Sunday, September 25, 2011

Parent - teacher meetings and the paradigm shift

Parent – teacher meetings are often held in order to address challenging behavior a child may exhibit in the classroom. 

Unfortunately in most cases teachers use clichés to explain behavior  - he is being controlling , manipulative and attention seeking . Even if the kid has a dx- diagnosis which implies lagging skills like autism, there is a tendency to dismiss the dx and say that  the parent is using the dx as an excuse for bad behavior. Teachers expect a miracle – that the parents will motivate the kid and  impress on him that his behavior is unacceptable and then things will change.

The way to change the teacher's thinking and help them make the paradigm shift is to engage them with questions challenging the clichés used to explain behavior , let them start thinking about your child and explore the possibilities that his difficulties are due to lagging skills. Engaging teachers in the process of discovery helps them sink their teeth into the subject of lagging skills and unsolved problems getting in the way of the kid. It  leads to light bulb moments , changes in paradigm, regret on past strategies that may have made the situation worse , more compassion and resolve to try something new.

  Children do well if they can .   Would you not agree that kids would prefer to do well, be successful and fit in adaptively?

If kids are looking bad – hitting, screaming, yelling, throwing, biting etc is it logical to say that they prefer ' looking bad' to being successful and adaptive ? Attention seeking, trying to get what you want, or avoid doing things are but one explanation for their behavior. Don't we all seek attention, try and get what we want, or avoid certain things.  Would not the difference be that we have the skills to get attention, what we want and avoid things in an adaptive and appropriate way , whereas these kids don't have these skills , wouldn't this be a more accurate explanation ? Would not the words controlling and manipulative be more appropriate to a kid who had very sophisticated thinking skills?

 A kid looking bad happens when the demands placed upon him outstrip the skills he has -  I would appreciate help from you in thinking about his lagging skills and when , where etc they are mostly challenged. Here is a check list of lagging skills that behaviorally challenged kids display. Could you check off the list and describe the context where the lagging skill is exhibited.

   These are the questions we need to ask. -   who is he , what are his lagging skills, pile of unsolved problems , what is getting in his way and what does he need ? 

    The Collaborative problem solving process not only will solve actual problems  but the process itself will indirectly teach so many lagging cognitive skills. We need to see the kid as an ally in solving problems and  collaborate with him. He has to see us as allies who understand him and willing to address his concerns and help him become successful.

Even when teachers see that there are problems, their thinking is driven by what resources or solutions are available or rather where the kid should be – regular classroom or ED – emotionally disturbed classroom. This type of thinking and decision making leaves the most important questions about the kid left unanswered .

  We need to focus on - who is he , what are his lagging skills, pile of unsolved problems , what is getting in his way and what does he need ? 

  Then we can ask what would be the most suitable environment that can address his needs.


Monday, September 19, 2011

Restorative Justice and Relatedness - Self Determination Theory

Unlike the adversarial legal system , Restorative Justice supports the human needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness .

Our present court process based on the adversarial legal system undermines  ' relatedness' in the community and more.

 A sentencing process is ' done to the offender '  who then  goes to prison feeling wronged. This explains the high rates of recidivism of criminals – returning to the prison system. 

Instead of helping offenders reflect on the impact and consequences of their actions on others and then in an autonomous way engage in the moral act of restitution and repair the damage done to relationships in the community , the system teaches people that their mistake was being caught and what happens to you  if you are caught.

Restorative Justice   is an approach to justice serves the needs of relatedness of both the victim and offender  in the context of their families and community.  

In the ' Paintball ' case a teenager expressed his anger and frustration to peer rejection – he could not go paintballing with his cousins -  by  grabbing a paintball gun from the car trunk and shooting it into a crowd of girls, blinding a girl in one eye. The offender appeared in juvenile court and pleaded guilty. 

In the presentencing phase of a criminal trial, the probation  officer   typically conducts an investigation of the offense and the circumstances surrounding it, obtains the victim's statement, and makes a recommendation to the court.

 In the paintball case, the court approved a presentencing conference. Fifteen people — an astonishing number — attended the conference and an equally astonishing four-hour conference resulted in an opportunity for the offender, his family, the victim and her family, as well as members of the community to share their stories about the incident.

 The offender and his family assumed  financial   responsibility for the expenses incurred by the victim and her family. The offender made his apology, offered to donate part of his eye if that would bring back her sight and made a commitment to advocate against playing with paintball guns.

