Using the Levels of Development


This will begin my second year of teaching. Last year, I had trouble with behavior in my classes (7th grade). I have been reading your book. I like what you have to say; it makes sense to me.

I would like to begin teaching the levels of development right away, but I have some reservations.

(CLARIFICATION: The two lower levels describe behaviors; the two upper levels describe motivation.)

My question: How soon should I begin to teach your system? Colleagues keep telling me to be tough at the beginning of the year, that it is easier to loosen up later in the year than it is to try to regain control of an unruly class. I am eager to try your system, but at the same time I am concerned that if I don’t use punishments and consequences I will be perceived as “a pushover” by my students.

Response: Just ask yourself two simple questions: (1) Is society today as it was 20 years ago? Are young people today exposed to the same media and messages as in former years? If you believe society and young people are the same, then use old approaches (but realize they are unsuccessful with many students).

Suggestion: Look around and see how many of those who are giving you counsel become stressed when a classroom disruption occurs. Those teachers who get stressed have it backwards. When a student acts inappropriately, the STUDENT—rather than the teacher—is the one who should experience stress.

The keys to influencing behavior are: (1) have high expectations and (2) empower your students so they want to be responsible—rather than overpowering them by using coercive approaches of threats, imposed consequences, and unnecessary stress.

You accomplish the first by being proactive, rather than waiting and then having to react. That is the purpose for teaching the four levels of social development.

You accomplish the second by letting your students know that you are more interested in their becoming responsible than you are in teaching toward obedience.  Communicate in positive terms. Be constantly aware of the tendency for your messages to come out in the negative. Continually ask yourself, “How can I say that in a positive way?”

Hone in on the skill of asking reflective, self-evaluative questions, e.g., “Is that helping you get your work done?”

If you are still unconvinced, ask your students which they would prefer. If they choose for you to promote responsibility rather than obedience, let them know that this approach is CONTINGENT upon their acting appropriately.

In addition to teaching the levels, be sure you TEACH PROCEDURES. Don’t just tell students how to settle down, how to quickly get their attention when you want to speak, how to collect papers, etc. HAVE THEM PRACTICE THE PROCEDURES.

If you teach the levels and your students see your faith and trust in them, and if you teach routines of how you expect things to be done, you will experience the true joy that classroom teaching offers.

Finally, realize that successful teaching revolves around relationships  and motivation.