Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Olweus Anti-bullying program

I have been looking into the Olweus anti-bullying program. The information could be outdated.

T:   'Olweus has developed quite a bit in the last 20 years.  Most schools are attaching and aligning this program to their school-wide climate and positive behavioral support systems including instruction of specific skills for social and emotional development and learning including intrinsic motivation.'

AK:  I have been searching the internet - see the link below - to get an understanding of the Olweus  bullying program. The education world link below shows that the program stands on 2 legs – a discipline code with rules and consequences and strategies for improving the school climate.

I appreciate that schools can't overnight move completely away from rewards and consequences , it is a process .

What's happening in schools -  According to Dr Ross Greene – there is a growing appreciation  that zero tolerance policies are failing , but schools still do not know what to do .   There is an attempt to move away from punishment – towards ' logical consequences '  and positive behavioral support systems which rely heavily on praise , rewards etc  - control by seduction.

T : Because bullying is a safety issue there HAS TO be some external regulation of these behaviors.

Olweus supports a response system of what happens after these behaviors - including building relationships, empathy, skills and understanding of those exhibiting the bullying behavior, bystanders and those who are the recipients of those behaviors. 

I would argue that rather than "in contrast" to this program you consider that this is often in partnership with identification or integration of the value of being considerate and respectful toward others.

AK : I have said that change is a process and needs to be done slowly. Because an issue is a safety issue imho I don't think there has to be external regulation – it depends on what's happening on the ground. What are the external regulations -  supervision , rules and consequences.

Supervision has to be minimal , otherwise we can get a prison atmosphere and even if it is not quite like that , if kids have the feeling that they are being watched , the presence of external control undermines integration and commitment to social values.

'Olweus supports a response system of what happens after these behaviors '

  - but how are the behaviors themselves , the incidents dealt with.

Are consequences imposed on the bully , does he HAVE to pay for the damages he has done or do we follow the CPS – collaborative problem solving path -  first engage in problem solving addressing the bully's concerns – not behavior – putting the victim's /our concerns  on the table and then find mutually satisfying solutions . After that is done and the bully and victim have a vision of the future , the bully can be invited to engage in an autonomous way in the moral act of restitution , instead of the school imposing logical consequences on him.

Many schools discipline codes  have tier / level systems. For most of the school ,traditional discipline relying on external control ' works ' for most kids. Challenging kids are dished out PBS , positive behavioral supports – plenty of praise, rewards and top down skills training.

IMHO schools should be using collaborative problem solving with all kids, also empowering the 'victims' to solve their problems -  and inviting them to engage in restitution in an autonomous way. If the school models problem solving by giving consequences , it thus creates a ' structure ' that undermines kids commitment to values of caring and responsibility.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Bullying - Self Determination Theory , Collaborative problem solving

Bullying in schools can be explained by the fact that the needs of kids for autonomy, competence and relatedness are not being met.  Traditional approaches to bullying focus on behavior  - the symptoms of the underlying problems  - instead of  lagging skills and unmet concerns and needs of bullies , their victims and the student body as a whole.

The needs for competence can be addressed by using collaborative problem solving. Many cognitive skills are taught indirectly when using CPS.  Problems are solved in the context of the child's concerns and when he participates in finding mutually satisfying solutions . The process also supports the autonomy of the child. Traditional social skills training is top down skills training and ignores the 'concerns' of the child. Bullies are lacking the skills to have their needs being met and rewards, punishments and other consequences won't teach them lacking skills.

Relatedness  -  It is not enough to avoid external control and motivation and have trusting relationships between teachers and kids , schools need to move away from compliance and focus on  building a caring community of learners.  This framework supports kids' autonomy – being connected to their true inner selves , competence and relatedness. The fact that bullies were often bullied themselves , means that the need for relatedness was not being met , instead they were being emotionally tormented.

 According to Po Bronson – Nurtureshock 

 ' The science of bullying has shown that bullies feed off of bystanders’ reactions. While we might wish bystanders intervened, in fact all they have to do is turn their backs and stop rewarding the bully with their attention, because it’s attention that bullies seek. The worst thing bystanders can do is be a rapt audience'

It appears that the bully is using ' relatedness ' of other kids to support him in bullying the victim.

