By Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller
"My dad went bowling last night and my backpack is in his truck."
"She did it to me first."
"My mom forgot to sign it."
"The homework helpline didn't say it was due."
"Somebody must have taken it."
"It's not my fault that I'm late."
Excuses. There are as many excuses as there are students to use them. Some are new. Others are old and overused. Some are downright cute and clever. Yet, they all have something in common. Students use them to excuse their failure to handle responsibility in a given situation.
Are you tired of student excuses? Do you wish they would go away? Do you want to end them in your classroom? Why not apply the One Minute Behavior Modifier to the excuse-giving behavior of your students? That's what Sally Chapman, who teaches in a small town in Wisconsin, did with her eighth-grade special education students. And she is more than pleased with the results.
Sally is a veteran professional educator who has experienced the transition from self-contained classes to the inclusive model. She can see the pros and cons of both delivery systems. Regardless of the educational structure, her main concern remains the attitude of learned helplessness shown by many of her students. So Sally works hard to help her students see themselves as capable, skilled, and responsible. That's why she gets frustrated with excuses.
"My students are notorious for making excuses for any given situation," she says. "They blame others for the choices they made, late assignments, not getting to class on time, missing a detention, etc." Fed up with excuses, Sally decided to take action. She created a One Minute Behavior Modifier statement and planned to use it with her students every time she heard an excuse. Her statement follows:
Richard, that is an excuse. I don't accept excuses in this classroom because if I accepted excuses I would be encouraging you to disown responsibility for the actions and choices you are making. What we do in this classroom instead of offering an excuse is accept responsibility for the choices we make by saying, "I chose that behavior and am responsible for the consequences."
Sally rehearsed the One Minute Behavior Modifier and her new approach to making excuses before she put it into practice. When she went to class the next day she was prepared and motivated.
It didn't take long for Sally to get an opportunity to put her new approach to use. During her second-hour class, a student offered an excuse for being late. Sally responded calmly, "Sara, that is an excuse. I don't accept excuses in this classroom because if I accepted excuses I would be encouraging you to disown responsibility for the actions and choices you are making. What we do in this classroom instead of offering an excuse is accept responsibility for the choices we make by saying, 'I chose to be late and am responsible for the consequences.'"
The student looked at her teacher with a puzzled expression. She didn't know how to respond. Other students looked up and the situation led to a discussion with the resource class about taking responsibility for your choices and actions.
Sally used the One Minute Behavior Modifier several more times that week. "Several of my students gave me the deer-in-the-headlights look," she said. "They weren't quite sure how to react to my statement." Sally's new approach to excuse-giving gave her students something to think about. Often, they turned away, processing the information they had just received from their teacher. One student, after numerous attempts at making excuses, finally gave up and said, "All right, you caught me. Now what?" That led to another important class discussion on how we all like to "get out" of uncomfortable situations and the ways we attempt to do that.
Sally demonstrated over time that excuse-giving wasn't going to work with her. Since students usually choose behaviors that work, her eighth graders gradually reduced their frequency of offering excuses and took increased responsibility for their choices.
"I'm pleased with how well they reacted to my new approach," Sally says. "And I'm pleased with myself for remembering to do it. I feel less stressed about the whole situation. With this new technique I don't feel drained trying to get them to face reality with one of my long lectures."
What Sally demonstrated is that changing negative behaviors in students does not have to be a time-consuming process. Implementing the One Minute Behavior Modifier is a quick and effective way to reduce excuse-giving in your classroom.
If you're telling yourself that you're too busy to use this strategy, your principal won't let you, or your teaching partner doesn't believe in it, you are making excuses. Tell yourself, "Self, that is an excuse. I don't accept excuses from myself because if I accepted excuses I would be encouraging myself to disown responsibility for the actions and choices I am making. What I do in this classroom instead of offering an excuse is accept responsibility for the choices I make by saying, 'I chose not to implement the One Minute Behavior Modifier and I am personally responsible for the consequences.'"
Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller are the authors of The 10 Commitments: Parenting with Purpose. Chick Moorman is also the author of Spirit Whisperers: Teachers Who Nourish a Child's Spirit. Both books are available at www.personalpowerpress.com. Chick and Thomas also publish a FREE e-mail newsletter for teachers and another for parents. Subscribe to them at www.chickmoorman.com or www.thomashaller.com.