Partnership for Whole School Change



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............................................     HELPING SCHOOL STUDENTS               ...........................................OVERCOME HABITS THAT UNDERMINE     ............................................................TEACHING AND LEARNING  
                                     "If you create an act, you create a habit. If you create a habit,                                                                          you create a character. If you create a character, you create a destiny."                                                                                                                                                                    André Maurois

Thirty-five years ago, evaluators discovered that the Tribal Rhythms Celebration, a performance for schools, had the qualities of a psychological test.  It could reveal if a student harbored a habitual impulse to help or undermine their student body’s efforts to be a team that could govern itself.  For over 35-years and in over 2200 K-6 schools of every socioeconomic class, our artist/educators have observed, managed, and worked on these habitual impulses. The dev- elopment of our Healthy Habits Initiative was inspired by the connections made between these observations and the science of human personality.  To learn more about this strategy, visit the following web pages:











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Two developments made the Healthy Habits Initiative possible. The first development was the need for schools to turn behavior that disrupted instruction into teaching and learning opportunities. This approach to improving school climate reverses the tendency of our schools to keep academic and school climate lessons separate.  This compartmentalization of the students’ academic experience undermines the holistic, integrative thinking a twenty-first century economy requires. Also, school subjects have to be combined, because there is simply not enough time in the school year to compartmentalize what needs to be taught. 

When, language arts, the performing and visual arts, and social skills lessons are connected, each lesson is both teaching and reinforcing the other subjects mentioned, and learning is placed in a contexts that better reflects the real world. Here is a possible strategy for integrating subject matter in a way that reflects this Healthy Habits strategy.

  • With help from adults and students, a social skills and language arts strategy is created that establishes a school or classroom environment that works with the the students to free them from their destructive habits.
  • This new environment uses performing and visual art media to give students experiences that are charged with emotion in a place where they can constructively vent and express emotion.
  • Students share their feelings with their peers and teacher in ways that improve their visual art, performance, speaking, and writing abilities. While making these gains, the  students are working together to  overcome their dysfunc- tional habits.

The second development was the need for teachers to understanding their students’ personalities better.  To overcome challenges, educators have a compelling need to understand the reason, meaning, and organization of their students’ personalities. If the knowledge of our students’ per- sonalities were more accurate and useful, more of them would be better positioned for success in life. We encourage schools to place habits at the center of their school climate strategy. Using habits as a conceptual framework is effective, because students, teachers, and parents use the term. This gives the teachers the conceptual leverage to receive the home and school support they will need.

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The goal of this strategy is to help school students change habitual behaviors that undermine their preparation to humanely succeed in the global marketplace. To overcome this challenge, students need habits that help them pay attention in class and work with their peers to make their class a group that regulates its self. Every educator knows that sophisticated academic teaching is not possible in an educational environment where the student body’s ability to govern itself and focus on the lesson are weak.

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The PWSC defines the personality as being, an organized aggregate of psychological processes and states (Ralph Linton). This definition provides a framework for discussing how school community members behave while doing school activities.  It reduces the use of hear say and increases the use of experiences school members actually have with each otherThis definition is also easy to understand and use, it has an open ended quality, and it has been effectively used in the field for 70 years.

When we experience our students' psychological processes and states, we may  conclude that they have an industrious, lazy, mean, cooperative, disruptive, or good natured personality. When making this assessment, we often make errors. For instance, we may believe that our students are the attributes listed above.

Actually, what we are witnessing is each student’s unique way of reproducing her or his past experiences.  This says little about the student's innate abilities, but it does tell us a lot about the past environmental forces influencing the student's behavior.  Also, the behavior we are seeing helps educators detect whether or not the student’s school, home, and community cultures are in sync.  If these cultures are clashing, the resulting environments they spawn will tend to establish dysfunctional habits

Since our students' socialization began before school, we can assume that they entered school with a repertoire of organized psychological processes that we call habits (Ralph Linton).  Ralph Linton defines habits as automatic responses that have been tested by the individual and found to be effective in dealing with life’s situations and stresses. 

An influence on whether a habit becomes helpful or hurtful is when life situations take away the students' ability to realize three psychological needs that are universal for all humans and have to somehow be satisfied:

  • emotional responses from others;
  • long term security; and 
  • access to novel experiences. (Ralph Linton)

Another influence on whether a habit becomes helpful or hurtful is the social status, economic power, and social support a student receives when grappling with stressful life situations.  On the basis of the information above, the development of each student's habits can be summed up as follows.

1. A person consciously develops adequate behavioral responses to life’s situations and stresses (Ralph Linton).  An infant is raised in an adult created environment where its members model not listening but talking at and over others. If this environment is persistent, the child starts receiving triumphant and pleasurable sensations whenever it successfully talks at and over others. These sensations are associated with a class of organic chemicals that are released by neurotransmitters or nerve .cells that send signals to other nerve cells.  These chemicals (triggered by dopamine) play a role reinforcing behavior by providing the emotional content that commits humans to perform behaviors that are essential to the socialization process (David H. Skuse and Louise Gallagher). Both constructive behaviors (listening to others) and destructive behaviors (verbally abusing others), when socially approved and rewarded, often elicit a pleasurable .“high.”  This helps explain why the child above enters school feeling that there is no point in listening, while another classmate enters school feeling that listening is important and worth trying to do better.

2. The person unconsciously turns these behaviors into automatic responses (habits). This reduces the psychological energy and stress of having to constantly produce them (Ralph Linton). To survive in this adult created environment, the child becomes an adolescent who must become skilled in orchestrating verbal interaction. Also, to dominate others verbally and receive the “high” this person is unconsciously addicted to seeking, he or she must reduce an ever-increasing.number of verbal strategies to automatic responses, in order to spar with and talk at competitors without having to be slowed down by thinking.

