As I mentioned in the first part of this series, awareness is the vision that shows children where they could be heading and who they can be. This creates a tension between where they are now and the vision. This tension will beg to be resolved.
Commitment is the resolution process that ends in a decision. Commitment says “I am going to do something about this!” This is the point when a child decides that he/she is ready and willing to invest. We have all experienced this feeling when we decide we are going to get fit, study more or eat healthier meals. You always know you should change before the point when you actually decide to change. That decision point is commitment.
When developing classroom incentive programs to foster a desired behavior (bring proper clothing for PE, be on time to class, etc.) you don’t always need to get a commitment from the child. They commit because they are part of the class and the class/authority figure has included the child in the program. Except not all children will make that assumed commitment. There is a group of children who need to flip that internal switch that says “I am going to do this!” This step is often lacking in our plans: obtaining a verbalized commitment from children prior to implementing the incentive for the appropriate behavior. This is not always easy for the teacher—we all have a method of engagement that is comfortable for us; for some authoritative, others laid-back, and many somewhere in between. Effectiveness requires us to do what is required to get the job done. When the job is “changing behavior”, engagement in the process by the student is always better than the “just do it” approach.
Here is a simple plan. Educate and create awareness of the issue. Talk about it again in the next class session and ask the children for a commitment to make a change in lifestyle. It can be done with a simple show of hands, a nod of heads, or maybe a written contract signed by the child. The commitment should not be mandatory (that defeats the idea of commitment as a cognitive change that must occur first). Each child will not make this commitment, and many will make a partial commitment (I will bring my shoes to physical education class, but I am not playing softball). Every child who voluntarily commits, no matter the level of commitment, has our assistance with the follow up discipline and perseverance. All change requires that part of the brain that makes the commitment to fire up for successful outcomes. Some will come to it on their own, some will need to be led to that place of commitment.
Are you already involved in using incentives to change children’s behavior and attitudes in the classroom? Are you educating and providing positive feedback? Consider adding commitment to the process and see how your long term results change. Let me know how it works.
Next we will discuss discipline, the get your shoes on and get out the door portion of making a change.