Parent, educator, and author Heather Lyon shares her learning and personal experiences in generating needed compliant responses at home and encouraging deeper engagement in learning at home and beyond. You are certain to connect with her parent/child scenarios.
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Steve [Intro]: 00:01 Hello and welcome to the Parent Wellbeing and Student Learning During School Closures Edition of the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast. With the extended closing of schools, we as parents have entered into a new territory regarding what we have known as “school learning.” With this and future podcasts, I’ll look to share my experiences as a teacher, educator, parent, grandparent, and continuous learner.
Steve: 00:34 Motivating compliance and deeper engagement. Today on the podcast, I am joined by Heather Lyon, a district level school administrator, a past teacher, the parent of a three youngsters, and the author of a book on engagement. So Heather, thanks for joining us on the parent podcast.
Heather: 01:02 Thanks for having me.
Steve: 01:03 In your in your book, Heather, you describe four stages of engagement. Non-compliant, compliant, interested and absorbed. I’m wondering if you could just give our our listeners here a quick description of each of those?
Heather: 01:24 Sure. So very quickly, non-compliant means I don’t want to do the tasks that I’m doing. I don’t care about my relationship with the person who is assigning this task to me and I don’t care about the consequences I get positive or negative for doing it. So you can’t pay me enough and you can’t threaten me enough. I’m not doing it. Compliance means you can pay me enough now, or you can threaten me enough now, or I care enough about you to do it. So I wouldn’t do it for anybody else, but grandma I’ll do it for you. But compliant doesn’t mean that I want to do the task. Compliant means that I have enough extrinsic motivation to do the task through the relationship or the consequence. So both of those are examples of really what disengagement looks like. Interest is the entry point to engagement.
Heather: 02:21 So if I’m interested in something, I want to do what I’m doing, but I need extrinsic motivation to finish what I’m doing or start it. So I’m not going to do this for free, but getting paid for doing it, I actually enjoy doing it. So that’s a really critical place to be because in school, that’s really where I hope that my kids are that’s the target that my teachers are aiming for, that my kids might need a grade or might need a good relationship with people, but that the work that they’re doing, they enjoy doing. But when the bell rings, I anticipate that my own kids, even with me as their mom, most classes, they’re going to get up and leave the class and, you know, because the bell rang and they enjoyed what they were doing, but the bell rang it’s time to go somewhere else. Absorbed is our tasks that we do because we love to do them. We don’t need extrinsic motivation to do them. We’re intrinsically motivated. Time passes by differently when we do absorbed tasks. 10 minutes, I’m sorry, one hour can feel like 10 minutes. And so every so often, I hope in school that my kids have an opportunity to lose track of time and space and and have to be kicked out of the room when the bell rings because they didn’t hear it. So those are the four levels.
Steve: 03:51 So when I read your book you described a time when your children weren’t being as compliant as you wanted them to be.
Heather: 04:05 Yep.
Steve: 04:05 I’m wondering if you could share some thoughts with parents listening in here for responding to those non-compliant times.
Heather: 04:15 Yes. So I guess before I describe that, the book itself is really written with educators in mind. However, the framework that I’ve established in
the book would be applicable no matter who you are. This is the way that we work as human beings. So no matter what your job is, that what those levels that I just described apply. And so with that in mind, a lot of the examples in the book come from my own life. And in my own life, I do have three children. They’re two years apart. And my husband goes to work before I do in the morning, before we’re even – the rest of us are even awake. And so I have the responsibility of getting the kids to school. And so I bribed my children in order to get them to school because I don’t expect that getting up and getting ready is something that they would be absorbed in.
Steve: 05:17 [laughter].
Heather: 05:19 I don’t think that they’ll even be interested in doing it, but I need them to be at least compliant with it. And so it started out because we had to pass by a donut shop on the way to their daycare. This was years ago. Now, my oldest is a freshman, my middle is in middle school and my youngest is in fifth grade so he’s in elementary school this year. But nevertheless, we would have to pass by a donut shop. And so I said, you know, if you guys get into the car before I do, you get a point and when you earn eight points, I will get you a donut. And so that worked out really well for a while asnd then the allure of the doughnut wore off. And so I realized that donuts cost a dollar and at that point my kids started to understand money.
Heather: 06:14 And so you know, I said, when we get eight points, you can get a dollar or a donut. And so you know, they were back on track. Long story short, my daughter does not like to get up in the morning. She especially doesn’t now that she’s 12, but it has always been a little bit challenging. And so the boys would get to the car before she would get to the car and she would blow it for everybody. So nobody was getting a point. So then I had to design a scheme whereby they would get individual points, but also a team point. It all sounds very complicated, but the reality was that the example in the book illustrates how extrinsic motivation works, that it can be a thing that you’re going for, a carrot or a stick, but it’s also about the relationship.
