Step 4: Establish Operating Procedures for School
The final step in organizing the school extension of the program is to work out the operating procedures and to make sure that your child, the teacher, and you each understand your specific responsibilities.
First, your child is responsible to take the card to school each day and to place it wherever the teacher requests.
Second, the teacher is responsible to record the child’s successes for each item on the chart by writing her initials in the appropriate place on the card. Since how the teacher carries out this responsibility can greatly impact the effectiveness of the program, keep these points in mind:
- Ask the teacher to use her initials since they are easy for her and do not tempt the child to fudge as check marks or entering a zero might.
- Emphasize the important of not focusing on items not completed successfully, since attention to a failure can increase the likelihood that it will occur again; instead, ask the teacher to minimize any comments and to leave a blank on the chart for any item not completed successfully.
- Encourage the teacher to keep the card free of extraneous information, including notes about misbehavior, since they could distort the success-oriented program. Ask her to communicate to you in some other fashion about concerns not addressed on the card.
Third, at the end of each school day, your child is responsible to pick up the card from the teacher, directly from her hands if possible. When the teacher passes the card indicating successes for the day to the child, the chances are very good that she will offer a smile and some praise for any successes, thus providing extra social reinforcement.
While some teachers might suggest the school card come home weekly, there is good reason to stress having your child bring it home each day.
A ten-year-old girl showed great and consistent improvement from her challenging behavior at home, but even a few weeks into the program her school behavior showed a confusing pattern. Review of her school cards for five weeks, when lined up for comparison, showed:
Mondays – Near perfect success for all items
Tuesdays – Somewhat less success
Wednesdays – Little or no success
Thursdays – Somewhat more success, much like Tuesdays, and
Fridays – Near perfect successes, much like Mondays.
All attempts to understand were fruitless until I learned that the child was given her school chart to bring home only on Fridays. Discussion revealed that because of some reward on the weekend, she was eager to do well at the beginning of the week, but, lacking any feedback, her interest waned by the middle of the week. Then her interests were revived as she anticipated getting her card and the extra credits she’d earned toward a reward on the coming weekend. Upon learning this, the parents and teacher agreed to change to a daily turn-around for the card, and from then on the child did very well all through the week.
Daily turn-around of the chart bypasses such problems. Further, it lessens the chances that the teacher will neglect timely completion of the chart, thereby also lessening the chances of errors in recording.
– – – – – – – – –
Don’t worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you.
– – – – – – – – –
Many parents become doubtful at about this point, sure that their children are not responsible enough to bring the card home. They note that their children lose their lunches, forget homework, occasionally come home with only one shoe, and never bring home school papers. While basing expectations on past performance typically makes sense, the school extension of your home program is different enough from other parts of your lives that such expectations may well be off target here. In practice, almost all children on this program do bring their cards home, in part at least because many of them view the card as “money in the bank,” more valuable even than real money or other possessions. Even children who regularly lose their lunch money tend to get their cards home. The likely reason is that the card represents a direct link to both the material reward associated with the program (which is, at best, what money represents) and the more valued parental social reinforcement, something even money can’t buy.
“Okay,” you may say, “that might be right for other people’s children, but you’ve never met our guy. He’ll never follow through.” If you remain unconvinced and concerned that your child won’t bring the card home, you have a tool to remedy the situation readily at hand. Simply add an item to your home program. For example:
Elijah, you are successful when you bring your school card home and give it to Mom before our daily review meeting.
The worst that can happen by adding this item is that you may end up providing reinforcement the child really didn’t need, not a big thing at all.
Fourth, when the card comes home from school each day, you are responsible during your daily review to use the information from the card as a substitute for your own observations. When you are going through your home chart and you get to the school items, consult the school card, praise your child for successes, record the appropriate credits on your home chart, and continue your review as usual.
Fifth, remember that the principles underlying this approach apply to teachers as well as the rest of us. With that in mind, make it a point to reinforce the teacher for working with you on the school portion of your program. A call after the first day or two and a nice note by the end of the first week would be good ideas. After a couple of weeks, a note to the teacher’s principal, with a copy to the teacher, commenting on your gratitude might be especially appreciated and therefore effective. And while you are at it, make sure that you recognize your own success in making this effective and take time to do something special to reward yourself.
It will not be difficult to apply this same approach to other situations when you cannot be with your child. Use each of the steps to establish an extension to your home program, working with whomever (coach, sitter, grandparent, neighbor, etc.) will be caring for the child, and you will be able to maintain your influence toward teaching responsible behavior wherever your child happens to be.