Positive behavior is a learned skill

Positive behavior is a learned skill
  • Lower Division
Denver Jewish Day School

By Lower Division Principal Elana Shapiro, Lower Division Dean Mark Parmet, Director of Jewish Life & Learning Dr. Sarah Levy, psychologist Dr. Rachel Gall

Learning how to interact positively with others is a skill, and just like math and reading skills, these social skills need to be taught. Children do not organically know how to behave in new and sometimes challenging situations. Effective problem solving, conflict resolution, and response to frustration are all skills that students need to learn, practice and have modeled for them in order to master. All children make mistakes and face challenges in these areas over the course of their elementary school career. 

Students who are struggling in their social interactions or not meeting behavioral expectations generally are expressing some sort of unmet need and/or a social skill that they have not yet mastered.

Students thrive when encouraged, challenged, supported, and loved in a safe environment and are motivated by kindness and engaging with others. Rather than just quickly punishing students for their behavior, our goal is to work with them to understand why they are acting the way that they are, talking to peers and teachers and partnering with parents to get to the root of the problem. 

When students face a challenge interacting appropriately it’s critical to look at 3-Rs: the reason behind the behavior, possible replacement behaviors, and restorative practices. 

Reason: What need is the child expressing, or what skill is he/she lacking?

Replacement: What can the child do next time that is different? How can we brainstorm ideas for better/safer choices that will empower him/her to make positive changes in future interactions?

Restorative practice: What can the child do to repair any relationship that may have been damaged by the inappropriate interaction? This is best done collaboratively between the children involved and is an effective tool for improving relationships and building community.

In the classroom, students are taught skills such as healthy communication, conflict resolution, perspective-taking, and self-awareness. Using a social justice lens, we help students identify social power dynamics and learn to intervene by being an ally. Current neuroscience research highlights the fact that self-regulation of behavior occurs in relation to others — perhaps a better word is "co-regulation." Behavior management, then, is using a close relationship with a parent or teacher as the basis with which to connect with a child when they are having a hard time. 

At Denver JDS, our counseling department helps support teachers and families by providing consultation and trainings for the adults in our students' lives to practice these skills. We also help identify and intervene when there may be mental health issues or family concerns that may be impacting behavior. 

Within the secure walls of our counseling offices, you might see students coming in together, often very angry and escalated. But our students are coached to use healthy communication skills in their dialog to ensure that all parties feel heard and understood. It’s not necessarily the content of the disagreement that is important, but the way in which they are speaking with each other. Over time (in fact, through adulthood), students internalize these communication skills and are able to have more effective conversations together.

Our goal is to create the leaders and problem-solvers of tomorrow. It is our responsibility as teachers, administrators, counselors, and specialists to work through behavioral challenges with students and help them foster their own ability to act with kindness and integrity. 

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