The case allowed the family of the offender to come forward , acknowledge their responsibility in the incident and make amends by making financial and other contributions to the victim and her family. The young offender in an autonomous way offered to donate his eye and advocate against paintballing. It was important to hear from the victim that she wanted to see the offender express remorse and regret about her loss and suffering , he would change himself from the inside and help make sure that kids and parents would be more aware of the dangers of paintballing so nobody would get injured. 

The restorative justice helped build community bonds that were not there before – the common interest  and empathy of the 2 families and a process for solving problems on a community level.

The traditional court process is artificial and ritualized . Restorative justice supports peoples' autonomy  -   by allowing them to come forward in an autonomous way and engage in restitution,  competence  -  problem solving and reconciliation skills , relatedness – express feelings , desire to make amends, forgive and engage in reconciliation.

The CPS - collaborative problem solving approach would in addition acknowledge the teenager's lagging skills - frustration toleration, impulsiveness, forethought etc and encourage caregivers to use CPS in their dealings with him.


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Relatedness - the adverarial legal system, parents and teachers

Self Determination theory explains that people's interests and intrinsic motivation are best served when their needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness are met.
When kids are behaviorally challenging in the home, classroom or playground their needs for ' relatedness '  are not only ignored but in most cases the relationship is used against them in order to teach them a lesson. Caregivers' acceptance and love is made contingent on behavior.

This in part is due to the 'adversarial' legal system, the model upon which our legal system is based. The business of the parties is not to find the truth , but to win.  A lawyer needs to believe that his client has justice on his side and then go into battle.  Enemies, is what the system is all about- the need to beat the other side in the courtroom , win at all costs invites unethical behavior. The unethical practice of lawyers is more about the competitive structure of law, the intrinsic nature of the adversarial ethic itself , than the moral fibre of lawyers themselves.

 Instead of relatedness we get division and polarity – we against them , the good guys vs the bad guys , and then the court adjudicates who won , who lost , who are the good or bad guys. The court then issues sentences – retribution and the bad guys must pay for their crimes.

The problem is that we see  Right and Wrong as the only two possibilities.

 Anne Strick –' Injustice for all'  urges that   consensus through cooperative exploration , should replace the concept of truth through battle.'   - Alfie Kohn - No Contest , the case against competition 

In fact nearly 2000 years ago the prophet Zachariah said that  judges should  give verdicts that were expressions of truth and peace ( Zachariah 8:16 ). The commentary says that he urged judges to encourage the parties to settle – reach a compromise -  with the help of the court . In the adversarial system parties  need to settle disputes  outside the courtroom.

The problem with compromise is that because someone loses out , so  the verdict cannot be truthful. The answer is that in the end , everyone benefits because the essential needs of ' relatedness '  are being met. The 2 parties need not avoid each other and can sit at the same table at a wedding.

The same confrontation and lack of trust we find in the court room , we  also find in families and in schools. Parents and teachers use rules and laws to  dictate behavior and  the only possibilities as right and wrong . So when a rule is broken , what is called for is punishment , retribution ,consequences , detentions and suspensions .

But if we use guidelines of moral behavior and talk about expectations and then when those expectations are not met , we can do something different. Parents and teachers can ask why expectations are not being met and help the kids reflect and  look for solutions to problems.  Solving problems in a collaborative way ensures that solutions address the concerns of all parties and protect the relationship between kids and their caregivers.

Parents , teachers, principals , judges , management etc , in fact all human beings must be aware of the important human need of ' Relatedness ' and give expression to this value. After all that has been said and done  - people need to live together and work together.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Gordon Neufeld - Hold on to your kids

Gordon Neufeld in his book ' Hold onto your kids' warns us about losing our kids to their peers.

Kids today are very peer orientated and no longer to seek the guidance and acceptance of their parents. They rely more on their peers and their behaviors revolve around being accepted by the group rather than developing their own personalities and integrating family values in their lives.  Neufeld encourages parents to avoid the use of rewards, punishments and consequences because they undermine the foundations of a trusting relationship between parent and child.

Gordon Neufeld is not alone in his views on negative peer influences. Robert Epstein wants to ' abolish adolescence ' and teen culture.  Put teens together, they act worse than preteens. Let them mix with people of different generations, they then show incredible ability and responsibility.

I agree with Gordon Neufeld that we must ' hold onto your kids ' by putting the relationship first , but this is not enough to counter negative peer culture.

Today , friends are so important and influence the type of kid Jonny will be.

The reason is  -  kids mirror themselves on their friends, they measure themselves against their friends ,  who they are is seen in terms of friends.