  Alfie Kohn          'Another reason why social skills training is unsuccessful is that social skills are taught ,' but not the traits of generosity , caring and altruism. Schools are rather competitive with no cooperative learning , kids ranked one against another, and academic and sports achievement glorified with award ceremonies. Schools themselves are under pressure of high stakes standardized testing and little time is left for promoting socio-moral learning or building a caring community of learners. We can't expect kids to internalize conflict resolution skills and values of community when the ' structure ' of school - the competitive nature and zero tolerance discipline policies go against collaborative solving of problems and cooperative learning needed to create a caring community of learners. In fact , since the introduction of zero tolerance discipline policies behavior problems have increased and kids feel less safer in schools. 

The finding that schools become less safe as a result of adopting zero-tolerance policies will sound paradoxical only to those readers who believe that threats and punishment can create safety. In reality, safety is put at risk by such an approach. A safe school environment is one where students are able to really know and trust – and be known and trusted by – adults. Those bonds, however, are ruptured by a system that’s about doing things to students who act inappropriately rather than working with them to solve problems. “The first casualty” of zero-tolerance policies “is the central, critical relationship between teacher and student, a relationship that is now being damaged or broken in favor of tough-sounding, impersonal, uniform procedures. '   Alfie Kohn

Po Bronson says that bullies are not lacking skills. In fact being a bully requires some sophisticated social skills. – see below

I still contend that they lack the skills to assert their leadership talents in appropriate ways. Bullying is also not an expression of autonomy , being connected to your true inner self and self worth.  The bully is not  acting like an autonomous subject giving to the world but rather taking from others.

Po Bronson
'What about negative interactions between peers?  It appears that being too protective can also have a negative effect.  A policy for "zero tolerance" (toward bullying at school) found that it had a negative effect on children.  Although bullying should not be accepted as a normal part of childhood, implementing a policy for "zero tolerance" is not the solution.  This is because children are young and they make mistakes.  Inflicting severe, automatic responses for these mistakes erodes their trust in authority figures.  The children end up being more fearful of "accidentally" breaking the rules which increases their anxiety.
There is a complex relationship regarding bullying among children.  Ironically, most of the meanness, cruelty and torment are not inflicted by the "bad" kids or those most commonly labeled as bullies.  They are mostly inflicted by the popular, well-liked, and admired children.  Contrary to the idea that non-aggressive children were simply being "good" children, it was theorized that these children merely lacked the savvy and confidence to assert themselves as often. 
Aggressiveness is used to assert dominance to gain control and protect status.  It is not necessarily the mark of a child who lack social skills but the contrary - it often requires a child to be extremely sensitive to his/her peers.  To be able to attack in a subtle and strategic way, the child has to be socially intelligent - the child needs to know just the right buttons to push to drive his/her opponent crazy. 
So if the popular kids are more aggressive, then why are they admired and held in such high regard?  Because they are seen as being independent and older because of their willingness to defy authority. Children who always conform to adult expectations are often seen as wimps.  However, this doesn't make the popular children worse.  These children not only use antisocial tactics for controlling their peers, they are adept at pro-social skills.  They cleverly deal the right balance of power (kindness and cruelty) to achieve what they want.
.  Peer aggression alone is not an accurate measure of social development.  By lumping children of a similar age together, we are forcing them to socialize themselves.  We have created an environment that drives children to seek peer status and social ranking and this sometimes involves the use of aggression.'    Po Bronson

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Education/Parenting - preparation for the real world

One of the concerns that parents and educators have with a ' working with ' approach which supports kids  autonomy is that in the real world you have to learn to take the consequences of your actions, be accountable and adaptive to the demands of the society. The home and school should be preparing kids for the real competitive, unsafe and not empathic world , by giving them coping skills, and not trying to see the world through the eyes of their kids but focusing on compliance so that they will be able to comply with the demands of a future boss. Etc

Schools thus justify competition, -the world outside is a competitive one-, give grades, awards, honor rolls, rank students, standardized testing, and  rewards, punishments, consequences  to get compliance.  The home should have clear rules and when rules are broken and infractions committed, there should be immediate consequences that fit the crime.  Privileges and love should be earned. There is a reciprocity, you need to give in order to get. In this way we are preparing kids for the real world.

John Dewey said that education is not a preparation for life , but life itself. Becoming a LLL – a life long learner with a growth mindset promises one a different quality of life. So we should focus on what it means to be well-educated.

Which kids are more well equipped to cope with the outside world -  those who know how to be compliant and follow instructions or those whose needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness are being met and they have good communication and collaborative problem skills.

