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Shaping Student Behavior: A Modern Approach to Teaching in the 21st Century

In the realm of mainstream psychology, myriad theories abound on the formation of human behavior. As educators, we frequently turn to these theories, as our primary responsibility lies in shaping the behavior of our students. Our aim is to assist them in developing academic, social, and classroom behavior skills, with the hope that our lessons will contribute to their growth as responsible citizens. However, despite our conscientious mentoring, some students slip through our grasp and develop problem behaviors. Often, our tendency is to attribute this failure to the student, their family environment, or the school system.


It is imperative that we explore alternative perspectives. Scientific theories and empirical evidence can provide a deeper understanding of the unacceptable behaviors exhibited by our students. Familiarizing ourselves with these facts broadens our insight, allowing us to move beyond personal beliefs, biases, or prejudices. This, in turn, positions us to perceive things objectively, make informed decisions, and mentor with confidence.


Defining Acceptable Behavior


Determining when a student's behavior crosses the boundary of acceptability poses a critical question. Is it when the behavior goes against societal norms or violates school rules and classroom expectations?


Consider an 11th-grade student consistently arriving late to class and chewing gum. Is this behavior acceptable? What if the student engages in these actions daily, even after being warned? As teachers, how should we respond? The typical approach involves warnings, public ridicule, potential removal from the class, referral to the principal, and ultimately, involving parents through a red card.


Shaping Student Behavior: A Modern Approach to Teaching in the 21st Century

Rethinking Response Patterns


In the 21st century, the teaching landscape requires a shift in response patterns. Old methods may no longer be effective in many teacher-student interactions, as the role of the teacher has evolved. Teachers must carefully craft their responses, exerting influence not through authority but through personality. The key factor that renders a teacher's personality influential is empathy. Studies suggest that empathy is a critical character strength for effective teaching. Simply put, empathy is a teacher's ability to see things through the student's eyes and respond accordingly.


Empathy arises from two essential elements: the desire to give one's maximum to the student and an unwavering commitment to staying updated on student psychology. When faced with a student's disruptive behavior, an empathetic teacher seeks to understand the underlying cause before reacting. Instead of issuing directives, she may engage the student personally and inquire about the reasons behind the behavior.


Problem Behavior Theory


Teachers equipped with scientific theories on human behavior enhance the teacher-student relationship, safeguarding it from deterioration when addressing problem behaviors. Knowledge serves as the fertilizer for empathy.


Richard Jessor's 1977 theory on problem behavior provides a comprehensive mental model for understanding problematic behaviors in growing children. This theory aids in formulating effective intervention strategies when dealing with such behaviors.


Intervening from the effect side, such as penalizing unacceptable behavior, is relatively straightforward. However, addressing the causal side requires an in-depth examination of the factors contributing to problem behavior. Reflecting on how the behavior developed and identifying active contextual factors is crucial.


Jessor identifies three systems shaping a growing individual: perceived environment, personality, and behavior. Any imbalance in these systems can be the root cause of problem behaviors. Forces within each system can be categorized as either "instigators" or "controls." Instigators, such as a broken family, alcoholic parents, or negative peer influence, contribute to problem behavior, while controls, like a supportive home environment and a positive teacher-student relationship, act as protective factors.


Take Aways


Continuous learning and updating oneself in the teaching profession are crucial for educators. Mental models for handling various situations must be refined continuously, considering the constant flux within educational systems. There is no fixed mental model guaranteeing success in dealing with students.


Embrace a philosophy of learning, unlearning, and relearning. Generate and experiment with intervention theories and models, refining them consistently. Be the architect of conscious experiences rather than a bystander to accidental incidents. Equipped with diverse perspectives, educators can interpret professional situations consciously, making informed choices. Taking charge of professional life ensures preparedness, preventing every event from appearing as an unexpected accident. In essence, educators must seize control of their professional journey.


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