Codes of Conduct: Being a Grown-Up.

I always hope that my students are functioning at a higher level, heading towards functional adulthood, to some extent. After all, if they need to go to the bathroom, they can usually manage that in a clean and tidy manner. They dress themselves. They can answer questions. So why do some of them act like children when it comes to good/bad behaviour?

I searched for “adult child” and found this. I think Craig Ferguson should sue.

I was reading Darlena’s blog post about one of Rafe Esquith’s books and she referred to Rafe’s referral to Kohlberg’s Six Levels of Moral Development, which I ‘quote-quote’ here:

  1. I do not want to get into trouble.
  2. I want a reward.
  3. I want to please someone.
  4. I always follow the rules.
  5. I am considerate of other people.
  6. I have a personal code of behaviour.

I’ve been talking around these points for a while, in terms of the Perry classifications of duality, multiplicity and commitment. What disappoints me the most is when I have to deal with students who are either trying not to get into trouble or only work for reward – and these are their prime motivations. There’s a world of difference between having students who do things because they have worked through everything we’ve talked about and decided to commit to that approach (step 6 in this scale) and those who only do it because they feel that they will get punished if they don’t.

I always say that I expect a lot of my students and, fairly early on, I do expect them to have formed a personal code of conduct. Yes, I expect them to be timely in their submissions, but because they understand that assignment placement is deliberate and assists them in knowledge formation. Yes, I expect them to not plagiarise or cheat, but because to do so deprives them of learning opportunities. I expect them not to talk in class because they don’t want to deprive other people of learning opportunities (which is a bit of points 5 and 6).

I press this point a lot. I say that I reward what they know, as long as it’s relevant, rather than punishing them for getting things wrong. I encourage them to participate, to be aware of other people, to interact and work with me to make the knowledge transfer more effective – to allow them to construct the mental frameworks required to produce the knowledge for themselves.

I really don’t think it’s good enough to say “Well, students always do X and what can you do?” I have a number of people in my classes who have discovered, to their mounting amazement, that I basically won’t accept behaviour that doesn’t meet reasonable standards. I mean what I say when I say things and I don’t change my mind just because someone asks me. I’m tough on plagiarism and cheating. I don’t let people bully me or other people. And, amazingly, I don’t see many of these behaviours in my class.

I encourage a constructive and positive approach for all of my students – but the basis of this is that they have to establish a personal code of conduct that I can work with. If they go down this path, then everything else tends to follow and we can go a fantastic educational journey together. If they’re still stuck, doing the minimum they can get away with, because they don’t want to get yelled at, then my first (and far more difficult) task is to reach them, try and get them to think beyond using this as their only motivator.

Now, of course, the golden rule is that if you want a student to do something, then giving marks for it is the best way to go – and that’s a technique I use, and I’ve discussed it before. But it’s never JUST the marks. There’s always  reward in terms of scaffolding, or personal satisfaction, or insight. I want fiero! I also don’t want the students to do things just because I ask them to, because they want to please me. I have a middling amount of lecturing charisma but I’m always aware that I have to be content first/showmanship second. If I do that, then students are less likely to fall into the trap of trying to do things just because I ask them to.

I’m really not the kind of teacher who needs an apple on the desk. (I already have two iMacs and a MacBook Air. Ba-dum-*ting*)

Number 4 is one that I really want to steer people away from. Yes, rules should be followed – except where they shouldn’t. You may not know this but it is completely legitimate for a solider in the Australian Army to refuse to follow an illegal order. (Yes, it will probably not go very well but it’s still an option.) If a soldier, who is normally bound by the chain of command to follow orders, believes the order to be illegal (“No prisoners” being one of them) they don’t have to follow it. Australian soldiers are encouraged to exercise discretion and thought because that makes them better soldiers – they can fill in the blanks when the situation changes and potentially improve things. The price, of course, is that a thinker thinks.

Same for students. I want students who change the world, who make things better, who may occasionally walk on the grass to get to that bright new future even when the signs say ‘stay off the grass’. However, without a personal code of conduct, which rules you can bend or break are going to be fairly arbitrarily selected and are far more likely to have a selfish focus. We want rule bending in the face of sound ethics, not rationalisation.

As I said, it’s a lot to ask of students but, as I’ve always said, if I don’t ask for it, and tell people what I want, I can’t expect it and I certainly can’t build on it.

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