Building Better Behavior – Recap Part I
By Holly Cromer
Everyone wants to master the behaviors in their classrooms. I am highly trained in the area of behavior modification and behavior analysis. I spent the last years of my career working with children aged three through five who had already been “diagnosed” with multiple significant behavior disorders. Truly, a huge part of what I did was founded on the principles of behavior modification and analysis. What I found was, that God was me to focus more on how He dealt with me and my behavior, and to apply the lessons I relied heavily upon in my daily walk. The most important concepts were mercy and grace, grace and mercy…….over and over again. You see, I greedily came to expect God’s grace and mercy. I knew that salvation was His gift for me and I gladly accepted it. Much more subtly, I appropriated for myself, grace (getting what I did not deserve) and mercy (not getting what I deserved). These words echoed in my ears on a very regular basis, every day, all during the day, until I came to my senses and asked God to help me apply His basic principles in the classroom.
The first, and most important application that He gave me was the concept, “the land of second chances”. How could I keep allowing the God of unlimited, unconditional love to treat me EVERY SINGLE TIME as if it were the first, because of forgiveness, and not do the same for these children in my class. There is such a cloud hanging over them, not only because of all their diagnoses, but because they live in such a state of never-ending, limitless error and flaw. Yes, their reputation was immense. Yes, their ability to frustrate us was tireless. Yes, they exhibited behaviors of commission and omission, with intention and often without planning. Regardless, the God Who endlessly welcomed this prodigal child of His with love, with open arms, without panic in His eyes, wanted the same for these children. It became my focus to start each day fresh, as if nothing had happened the day before. Please know this, the day before may have included furniture being throw at me, biting, fighting, offensive language, and being spit on – in my face. “But God” had a higher plan, a higher calling…… “The Land of Second Chances.”
The second application God had in mind for me was that we needed to be more in tune with the deep social-emotional and even spiritual needs of the children with whom we work. We need to keep in mind that we were chosen and called to this particular classroom, for these particular children, without any contingencies or judgements. These children were my mission. I needed to continuously apply grace and mercy because of any number of traumatic experiences they brought to the table. The theories of childhood trauma were becoming a very important part of working with children such as the ones in my classroom, but should really be liberally applied to all children. You see, we used to say things like, “he got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning” or we assigned blame to the parents for not getting them to bed early enough, or not feeding them a good breakfast. The reality is, however, that we rarely know all that has impacted a child. We may have suspicions but may not even know the whole ugly truth. There are studies on early childhood trauma that not include things such as prenatal lack of care and nutrients, lack of prenatal bonding, and difficult births. We no longer think that it is just the fetal alcohol syndrome or babies born addicted that are the problem. Add to this, failure to thrive, neglect, and all manner of and you will begin to see the big picture. All of these were true for these students of mine, but you need to know that the opioid epidemic is incredible pervasive and you may never know what impacted any given child. Based on all of this, I knew God was calling me to establish new foundations of learning – to be more intentional, starting in the cradle if possible, to address character and social-emotional development, and even spiritual foundations (which I had to generalize for my public school setting.) We who are in faith based settings need this to be our higher calling, and we need to be mindful of our own spiritual foundations so we can set the tone and be living examples of a living faith.