What’s Behind the Behavior?

When I was teaching, each child in the classroom acted differently. Their behaviors were a way of communicating: of sharing thoughts, feelings, and needs that were maybe not being met. As leaders, we can look at our teams similarly to how children act in classrooms. Look closely at your team and think of their behaviors. A close exploration of their actions can help you understand their beliefs and so much more. Elena Aguilar talks about transformational coaching and the 3B’s, behaviors, beliefs, and being. She talks about behaviors (instructional practices and skills) leading to effective practice, exploring the beliefs (about teaching, learning, children, and families) that you operate from, and ways of being, “the ways in which our sense of self and identity impact our experience”. What is your team telling you, both as individuals and as a group through their behaviors? 

Questions to ask as you observe your team:

  • What is the need behind their behavior? We have some basic needs and when they are not being met, we display a variety of behaviors, even in the workplace. 
  • What is the belief behind the behavior?
  • Do you see any patterns?
  • Do you see inequities?
  • Are there behaviors you want to change? 
  • Are there behaviors that you want to promote?

When you notice a behavior that you want to minimize or eliminate, such as indirect or unclear communication, here are some steps you might take.

  • Watch closely and define the behavior clearly without judgement. What is the behavior?
  • Look for patterns of this behavior: Who does it? When does it occur? Is there a specific trigger?
  • Be curious. Ask questions.
  • What is the alternative behavior that you want your team or the individual to display?

Possible approaches to redirecting the behavior:

  • Direct conversation: When the behavior you want to change is with one individual, direct conversation is a good approach.
  • Goal setting: When the behavior is attributed to more than a few people, then you have a pattern. Goal setting for your team can be helpful here.
  • An Effective System/Cycle for Evaluation: Make sure your institution has an effective system for evaluation that is centered on continuous growth. 
  • Setting intentions for the team is critical. You set the tone as the leader. You set the expectations for behavior on your team. You can do this through faculty meetings, communications, and through modeling your own behavior. Your behavior also sends a clear message to the team about your beliefs and ways of being.
  • Follow up and documentation are vital. After the intervention you choose to disrupt the behavior, make sure to follow up with a documented plan so everyone is on the same page about how to move forward, grow together, and support one another. 
  • Reflection and Centering Student Growth. Think about what actions you are seeing and how they are impacting students. Are there assumptions leading to inequitable outcomes? Remember, students are at the center of all we do in schools.

When I was in the classroom, the more I understood my students’ behaviors, the better we were able to communicate, build relationships, and ultimately create a trusting and safe community.  When I was a Division Director, the same principles applied. So, it is important to remember that we are all human beings and that there are beliefs, thoughts, and feelings behind each of our behaviors. Take the time, as a leader, to observe, look for patterns, and work towards shaping your team. It is time well spent.