Human beings are, by nature, amazingly cooperative creatures. Together, we have accomplished feats unimaginable to our ancestors. I wonder what Thomas Edison would have thought if he could take a look at New York city, as it uses millions of his little light bulbs to illuminate the sky. Whereas most animals in the world live relatively similar lives generation after generation, we work together to dramatically change our lives for the better. It happens through cooperation.
It is human instinct to cooperate. When we were cavemen, it improved our chances at survival. Today, our entire society relies on it. I try to keep this in mind in my classroom.
Can You Hear Me Now?
As I'm sure is the case in any high school, my students have something that is almost as essential as oxygen: their cell phone. As a result, cell phones are a large distraction in the classroom. On the advice of a person I consider a master teacher, I told my classes that having a cell phone out will reduce their quarter grade by an entire point. 90s become 89s, 73s become 72s... 65s become 64s. Harsh penalty, but to get a person to part with their oxygen, you'll need to take drastic measures.
I began keeping record of who had a phone out. In reality, I was using the information to consider class participation grades, not deduct entire points off report cards. When I told a student I was taking a point, there was a sense of confrontation. I, the big mean teacher, was taking something from them. Therefore the student and I were at odds with each other. No one liked the point-off-your-average game, including me. I want my students to do well at least as well as they want to do.
One day, in a goofy mood, rather than scold a student for having their phone out, I exclaimed, "Oh no! Your point-sucking machine is out! Don't let it take a point from you!" The student laughed a little and quickly put the phone away. Suddenly I realized something important: now instead of confronting the student, I was cooperating with him. I wasn't exerting my teacherly power over him, I was helping him avoid the dangerous point-sucking machine! I was a hero, not a villain. Instead of confrontation I used cooperation.
A Philosophy For Any Situation
It's central to the concept of Social Story Songs. Rather than confront a child when a problem behavior emerges, we sing to them. We remind them of the song, which reminds them of the proper behavior. Helping a student avoid the point-sucking machine is similar. In both cases, we are cooperating and working together. I think cooperation should be central to any teaching or parenting method. After all, teachers, parents and children all want the same thing: whatever is best for the child. We should always look for positive and encouraging ways to accomplish that goal. Fostering a sense of cooperation is an excellent way to do it.