"Children exhibit challenging behavior when the demands being placed upon them outstrip the skills they have to respond adaptively to those demands. The same can be said of all human beings."
The above quote is attributed to Dr. Ross Greene (as are the rest in this post), a clinical child psychologist who has been trying to help teachers and parents understand what they see as misbehavior from their children or students. The first thing that I like about the quote is that he expands the idea to all human beings. Something that I've learned while teaching is that it's no use at all treating my students like some subset of humans that have different dreams and desires and needs than myself.
This quote is in reference to the explanations traditionally given as to why people misbehave. If one believes that those who exhibit difficult behavior are doing so because they are manipulative or coercive or something then you will view them in a more negative light. However if one believes that everyone wants to do well, and that misbehavior is better explained as a lack of the skills to do well than there is an inherent sense of compassion. This is a much better place to start and a more helpful way to address the behavior than a negative place.
"When do you look bad? When you can't look good"
As above, the things that I'm learning about when I learn about my students are applicable to the rest of humans. The above quote is true of myself. I can remember times when I let people down, made an offensive joke, or embarrassed myself. In none of these situations was I trying to look bad, I just made a mistake or misread the situation. I must believe that the same is true of my students. People do well if they can. In this perspective misbehavior is nothing malicious but a lack of ability or skill to do the right thing. Greene says that from this perspective ones role is no longer trying to make a difficult person do the right thing but figuring out what's getting in that person's way and helping them get rid of it. This is a much more collaborative and compassionate perspective and the one I prefer to take.
From the perspective described above one becomes a partner in problem solving with the person that you are trying to help. This is already vastly preferred to being the teacher trying to make a student do what you want. As someone who is empathetic and compassionate and involved in helping solve a problem I feel way more engaged and helpful than if I'm telling someone why they're wrong or doing the wrong thing.
Philip Estrada is a teacher at High Tech High Media Arts in San Diego California. He teaches Physics by having kids build things in a woodshop.