Because teacher’s not fair. I mean, if you think that’s getting them to own their behavior, think about when people used to use clip charts. That was another system that I never understood why we went to, but I saw them all over schools.

So guess what? It works for all of the kids that already have the basic skills because they can turn the behavior on and off as desired. But the kid that can’t do it, they just say this. They fight back for their autonomy and they say, I like being on red. It’s my favorite.

I even saw a kid in a tough school. Fourth grader– she goes, “You can go clip down for that.” And it made me just realize she got the wrong part active…The student put it all the way to the bottom. And she says, I didn’t say all the way to the bottom. The student just smiled all the way back to his desk and said, that’s where I’m going to end up anyway. Like, I don’t even care where you put me, lady.

So what’s happening is we have to understand when behavior becomes a skill, then the brain wants to be able to do it because none of us like to show or feel like we can’t do something. But none of us don’t mind showing we won’t do it. And so we’ve built it almost backwards in these systems of school. Any time a child feels strong by not doing what you ask, you’ll never win that fight.

And think about our kids if you ever get to see them an in-school suspension rooms. Why are you down here? I like being down here. People help me with my homework.

Like, even a kid, Peter, that goes to the office, you got to listen to what the brain is saying as they walk to the office because here’s what you’ll hear. I don’t care if I have to come down here. That teacher is not even a good teacher. They’re not seeing it as a skill deficit.

So the reason we have to retrain our teachers on the front end is, so if a child leaves, they were spotted in such a good way that it’s obvious they don’t have the skill. And I’ve seen it happen. I’ve seen kids in really tough situations, when we coach them better, walk out of the classroom and go, I don’t know why I have such a temper. I’m thrilled by that because we can help you figure that one out.

PETER DEWITT: It’s self-awareness. So talk to me about how that looks…

LARRY THOMPSON: Oh, you’re good.

PETER DEWITT: It’s great self-awareness, and you’re absolutely right. By the way, your examples and your voices reminded me of somebody kids that got sent down to my office as a school principal. I started to have flashbacks there. But how does this work? How do you work with teachers and leaders on transforming this, so they can help support?

Listen to the complete episode here.

Written by

Larry Thompson is the creator of Responsibility-Centered Discipline and a thought leader in school discipline. He has helped all types of schools throughout North America strengthen students’ self-control by equipping teachers for the challenges students bring to their classrooms.

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