Is Change Really About Behaviors in Public Schools?

Much is written about behaviors in elementary schools, middle schools and high schools. The question is to ask is it really the behaviors that need to be changed? Are not behaviors the desired end result? Does not our society long for young people who demonstrate the behaviors of respect as well as being engaged students? Would not our schools be far better off with students who behaviors consistently contribute positively to the overall goals for the school district? If our young people could consistently have a way that leads to a balanced life and achieves their dreams, would not that be incredible? From the answers to these questions, then behaviors are truly the desired result and hence are the end and not the beginning.

What prompted these questions were several recent conversations with clients. A school administrator had contacted me about providing some consultation work around bullying. Schools across America are facing an increased in "bullying" and have instituted numerous programs. Some of these programs have been successful, but the bullying is not going away even when the perceived causes change.

After several minutes of listening to the issues within this school, I made the observation that "Bullying" behaviors appeared to be more symptom than the real problem facing this school. The real problem was the presence of a multitude of belief systems that implemented within the school. These different belief systems remind me of the Bumper Cars carnival ride where the cars consistantly bump, nudge and slam into each other. Continuing with this analogy, the bullying behavior is the outcome of these forces working against each other.

Of course in today's political correct world, we can not use the word beliefs because someone immediately thinks of religion and how church and state must be kept separate. Yet, beliefs simply are those foundational, internal thought processes that determine what we do as individuals. A variety of attitudes or what some call habits of thought support these beliefs systems.

For example, in education there are many resources devoted to helping at risk children. These resources have been in place for over 40 years and have developed a belief system that at risk children need these resources and without these resources they will not be successful. However, the outcomes of improved academic performance continue to elude many of our schools. The recently released Nation's Report Card showed no progress during the last 33 years in reading scores for 17 years old and these students' average scores were not even close to mastery of the reading skills required in today's knowledge driven workplace.

One of the newer belief systems in education centers focuses on the behaviors of young children. Never in our history have we had so many children on medication to treat active children or what some call hyperactive children. One would think that this phenomenon is an anomaly given that 40 to 50 years ago this problem was fairly insignificant. Now if a child acts up, a belief system reinforces the need for medication and special education. Can you imagine what classes and schools will look like in another 40 years?

Until belief systems are first acknowledged and then identified, sustainable change will continue to allude our educational institutions .. But what is even more important, the persistent application of traditional solutions will drain our critical resources and continue to harm our young people and set them up for a life of failure instead of success.

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