Behavior Interventions are…Neutral?

Pop Quiz…Is temporarily removing a disruptive student from your class a consequence or a reinforcement? 

Here’s the scene:

Two students in your math class – Jennifer & Allison – are being disruptive enough to make learning very difficult for the other students.  Jennifer is your top math student and has proclaimed several times that math is her favorite subject.  On the contrary, Allison hates math.  You know this because she has also told you several times.  After repeated attempts to get them to quiet down, you ask each of them to step out into the hallway; both students comply with your direction and you plan to discuss the issue with them in 5 minutes.

Question: Have Jennifer and Allison been consequenced or reinforced?  Recognizing the limitations of hypothetical situation involving students you don’t know personally, most would likely answer consequenced…same intervention by the teacher therefore same result.  The truth is…it’s both.

Jennifer loves math so she will likely view the removal from class as a consequence since she wants to do well, loves the subject, and is connected to you.  Allison, on the other hand, will likely view the removal as a reinforcement since she doesn’t want to be in math in the first place.  This is where we can get tricked if we are not paying attention.

How is it that the same intervention can produce different responses from students? It’s because behavior interventions are neutral…how a student responds to an intervention determines whether it was a consequence or a reinforcement.

When any behavior is reinforced it means we have increased the likelihood of that behavior occurring again. What has Allison learned…be disruptive and you will be removed from an environment you don’t want to be in. By removing Allison from class, you have increased the likelihood of Allison being disruptive again; for Jennifer it’s likely the opposite.  The whole point of consequences is to decrease the likelihood of a behavior occurring again. For Allison you haven’t done that.  The first rule in using “time-out” is that there is a desirable “time-in” environment.  This is how we inadvertently reinforce negative behaviors and scratch our heads wondering why it didn’t work.

Think of it this way…If IT didn’t do what you thought IT was going to do, then IT wasn’t what you thought IT was.

As a school administrator, the silliest thing I could do is suspend someone out-of-school for skipping.

Every student’s response to the behaviour interventions you use will reveal to you whether you are accomplishing the desired outcome.  You see this as an administrator, teacher, and even a parent.  All of our relationships involve a social interaction feedback loop.  As adults we need to pay attention to the results of our efforts and put more thought behind what we are doing; maybe you already do that. 

The point is that we can’t categorize any behavior intervention until we see how the student responds.  Ony then will we know what it was.

2 thoughts on “Behavior Interventions are…Neutral?

  1. Another great post, Tom.

    The reflection part of what we do is imperative, from a behaviour/intervention point of view, as well as from a teaching/learning angle. Anyone working with human beings needs to be able step back from a decision/action and assess, “did what I do have the desired outcome for the people I was working with?” We talk about teachers needing to do this when students are unsuccessful with concept comprehension. We suggest they need to reteach the material in a different way, in hopes that the students will understand it better. Teachers and administrators need to do the same when it comes to behaviour intervention-“has my intervention attempt resulted in the behaviour I wish to see?” If not, we need to look for a different method of doing “it”.

    Thanks for the reminder.

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