3. the person manages real or imaginary life stresses by unconsciously and automatically producing the habitual responses that have been previously established (Ralph Linton). The child becomes a student and later an adult who reflexively and often unconsciously talks at and over others and avoids listening and paying attention to what others are trying to communicate. When other people are talking, this person is so compulsively focused on what he or she is planning to say that hearing others is not possible.  It is extremely difficult for this person to listen even when he or she knows that they have to do it to survive. These unconscious habits take on a life of their own as they are triggered in situations where they sabotage the person's ability to succeed in school, in the workplace, and in personal and family relationships.

Whether the habits are helpful or hurtful, they all pass through the three developmental phases above.  Cultural anthropologists have observed that these three developmental phases are universal; they take place within every human being in every sociocultural system (Ralph Linton).  Habits often determine whether a student addresses conflicts violently or peacefully, studies or fakes it, or disrupts or facilitates learning. By taking habits and reverse engineering them, they can tell us about the student and adult experiences that formed the habit. 

Demanding that students with disruptive habits be responsible or issuing slogans and behavioral guidelines are poor tactics when dealing with disruptive habits. We adults have to understand that we are demanding these students to give something they do not have. How can they be responsible when they have lost the ability to respond or respond with the consistency required to realize academic success? 

Observing these students tell us that they are overwhelmed by disruptive habits.  They need the adults in their lives to step up and help them.  But to be part of the solution, we adults have to break our habit of blaming students for not paying attention, disrupting the class, not participating in class, and so forth.

Teachers and parents have to work together to change their school space use, schedules, practices, and rules to accommodate the new reality these habits present. They need to develop school practices that helps students understand their habits as not being them, but something that was given to them that controls them. Students have to see adults as working with them to help them free themselves from the habit's control. Lessons, especially language arts and performing arts lessons need to be designed that make students more aware of unconscious thoughts and impulses that trigger your students' dysfunctional habits. Adults need to realize that they, not students, created the environments that gave our students dysfunctional habits; therefore it will take adults working with students to create the environments students will need to learn functional habits.

We also need to find ways to reconnect and strengthen the link between the school culture and each school member’s home and community culture. As previously stated, school, home, and community cultures need to be somewhat in sync if there is not to be habits that undermine teaching and learning.  One reason upper middle class schools have fewer behavioral problems in school is that their home, community, and school cultures are more in sync. K-12 schools in working and underclass communities tend to fight against home and community cultures placing them wildly out of sync. If we educators have a greater understanding of our students’ habits and the cultures that inform the student's school, home and community cultures, we can reduce the conflicting patterns that keep these three cultures out of sync. This understanding will be a giant step towards our students becoming adult citizens who are prepared to humanely succeed in the global marketplace.

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School staff must not be fooled by the marginal gains they may obtain by accommodating, deflecting, or skillfully managing these destructive habits.  The habits remain, and we educators maybe the last hope these students have to overcome them.  Today, too many of our school students have habits that so color their sense of themselves, others, and the world that they may be at risk. Their habits also create a classroom culture of low self and group esteem, because the chaos these disruptive students cause can teach the rest of the class that they cannot accomplish anything significant or special. 

There is a war within these students.  A part of them wants to succeed in school and assume their adult status and role in society, but part of them wants to continue to employ the dysfunctional habits they brought to school. What these school students need is for the adults to help them:

  • establish a highly structured class community that counters the dysfunctional behaviors learned in previous social environments, and give the students the tools to successfully struggle against habits that undermine their learning;
  • create relationships with classmates, teachers, artists, and parents that are more authentic and caring, and bring school and home culture closer together to reduce the development of negative habits; and
  • understand and appreciate their habits, so students can strengthen the constructive ones and overcome the destructive ones.

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...................................................“Success is achieved when the classroom community changes    .................................................their classroom culture for the better, giving all its members the                ...........................................opportunity to be positively changed by the culture they have created.”                                                                                                                                                                                       J. Curtis Jones

Our methodology is to work with students to create a classroom community that is designed to overcome destructive habits.  To accomplish this, the school, teachers, artist/educators, and parents need to work together to take four doable action steps that are presented below. The plan begins with the establishment of a classroom council. It governs the classroom and makes decisions concerning classroom life. The council also has a judicial function based on a restorative justice model that judges disputes and transgressions. The council is run by students, their teacher, their parents, a lead teacher, and an artist/educator.  They will use meetings, virtual media, telephones, and home visits to manage the council and its functions.

The council’s purpose is to coordinate and manage the resources, effort, and time required to build a classroom community that is able to:

  • close the sensitivity and knowledge gap between the school culture and the students’ family and community culture;
  • separate the scholar from his or her dysfunctional habits by praising and acknowledging each scholar’s potential and genius while challenging his or her destructive habits;
  • make destructive habits too costly to maintain by requiring students to take responsibility for and restore what their habitual behaviors destroyed; and
  • engage students with curricula that brings the scholar’s feelings and thinking together — Cognitive Affective Coupling. These curricula engage the students’ whole-body and integrate a school’s academic, social, and artistic subjects.  The Tribal Rhythms’ Focodaba dance and music classes, and the follow-up lessons for teachers model how this can be accomplished.

The council’s first task and agenda item will be to reach agreement on the core values that will guide its actions. As the parents, teachers, and students participate in the classroom council, the students’ school, home, and community cultures are being brought closer together.  The strategy integrates the council and other habit changing lessons into the language arts curriculum in order to motivate disruptive students to treat these habit changing lessons seriously.  We notice that the status of the lessons in the students eyes increases when they realize that teachers are reviewing these lessons with them and grade each lesson.

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The school's major players will each have their own set of different action steps that they will be instituting simultaneously:

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