Lucky and Unlucky Behaviours

By Jan Gaffney – Principal

Last term, while I was on sabbatical, I went to the states and attended two international conferences and visited schools. I was looking at established high schools mainly and what they were doing to ensure their programme fitted the needs of the students and stayed true to Montessori philosophy. More on that later.

The first conference I attended was in Austin, Texas and was the NAMTA adolescent colloquium where high school teachers from all over get together once a year to discuss what is happening. This was an amazing conference and joined with the AMI refresher, so there were teachers of all ages there. There were close to 1000 attendees all up and we joined together for the key note each day before going off to our own workshops.

The first keynote was Dr Ross Greene. His talk was fascinating and worth sharing in my opinion. Dr Greene isn’t a Montessorian, but what he said reverberated with me and with the other Montessorians in the room.

His talk started with us all agreeing that children want to do well. Then he told us that while many people thought children did well if they wanted to, his research and that of others, proved that children did well when they were able to.

He then talked to us of some children having lucky behaviours and others having unlucky behaviours.  He said both of these behaviours were designed to tell us that the children weren’t able to do what was asked, but the difference was that some children showed us this in a more socially acceptable way than others, leading to the terms ‘lucky’ and ‘unlucky’ behaviours.

He described lucky behaviours as crying, raising a hand, whining (though I didn’t necessarily agree with that one), complaining, sulking, withdrawing, asking for help, etc. Unlucky behaviours were described as hitting, biting, screaming, swearing, etc.

And then he said that both sets of behaviours were designed to tell us the same thing – that the child couldn’t do what was being asked of them and they needed help in order to do so.

He said that if we could reframe the behaviour in our own minds to be, “That child is unlucky in that he or she can’t show us what she needs in order to succeed”, then maybe we could be more empathetic and collaborate with them to help them build the skills to do so next time. He said that the problem was not that the children didn’t want to meet our expectations, but that they couldn’t. And then he topped it all off by saying, if the children couldn’t meet our expectations, then we needed to change our expectations and help them gain the skills so that they could meet them.

Profound words and ones I really enjoyed hearing. If anyone wants to find our more, he has a website where he goes into much more detail than I have room for here. I’ll end though on the fact that this fits in so very well with Montessori philosophy, where we are supposed to take a child as they are and help them move on from there. Easier to do with the academic subjects – consider how much help we give to a struggling reader or writer – but harder to do with behaviour because of all the societal expectations. Harder to do perhaps, but just as important, if we are to help each child meet his or her full potential!