 The world today is less 'control and compliance ' orientated than it was in the past. But even if kids end up in a controlling environment, it is those with collaborative problem solving skills who will cope better than a person who is just compliant. Competitiveness is no longer considered an asset in the business world. It is those people who can 'work with' and collaborate with others , learning and gaining from others while making a contribution, end up achieving the most in business.  It is those people who support the autonomy, competence and relatedness of others who are able to lead and inspire.

Traditional schools don't foster collaboration and cooperation skills. As Alfie Kohn says they teach kids to stand alone in a crowd, instead of learning how to work with and benefit from others. 
Docility, compliance , following instructions is valued.

 Responsibility is taught by allowing kids to make decisions , not by following instructions. Traditional schools ignore the whole child and instead of integrating learning into a multi-disciplinary framework , everything is compartmentalized into separate subjects.

 In real life we spend very little time with people of our own ages , progressive schools encourage interactions with kids of different ages. Progressive schools learn not only through discussion but also by doing and constructing modern knowledge. Students take responsibility for their learning and are intrinsically motivated rather than driven by grades and credentials. In their personal interactions and certainly in the work place they will be business leaders and managers who support the autonomy, competence and relatedness of their employees.

In any case the work, home and school environments are different and serve a different purpose. The home should be a safe haven of unconditional love and acceptance and relationships should not be ' contractual or reciprocal ' like those in a work environment. The learning environment focuses on the process , the work environment focuses on results and achievement.

If we see school and the home as place where kids are being prepared for their economic role , educational policies that put emphasis on test scores and a narrow curriculum, those espoused by politicians and business people ,will be the order of the day.  The truth is that education that promotes autonomy, competence and relatedness will not only foster LLLs, life long learners and responsible and caring people, but also creative and cooperative people in the work environment.


Saturday, November 12, 2011

Child Obesity - Unconditional Parenting and SDT self determined theory

In an article on childhood obesity Dr Arya Sharma quotes Whitaker RC (2011). The childhood obesity epidemic: lessons for preventing socially determined health conditions. Archives of pediatrics & adolescent medicine.

 He says that childhood obesity is a reflection on societal norms and values. The current way of living, consumerism-advertising, fast food and sweets diet ,  lack of community, and multiple stresses  contribute to obesity. Instead of following the conventional wisdom and target 'prevention' measures at kids when they are young, we need to change societal norms and values.

There is a lot of stress in the lives of kids. It is well known the connection between  stress and weight gain. The hormone cortisol converts muscle into fat to help us deal with stress, so strict dieting and exercise alone won't help if we do not change our  life styles  and reduce stress.

We also need to examine certain structures in society that contribute to consumerism and obesity.  The unlimited expose to advertising and unhealthy foods , especially sweets makes it very difficult for kids to make better and healthier choices .  Naomi Aldort says it is not about teaching kids to make better choices but rather creating an environment where kids can make choices.

'Choosing sugar is shaped by the addictive nature of sugar; it is not a free choice. When free to choose, the child knows what he needs. However, a child who “needs” candy or a movie is not free; the experience of candy or TV has created the illusion of a need. That which chooses is manipulated by the choice. The industry does a great job of manufacturing a sense of need.'

 In order to address the problem of obesity Dr Sharma quoting the  article  says ' both children and adults need to find purpose and meaning in life , which requires lifelong growth and development … autonomy , competence, mastery, self-acceptance, positive relations with others and transcending self through commitment or connection to something or someone.'

These words resonate with me , but I am afraid that one would need to read Alfie Kohn's Unconditional Parenting in order to put into practice  his suggestions.

AK in his UP book quotes Deci  and Ryan. Kids have the ability to make decisions in a way that meets their needs , they are equipped with a gyroscope of natural self regulation. When we control kids excessively – by using rewards and praise to get compliance- they start to become dependent on external sources of control. The gyroscope begins to wobble and they lose their ability to regulate themselves. Food consumption is a very literal example of this.

A parenting style that does not support ' autonomy ' will promote obesity in their kids, even if we provide   kids with restricted food choices and teach them about healthy eating. 

If we observe the eating patterns of kids over time, we notice how some days they hardly eat and then suddenly put away huge portions. If they eat something fattening, they will tend to eat less, or something   less caloric, afterward.  In terms of how much they eat then, children seem to have a remarkable capacity for self-regulation. Unless, that is , we try to run their bodies for them. 