We have to find good friends for our kids. Even better is to find friends from different generations – an older brother or sister, buddy-tutors, young adults or even older people. This type of mentoring relationship has the ability to promote so many cognitive skills, values and a trusting relationship. Kids can find these friendships at different clubs and organizations such as charities and sport – mountaineering , hiking etc .

There is often a lot of emotional baggage surrounding the parent-child relationship so kids will actually hear what the mentor says and not the parent even they both are saying the same thing.

If we want to hold onto our kids we need to adopt a ' mentoring relationship' with our kids. AP – attachment-relationship parenting books often tell us the 'why ' but not the how or the how is pretty vague.

We need  CPS – the collaborative problem solving model to deal with unmet expectations in a way that promotes relationship and skills.

We need a GPR – guided participation relationship so that kids are in an informal learning/ parallel learning relationship with us.  We can transcend the day to day commands or instructions we give kids and use them as a window of opportunity to help learn and engage the  world .

We need to listen more , let kids speak – we use dialog questions to direct the conversation.


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Questions - the key to thinking, problem solving and communication

Kids who have the ability to ask questions, feel free and comfortable to do so in an environment that encourages questions and relationship are more likely to be self determined. Questions are the basis of any communication and learning and crucial to the expression of a kid's autonomy , his competence and relationships with his world.

 A Social- Moral learning 
  Scenario:  Young kids are playing in a kindergarten. Boy 1 grabs the truck from   boy 2. Asking a question would be more appropriate.
Boy 1 – can I play with your truck ?                                                                                  Boy 2  -  No !                                                                                                                                        Boy 1 – why don't you want to let me play with your truck ?                                                           Boy2 – Because – I am scared you will break it , won't give it back when I want it , I        have nothing else to play with etc                                                                                Boy1 – If I will ………..etc , will you let me play with your truck ?

Questions are the basis of all communication. They also drive our thinking, exploration and problem solving , and meeting our needs.

In our desperate attempt to help kids get the ' right behaviors, skills and answers'  we end up promoting static intelligence - ABA -and not the dynamic intelligence - RDI -that kids need to mediate their social-moral and intellectual world. Instead of focusing on compliance and answers we should be teaching kids how to think critically and creatively -  and focus on helping them to ask questions. Questions are the keys to thinking and communication. Any dialog, conversation, negotiation, problem solving etc revolves around questions. Questions and curiosity also drive their learning.

In the CPS – collaborative problem solving process, we focus on questions, concerns, problems, unmet needs and not the solutions. Once we ask the right questions we are open to brainstorm many alternative solutions. People tend to place the emphasis on answers, so they come to the table and present their concerns in terms of answers and solutions. An answer or solution is just one of many possible solutions to a problem or concerns. This results in the dueling of solutions or negotiation, instead of problem solving.

There is a saying – a good question is half the answer. Questions will help us focus on defining the concerns and problems.

Traditional approaches to both social-moral and academic learning focus on how to motivate kids to give teachers and parents the behavior and answers the parents/teachers want.

Sometimes when we are walking with kids and taking in the surroundings, we don't want conversation but to highlight things we have noticed and help kids to reflect. Here we can use ' rhetorical questions' -  did you notice … did you see  …   etc or we may make short comments and pause – which is a nonverbal invitation for the kid to think or reflect about the comment.

Game :  End your communication with a question
In order to encourage the use of questions in dialog and conversations we can play a game with kids.  Conversation and discussion revolves around statements and questions , make sure you close your communication with a question .

When we drill down for kids  concerns in the CPS process we model asking questions –

1 the wh questions – why, who . with whom, over what, what, when, how etc 

2 can you tell me more , can you explain etc  

3 can you explain what you were thinking, feeling etc during the problem .
If kids have difficulty  ask yes/no questions and then ask for  elaboration.  
  4 when ( under what conditions )  do/don't you have this problem  
 5 can you break down the activity into its different parts – what is difficult for you

B Questions are the foundation of academic learning

'Questions define tasks, express problems and delineate issues. Answers on the other hand, often signal a full stop in thought. Only when an answer generates a further question does thought continue its life as such.
This is why it is true that only students who have questions are really thinking and learning. It is possible to give students an examination on any subject by just asking them to list all of the questions that they have about a subject, including all questions generated by their first list of questions.
That we do not test students by asking them to list questions and explain their significance is again evidence of the privileged status we give to answers isolated from questions. That is, we ask questions only to get thought-stopping answers, not to generate further questions.'  -