If you’ve experienced any FranklinCovey PD or read Stephen R. Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, you are familiar with the concept of changing your paradigms. Our paradigms influence how we see the world. We use paradigms to explain the behavior of others while paradigms also shape our behavior.
In Psychology, we talk about this in another way — behavior attribution. We can attribute someone’s behavior to personal dispositions (he’s acting like a jerk because he’s always a jerk — that’s just who he is), or we can attribute their behavior to situational factors (he’s acting like a jerk because he’s under a lot of stress at the moment and he just received more bad news). The trouble with behavior attribution is we tend to overemphasize the personal factors to explain the behavior of others while underemphasizing the situational factors that might shape their behavior. For ourselves though, we overemphasize the situational circumstances and downplay our personal dispositions. This mismatch between how we attribute the behavior of others versus how we attribute our own behavior is a phenomenon known as the Fundamental Attribution Error. Once we recognize that we are prone to the Fundamental Attribution Error, we might start paying more attention to the situational influences on someone’s behavior. In other words, we shift our paradigm.
I experienced a paradigm shift while teaching when a student answered her cell phone in the middle of class. I encouraged students to bring their phones to class — in a school with limited technology, we used their phones as learning devices often, and I trusted students to handle their phones and manage their phone behavior appropriately. Though normally considered a rather patient person, having a student actually answer a phone call while I was teaching made me furious. I couldn’t believe this student could be so bold. In disbelief and frustration, I said, “You have got to be kidding me! What do you think you are doing??” My student held her phone to the side and told me quickly, “Mrs. McKay, it’s my mom. She’s calling from prison so I never know when she’ll call and we don’t get to talk much.”
All my righteous teacher anger dissipated immediately. I cringed and mouthed “Sorry!” while motioning for her to take her phone to the hall. When she was done talking to her mom, she came back into class. I apologized again and told her to just give me a signal next time, and it would be fine for her to take the call in the hallway. She was so relieved to know it was ok.
Understanding my student’s situation was a shift in my paradigm. I was able to see her behavior in a new focus. I better knew how to help her and teach her with that new understanding.
We don’t always have all the information we need when it comes to reaching our students or being their support. And we don’t always do the best job of asking for that information. One teacher, Kyle Schwartz, found a simple way to learn about her students’ situational factors with a post-it and the prompt, “I wish my teacher knew . . . “ — a practice that forever changed how she interacted with her students.
In our online courses, many of our instructors provide a “getting to know you” introductory survey to their students. They collect typical student data, but they also include questions asking about students’ interests outside of school. A favorite question many instructors ask is, “Is there anything else I should know about you?” or “Is there anything else you would like to share?” It’s incredible what one thoughtful question will reveal about your students.
In what ways have you experienced a paradigm shift? How does your new understanding shape how you view the world?