Sherry, a fabulous grade six teacher at my school, mentioned to me one day that when she sees a child operating on Level B in her classroom, she uses the opportunity to do some role-playing. After she has asked the student to assess the level of their own behavior (and they can accurately assess it as Level B,) she says very respectfully to the child, “Now, would you like an opportunity to try this again––operating at a higher level?”
This week I tried using Sherry’s idea in my grade one classroom. Here’s one example:
Two boys sat down on the carpet near each other as we were getting ready to read a story. The boys weren’t right beside one another; there was a space between them. I noticed out of the corner of my eye that a third boy was coming nearer, with a plan to sit in the space. As the third boy got closer, the first two quickly moved together, obviously shunning the new boy.
After asking them to identify their level of operation in this instance and having them explain why they saw themselves at that level, I did as Sherry suggested and offered them a chance “to raise their behavior to a higher level.” I said we could try the whole scene once again, but this time we would try it at Level C.
I asked the third boy to move away again and the first two boys to sit as they had been originally. I asked them to think about what they could do this time that would put them at a higher level. I gave them a moment to think and then asked if they were ready. When they said, “Yes,” I directed the third boy to approach them again.
This time the two boys moved over a bit to ensure that the third boy had ample room to sit down. Then one of them said, “Come on, Dylan, sit here with us.”
We talked for a minute, comparing how it feels inside to push someone away, with the feelings that result when we generously welcome someone. I gave Dylan a chance to say how he had felt, in both the first and second scenario––once when he was shunned and once when he was welcomed.
Another thing we could have discussed would have been the difference between Levels C and D. Level D actions would have looked the same, the two boys welcoming the third––but the motivation and initiative would have come from the two boys involved––rather than from me, the teacher.
Then I reminded them that the level of someone’s operation is a choice. People can choose to act on any one of the four levels. I left them with the idea that another time when they saw someone approaching them, they could consciously choose the level from which they wished to respond.
At the end of this experience we were all left with a positive feeling––the third boy was properly welcomed and the first two boys were given an opportunity to see how their impulsive actions had affected someone else. They were given a chance to reflect on which feels better––operation at Level B or Levels C/D? Instead of leaving the two boys to feel badly about what they had done––and they did feel badly, because they’re usually two of the nicest boys in my class!––they were left with the uplifting feeling that they really did know how to operate on a higher level. I think it gave them an opportunity to think about what kind of people they want to be in the future.
Dr. Marshall encourages adults “to view misbehavior as an opportunity to learn.”
Sherry’s use of role-play sends exactly the same message to students:
Acting in an unacceptable way is not something that adults will allow in the classroom, but at the same time we won’t hold what you’ve done against you. Instead of getting angry, we will provide you with an opportunity to learn that it actually feels better inside to behave in an acceptable way than it does to misbehave. We have faith in your ability to learn to make good choices.