Monday, June 24, 2013

Negative Need vs Positive Need

Sometimes something you read just brings a certain clarity to a feeling you have had but have not been able to put in to words. 

The source of this graphic is related to adult relationships but I couldn't help but think of student "behaviour" as I looked at this.  It also reminded me of this post about a high school that is trying a new approach to managing behaviours in Walla Walla, WA.  By simply responding to student behaviour with the following statement, staff would be able to change the conversation from negative need to positive need....
“Wow. Are you OK? This doesn’t sound like you. What’s going on?” He gets even more specific: “You really looked stressed. On a scale of 1-10, where are you with your anger?”
Bascially, ignore the inappropriate behaviour and get to the source of it.  Name the feeling and try to figure out what is going on.  Keep the focus on the root of it rather than giving someone an out by creating a confrontation or worrying about compliance or "respect".  Keep yourself out of it. As soon as you put yourself and your emotions and opinions in to it, that person who is struggling to the point of displaying inappropriate behaviours has an "out" and can focus on negative needs rather than work through to defining the positive need. 

It expands the idea of "positive behaviour supports" beyond just reinfocing desired behaviours and ignoring undesired ones.  It brings it from extrinsically motivated to intrinsically motivated.  It ensures that the person who is upset is heard and treated with dignity and respect.  And when we treat others this way, in time (sometimes lots of time), they will treat us that way... not because they fear consequences but becuase they feel good enough about themselves to be able to do that. 

It is obviously an approach rooted in conversation and it makes sense with a student who "has the ability" to have a conversation. The question is how can we apply the same approach to a student who has complex communication needs or students who have processing challenges that result in not being able to "come up" with answers to questions involved in a conversation like this. I think a tool like this "I am upset because... You can help me by..." book created by Kate Adhern from Teaching Learners with Multiple Special Needs is a great place to start in thinking through the answer to that question.  It speaks to assuming competence and believing that all students are capable of problem solving and gaining intrincially motivated self-regulation skills. We just need to figure out how to compensate for the communication, processing or recall bariers that exist for some students.

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