Friday, November 22, 2019

Never Ask a Student This Question About Their Behavior


Students who are in trouble almost always have a good reason for why they did what they did. Sometimes a student will admit fault and take full ownership, but that's not usually the case, especially for students who habitually shift responsibility. Usually, they explain away their behavior and how they were misunderstood or how someone else's bad behavior led to their actions. 

So how should educators handle that situation? Is it okay for a student to act badly if they have a good reason or feel justified in their behavior? Absolutely not. If they can explain their intentions, does that make it better? Not really.

I had this conversation with a student the other day. In life, people are going to know you by your behavior, not your intentions. So I hear what you're saying. You didn't mean to be disrespectful. You didn't mean to cause a problem. You had a good reason for what you did. But I can't know your reasons, truly. I believe what you're saying. But it's not for me to judge your intentions. No one can know what's in another person's heart with certainty. I can't know your intentions. But I can observe your behaviors.

And life will always hold you accountable for your actions. It might not happen immediately. You might get away with it for a while. However, the choices you make now will impact your future. And as someone who cares about you and your future, it's my job to help you be accountable now so life won't be so hard on you later.

So I never ask students this question:

"Why did you do it?"

That just reinforces the idea that if you had a good enough reason, it's okay to act badly. That if you had a good enough reason, it's okay to act in a way that's harmful to others.

Instead, ask the following:

"What did you do? Which choices you made caused a problem?"

"Who or what was harmed as a result of your choices?"

"What are the expectations (rules) here about these choices?"

"How might you correct the situation so it doesn't happen again in the future?"

Keep the focus on the behavior and not the underlying motivations. If the student tries to justify their behavior, keep coming back to the specific choices and how those choices aren't acceptable in this space. When we keep the focus on what happened and how it had an impact on others, we encourage full responsibility.

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