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The Best, The Worst and The OK

Author: Kathleen Nelson-Simley Posted: Friday - October 4, 2019

In my last blog I wrote about the importance of setting “standards” of behavior with student input as a more effective way of increasing positive student behavior than having “rules” established by you.

Establishing standards for getting along with students can be done with late elementary through high school age. Consideration needs to be given to the age of the students when determining the process you will use for establishing the standards.

For example, elementary age students are concrete thinkers. They see their world as being black or white. A behavior is either good or bad, right or wrong and acceptable or unacceptable. Having them come up with two lists of standards for getting along – the things we should do and the things we shouldn’t do – would be age-appropriate.

As students move into the middle school years they begin to transition from concrete to abstract thinking. The black and white world as they once saw it in elementary school begins to look different. Behaviors they believed were either right or wrong don’t seem to be as clean cut. A gray area or middle ground appears and some behaviors they believed were good or bad now might be seen as being, “ok.”

When establishing standards for getting along with middle and high school students it’s important to ask them to create three lists of behaviors – the best, the worst and the ok. When you give older students the opportunity to create these three lists it won’t be difficult for them to still think of the best and the worst behaviors when it comes to getting along. These two lists will be the longest of all three.

What are common behaviors middle and high school students see as being the best? Here are a few examples:

  • Give compliments
  • Share or participate
  • Have a positive or good attitude
  • Express your own opinion
  • Be open to other’s ideas
  • Respectfully disagree
  • Have one person talk at a time
  • Listen to others when they are talking
  • Keep each other on task

Here are common behaviors middle and high school students see as being the worst when it comes to getting along:

  • Making rude comments about someone or something they said
  • Giving “put downs” through your actions (e.g. rolling your eyes)
  • Never sharing or not participating
  • Talking too much
  • Talking about other people than yourself
  • Having a bad attitude
  • Everyone talking at one time
  • Not listening
  • Goofing off or not paying attention

When it comes to creating a list of getting along behaviors that are “ok” it will be challenging for middle and high school students to do. They will eventually come up with ideas, but the list will be the shortest of all three.

Common “ok” getting along behaviors for middle and high school students include:

  • Agree to disagree
  • “Pass” on sharing once in a while
  • If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all

There are good reasons to ask middle and high school students to think of what is “ok”, as much as what is “good” and “bad”, when it comes to getting along with one another. It impresses the point that most of our behaviors are going to land in one of two categories – the “good” or the “bad.” This point is proven even more by how long their lists of behaviors will be for these two categories. The “ok” list also gives kids permission to land in the middle once in awhile, but not often, given how short the list of behaviors will be.

In next week’s blog I will introduce you to an activity you can facilitate with elementary age students and another one for middle and high school students that are age-appropriate and encourages them to create their own lists of standards for getting along.