The Difference a Word Can Make

When you hear the word, “rules”, what do you think of? How does the word make you feel? How does it sound to you?

Maybe the word sounds and feels the same to you as it does when kids hear it. When kids hear the word, “rules”, they think of everything they can’t or aren’t suppose to do. To them, rules are usually made by an adult and enforced upon them. Rules are made to be challenged.

Let’s try another word…what do you think of when you hear the word, “standards”? How does this word make you feel? How does it sound to you?

When you ask kids what the word, “standards”, means they usually say it is something they should or are expected to do. Standards are something to live up to.

The kids are right. There are major differences between the two words. If you were to do a definition search of them on Google you would find the following:

  • As nouns, the difference between “rule” and “standard” is that a rule is a regulation, law or guideline while a standard is a level of quality or attainment.
  • As a verb, to rule is to regulate, be in charge of, make decisions for or reign over.
  • As an adjective, standard is falling within an accepted range of size, amount, power or quality.

By definition alone you can see that rules are forceful. In fact, if you were to reference a thesaurus for synonyms for the word “rule” you would find words such as, “command”, “controlling” and “dominant”. Individuals are forced to bow DOWN and abide by a set of rules they may not agree with.

On the contrary, if you did a similar search for standards you would find words such as, “character”, “individuality”, “genius” and “virtue”. In this case, individuals rise UP in the situation to increase their likelihood of success.

The bottom line is…rules are negative while standards are positive.

During an interview, Coach Mike Krzyzewski of Duke University, who has more wins than any coach in Division 1 college basketball, once described his reasoning for use of standards instead of rules with his basketball team…

“When I was at West Point we had a bunch of rules, all of which I didn’t agree with. Usually when you’re ruled, you never agree with all the rules, you just abide by them. But if you have standards and if everyone contributes to the way you’re going to do things you end up owning how you do things.”

Coach “K” also coached the US Olympic Basketball Team comprised of NBA superstars – LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, Jason Kidd, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, Dwight Howard, Chris Paul and more. The question for him was never about talent; the question was whether the team could learn to play together, work together and get along together.

In their first meeting, he decided not to talk about offense and defense. Instead, he built the agenda around how the team was going to “live together.” He told the team, “We’re not going to have any rules. We’re going to have standards. His belief is that people don’t own rules, but they will own standards.

The same is true in your classroom or student group you work with. When you are the one who sets the rules for your students, without their input, they are more likely to challenge them and challenge you. Rules increase the chances you will have more negative and disruptive behaviors with your students. Why? They are your rules and not theirs.

If you want to increase the likelihood your students will get along and exhibit more positive behavior than negative, you need standards of behavior that you and they both create and buy into. Your students are more likely to live up to their own standards and hold each other accountable to them if they have a voice and vested interest in them.

So, what do you have established in your classroom or group? Do you have rules? Or, do you have standards? Your answer to this question can make all the difference to having a group of students who get along with each other and with you.

Reading You Like a Book

The research supports that behavior is strengthened, weakened or maintained by the modeling of behavior by others. When a person imitates the behavior of another, modeling has taken place. It’s a kind of vicarious learning by which direct instruction may not have even occurred.

Just about any type of behavior can be modeled, including both positive and negative. Adults serve as models to kids and kids serve as models to each other. You are a model to your students as to what is appropriate and inappropriate behavior. It’s important for you to view yourself as a model whenever you are around students, whether or not modeling is even your intent.

Your students learn from you. They watch how you behave. They observe how you interact with others, how you deal with conflict and how you deal with making mistakes and apologies. They see how you respond and react to certain situations. They listen to what you say and hear how you say it. They can sense if you care about what you are doing and about them. They begin “reading you like a book” on the very first day of school and it doesn’t take them long to come to a conclusion as to whether you are a positive or a negative role model.

One way for you to ensure you are modeling in a positive way is to “practice what you preach.” Whatever behavior you expect from your students your students should be able to expect the same from you. For example, if you don’t want the students to interrupt you when you are talking then you should not interrupt them when they talk. Whatever expectations or rules you have for your students and their behaviors you need to be willing to live by the same. Kids are quick to see when this isn’t the case and they can use it as an opportunity to do as you do.

Make time to do a self-assessment. Better yet, ask someone to observe you teaching or interacting with your students to see if you are living up to your own classroom rules and expectations of behaviors. If you are, good job! Keep up the great work.

If you fall short, then come up with a self-improvement plan. Identify the problem, brainstorm solutions, choose one thing you can begin doing differently or better and then practice doing it. Sometimes, it’s helpful to share with your students what you are trying to do better and how. It’s an opportunity to be a positive role model to them on how they can do the same. Being fully aware of our shortcomings, acknowledging them and working to change for the positive is important and can have a long lasting influence on our kids.

Another way you can model positive behavior is through positive reinforcement. When you observe a student imitating another student’s positive behavior, reinforce this. You will increase the likelihood the behavior will be repeated again. You need the students who are exhibiting positive behaviors in your classroom or group to continue doing what they are doing. Reinforcement will ensure this.

You can also use reinforcement vicariously. For example, when you say, “Thank you, Renee, for helping Melanie with her work today”, not only is Renee being reinforced, but other students, for whom praise is reinforcing, are likely to imitate this same behavior in order to get reinforcement themselves.

In the same way, modeling can decrease behaviors. When you redirect a student from an inappropriate to an appropriate behavior, other students learn what is unacceptable behavior. Telling a student that what they are doing is wrong and not telling them what they need to do differently isn’t helpful. You can’t assume that all students who act out negatively really know what to do differently or better. Use this time as a “teachable moment” for the student and all the other students who are watching, listening and learning from them.

The bottom line is…Your students want your attention and affirmation. Send them a message that the way they will get it from you is when their behaviors are positive. You can send this message by noticing, acknowledging and affirming the positive behaviors of your students much more than the negative. What you notice the most and call out the most will be what you get the most of. Make sure it is the most positive!

Modeling is one of the many methods you need to use to manage your student behaviors. It’s something you can do all the time – no matter where you are at or what you are teaching. Remember, they are watching you. They are learning from you. They are reading you like a book. Make sure they have a book worth reading and one with a happy and positive ending!