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!