Paid in Eyeballs

Many teachers have been speaking with me lately about how students have struggled to adapt to learning in the company of others once more since remote learning and all of the recent covid interruptions.  In particular, they’ve reported an increase in attention seeking behaviours.

Let’s deal with that.

There’s a motivator or currency behind every behaviour and attention is a common one.  The currency of these attention seeking missiles is eyeballs … and they needn’t necessarily be yours.  This is what makes dealing with them so tricky.  The moment we’re stuck in a conversation with a student making a song and dance of our instruction time, we’ve paid them with not only our own eyeballs but those of the rest of the class too.  It’s the perfect Catch 22.

And then we might seek to flip the situation on its axis by ignoring the behaviour, only finding that the missile ups the ante and amplifies their antics.  Bugger!

A better approach is to provide less (but not zero) currency than the effort they’ve gone to.

Let me give you an example.

A missile calls out during your clever instruction about adverbs, calculus, the ozone layer or whatever.  Look the student in the eye for no more than a second and raise a knowing hand.  Say “Unfortunately, I never listen to calling out” then quickly pour eye contact on a student listening attentively.

Say to that student “But I can most certainly listen to you.  I really appreciate that you’re demonstrating attention to this instruction.  Anything you’d like me to clarify?”

And never, EVER change the approach.  This is about outrageously boring and monotonous persistence.

There’s nothing wrong with any student seeking our regard … we just want them to do it the right way.

And if missiles only get 5c worth of attention for $1 worth of effort enough times … they’ll invest in a new strategy.

Keep fighting that good fight,

PS. This is exactly the type of low effort, but high return, strategy that I’ll be helping School Leaders know, implement and scale when I run “Leading Whole School Behaviour Improvement” in June/July in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth. You should come! Register for your city at this link.


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