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Be the Change You Want to See: Teacher Modeling
posted by: Larisa | June 15, 2012, 08:25 PM   

As teachers, we can whine until the cows come home about “kids these days” and their general bad behavior.  It’s so easy to shake our fists and exclaim, “Why aren’t parents teaching their kids to behave?”  Teachers will go bonkers if they devote more energy to being frustrated about student behavior rather than being optimistic and pro-active about helping students to be better people.

Teachers regard their profession as a calling, and students look up to their teachers for guidance, wisdom, and inspiration.  We all have a favorite teacher from our childhood who stood by us and gave us a much-needed boost of confidence or dose of reality.  Teachers are in the business of educating young minds, but, by virtue of spending eight hours a day in a classroom with 25 children, teachers are also in the business of helping students grow into responsible young adults.

How do teachers go about shaping responsible young adults without encroaching on the rights of parents?  The answer is simple: modeling.

People generally assume that teachers are upstanding, model citizens, and a recent Gallup Poll suggests that teaching is counted amongst the most trusted professions.  Parents and administrators want quality people as teachers because it’s important to have quality behavior modeled for children.  Without saying anything, a teacher can model important values that will contribute to making students upstanding, model citizens, too.

Teachers might not realize how much their students look to them for leadership.  If Ms. Smith is late to class, then it’s okay for Sara to be late to class, too.  If Mr. Bradley thinks it’s okay to drink Coca Cola in class and burp out loud, then Kenneth will think it’s okay to that, too.  These inappropriate behaviors are unattractive in the classroom, but they are even more unattractive in the working, adult world.  This is why teachers must be attentive to basic etiquette and human decency.  If you see an opportunity to hold a door open for someone, do it–students are watching you, and they are more likely to adopt that positive behavior because they saw you--someone they look up to--model that behavior.  We want a student to think, “Well, Mrs. Donohue said ‘please’ before borrowing Jenna’s pen, so I guess I should say ‘please’ also.”

Modeling good behavior is only half of the battle.  Some students will readily follow the example set by the teacher, but other students need to have attention called to the modeled behavior.  This is where a “withit” teacher instinctively creates a ripple effect with students by calling attention to Cindy, who always sits so nice and tall in orchestra class.  Instantly, the positive model demonstrated by Cindy is replicated by other students in the classroom who also want to be praised for their good behavior.

Modeling will backfire, though, if you are not consistent.  It’s great to model for your class that you always check your math after completing a problem, but if you don’t do it every single time, then students will sense insincerity or the weakness in the system and not follow-through with your modeled example.  It is critical that you find a method you like and that you stick with it.  Students need structure and consistency, particularly students who fall into that “kids today” category.

Instead of lamenting “kids today,” inspire students to change to be the kids you want to see today.  Through positive modeling, you will guide your students to being responsible young adults.

Teachers, how do you model behavior in your classroom?
Comment below.

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