In an experiment observing 77 kids between the ages of 2 and 4 and their parents, it was discovered that those parents who insisted their kids eat only during meal times rather than when they were hungry or who encouraged them to clean their plates, even when they obviously were not hungry, or who used food – especially deserts as a reward wound up with kids who lost their ability to regulate their caloric intake. Kids who had few opportunities to learn to control their own food intake came to stop trusting their bodies ' cues about when they were hungry . One result – many of them were already starting to get fat.    – Alfie Kohn  Unconditional Parenting

This claim – that people have lost the ability to self regulate -  to eat when they are hungry and stop when they are full – is the basis against traditional dieting. One does not learn to self regulate – eat when hungry and stop when full.

Another problem is that parents will bribe or 'incentivize '  kids in order to eat healthy food. In the Kefir drink experiment  ' good jobs '  and promises of reward  got kids to drink many glasses of this health drink .Some time later the kids were offered the drink without an incentive or praise  attached. Those kids who were previously praised for every time they downed a glass , now  did not touch the drink , those who received a reward had a limited interest , whereas those who did not receive any reward or praise gladly showed  interest in the drink and enjoyed themselves having the drink. The kids who did not receive any reward or verbal praise developed some intrinsic satisfaction and  motivation or a taste for the drink. Those kids who received rewards or praise initially drank a lot, but then lost interest in the drink.  – Alfie Kohn – Punished by Rewards

 In order to promote intrinsic motivation for healthy eating we should avoid any forms of reward, and  let kids participate not only in choosing food items but also help to prepare meals.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Libertarian Schooling and SDT

It is quite clear that traditional schools that focus on extrinsic motivators like grades to drive student learning ,  and rewards, consequences and punishments to deal with discipline problems and get compliance do not promote the autonomy, competence and relatedness needs of students. The transmission model or DI – direct instruction of teaching does not focus on students ' constructing ' their own knowledge and making meaning of their world as constructivist education does, ignoring the need for autonomy in learning.

The question is what about ' homeschoolers', ' un-schoolers,' non-traditional schools that have a libertarian bent.? Are they consistent with SDT principles?

Historically, education has been the responsibility of parents and kids were educated in a mainly informal way. Kids, from their early teens either worked in the home or with their parents or became apprentices and learned vocations while on the job. Kids that were academically gifted became scholars. More than 2000 years ago in Israel ,compulsory elementary schooling was introduced for kids from the ages of 6-7 in order to compensate for parents and address the more complex educational needs of kids. This means that schools are now partners with parents. Parents can focus more on informal learning.  See the kitchen as a classroom  -

Homeschooling is an alternative for a very small minority in the community. Homeschooling communities provide lots of opportunities for constructivist and cooperative learning and lots of social activities too. Some challenging kids do much better in this environment than in school.

Public education is the mainstream and people who are concerned with all children should not being doing their own thing , creating alternatives , but trying to become mainstream.

The alternatives have in common a distaste for traditional education , but what do they have in common?

Alfie Kohn finds a lot about ' libertarian ' education inadequate . I also think that  kids needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness are not addressed  adequately.

Alfie Kohn talks about the '  Trouble of Pure Freedom '  and the focus on the individual kid's learning , and  the lack of community – cooperative learning, that characterize libertarian schooling.

The libertarian worldview sees adult involvement as an authoritarian  restriction of personal autonomy. Total autonomy is not developmentally appropriate . Kids need guidance and many of them need structure at the same time that they need the opportunity to learn how to make good decisions.   –

In an essay on student choice , and the need to sometimes limit student choice.
AK says   ……….. on closer examination, however, it seems clear that what must occasionally be restricted is not choice but individual choice. (It is an interesting reflection on our culture that we tend to see these as interchangeable.)-  to affirm the importance of community does not at all compromise the right to make decisions, per se, or the importance of involving everyone in a class or school in such a process. In fact, we might say that it is the integration of these two values, community and choice, that defines democracy

We see from the above that a libertarian approach comprises ' competence ' , autonomy ' and relatedness.

Competence is compromised by the lack of structure , teacher stimulation and guidance, cooperative learning, collaborative problem solving, social and moral learning within a community.

Autonomy is compromised by limiting choice – one has more possibilities within a community - . True autonomy is the ability  to be self determined within the context of a community and other peoples' choices.

Relatedness is compromised by the lack of cooperative learning within a caring community, and a lack of teacher involvement.