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Behavior and academics

Legislators are putting pressure on students, teachers and parents for ever increasing student academic performance to the exclusion of almost all else. I believe that their focus is somewhat misplaced. Academic success is important, but if you want to get there I believe that the focus should be on a child's behavior. Early on, and steady on, the ideals of respect (for self and others), politeness, effort, hard work, kindness, helpfulness, cooperation and a willingness to obey and mind legitimate adult requests, whether from parent or teacher, administrator or custodian, needs to be instilled in every child. These are qualities that will guarantee the best from each child, which is all that one can ask. This will lead to the best academic performance that each child is capable of, which is also the most that one can ask. These qualities in a child are also the ones that will foster success in adulthood, no matter what they may strive to be. Getting good, solid, positive behavior from children is probably the most important function of a school or of parents, for that matter. They both want the same thing for their children, which is academic success.

Unfortunately, academic success cannot flourish in a sea of misbehaviors and disrespect. Some teachers and parents fight this battle daily, often in isolation. It is less than helpful that children are surrounded by and bombarded with negative images and behaviors foisted upon them by various media sources whose sole aim is to make money, not raise decent children. It is also less than helpful that many parents and communities are under financial stress, forcing parents to work long hours just to get by, stealing quality time from their children. This is doubly true for single parents. It also doesn't help children that their teachers are trying to teach too many children in a classroom, often undersupplied.

What is needed is for schools to join with parents and focus on developing good behaviors for their children in a unified, positive way. Right now schools are handicapped by having mostly punitive systems at their disposal to deal with misbehaviors, such as in or out-of-school suspension. This may provide temporary relief to a classroom by isolating a misbehaving child, but in the long run, if that child is not internally changed in his view of himself and of school from negative to positive, then the problem is not solved. Way too much time is spent on "discipline" problems, stealing a ton of time from fostering academic success. There is a better way.

Each school should have an active and constant reward system for good behavior and effort on the part of the student. The schools need to be set up so that feeding a continuous stream of positive news to parents when their child is doing well becomes a part of the school day. This would then be reinforced in the home by praise and reward for the child. Struggling parents need help. Struggling teachers need help. They can help each other tremendously if they focused, as a team, on purposely catching the child when they are doing something good and then praising them for it. This will slowly but surely shape a child's behavior, turning it from negative to positive, which over a period of time will pay huge dividends for the child, the family, the school and the larger society in general.

There are lots of creative ways that schools can do this, the point being that it would do everybody involved with child rearing and education a lot of good to find ways to systematically focus on creating positive behavior as a common goal. Water the plant and watch it grow.

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