Heather: 07:12 And so my – obviously my daughter loves me and she knows that I love her. So it’s not that she didn’t care about me. So when I say that non-compliance is really a combination of the relationship and the extrinsic consequence, you can care about somebody a lot and still be non-compliant. And particularly in a familial relationship like a parent and a child, I think a lot of times what we bank on is forgiveness because we do love each other so much. And so my children would never behave for their teachers in a way that they behave for me. And I know that I’m not alone on that. And so really at the time, I probably, I was creating the choice, but I wasn’t giving her voice in what I was asking of her. And there was probably more that I could have done in terms of, I need you to get in the car in the morning before I do, because I can’t wait for you because we don’t have time to wait. That’s going to make me late to work. So what are ways that you could that would motivate you in order to do this? Ultimately, I made it more into a game for her. She’s actually very competitive. And so when I made it a competition between the two of us and that she would have to pay me if I got eight points, that really turned it around for her ultimately. But this process from start to finish lasted five to seven years.
Steve: 09:01 It’s interesting because the piece I’m hearing in there is that most often, an external reward is a a tool that gets you into the conversation and builds the relationship.
Heather: 09:21 Yes. If you’re using it well, because the better your relationship is with somebody, the more you know who they are and so you can either predict what would be motivating to them or the better your relationship is therefore you can engage in conversations with them about what motivates them.
Steve: 09:42 Yeah. And the conversation actually becomes part of the part of the motivational piece. I mean, the empowerment, actually the engagement of them in working out the deal, negotiating the deal, picking the extrinsic motivator.
Heather: 10:02 Right.
Steve: 10:04 Neat. If I can catch a little bit of your time yet, I’m wondering what thoughts you might have for parents on increasing their their children’s engagement with school.
Heather: 10:18 So that’s a big question that I think that people who read the book, who are not educators, when they read it, they think about, oh, because of their own children and what that might do for their conversations with their children about learning or their children’s teachers about learning. And so I know growing up, my sister was – my older sister was very influenced by how she felt about a teacher. If she liked the teacher and about the teacher liked her, she did better in a class than if she thought differently about the teacher. And I see the same thing in my own children, they’ll say, “oh, I really like this class because of the teacher.” And so oftentimes, I think that the kids who are more likely to be non-compliant in school need teachers who are willing to set aside the learning at least temporarily to build a relationship. Because they’re probably focused on those non-compliant behaviors and get distracted by that.
Heather: 11:32 And therefore, the interactions that they’re having with the child are about behaviors and not about learning anyway. You know, this is late you’re rushing, that was due already, whatever that may be, versus, you know, what’s your life like at home? What do you do after school? And if a child has been – has, you know, attendance issues, “I’m so glad you’re here today” would be a much better way to greet a student than to say something like you know, “long time, no see,” or here’s the work you missed. And so, I think the advice that I would give for parents is probe the relationship that the child has with the teacher and have conversations with the teacher, not with the student. I would not have the student be a part of it initially to explore that from the teacher’s perspective, you know?
Steve: 12:36 It’s almost as a parent, can explore with the teacher, the ways that we could build the relationship.
Heather: 12:42 Yes, exactly. And then, because the relationship is the foundation. People will work really hard for people who they care about, even if they don’t care about the work that they’re doing. I don’t love, you know, chopping this wood, but I love spending time with grandpa. So I’m willing to chop the wood as long as I have time with grandpa. I don’t really care about social studies, but I really like Mr. Barkley, so I’m going to, you know, go to social studies and make sure that Mr. Barkley knows that I care.
Steve: 13:16 And I might even find something in social studies I like after…
Heather: 13:21 That’s right. That’s the side effect. So if the child already has a good relationship, then it’s about exploring, you know, are there ways that to have conversation with kids about sometimes, it’s really important to give our best, even if we don’t have deep feelings about this work, because there might be something that we learn in the process and so forth. Like as adults, we all have to do our taxes. We all have to do our laundry, but there are ways to make that less tedious, less cumbersome, less of a drag. I do all of my laundry over the weekend. It’s too much for me to have to bother with it during the week. So I save it until the weekend. Doing your taxes, you know, you get to decide, do you want to do your taxes or do you want to pay somebody to do your taxes?
Steve: 14:17 I take a podcast on my exercise, makes it easier. And helping our students figure those things out could be real helpful.
Heather: 14:29 Yeah.
Steve: 14:29 So Heather, thank you so much. Would you tell folks a little bit about your book and and how they can find out more about you and your work?
Heather: 14:38 Absolutely. So I have a website it’s called lyonsletters.com. My last name is L Y O N. So that’s for lyonsletters, it’s L Y O N S L E T T E R S.com. And on the book, you can get links to – or on the website, you can get links to buy the book, but even if you never bought the book, there are resources that are free on the website. All the videos that are referenced in the book, all of the visuals in the book are all there for free. And then I write a blog and a lot of the people who read the blog aren’t educators at all, because even though I’m writing about education, I’m writing as a parent who happens to be in education. So there’s a little bit of something for everyone.
Steve: 15:28 Well, thank you for sparking my engagement. I enjoyed having you have you share your thoughts with parents.
Heather: 15:36 So glad to be here. Thank you.
Steve: 15:38 Have a great day. Bye-Bye.
Steve [Outro]: 15:41 Thanks again for listening, you can subscribe to Steve Barkley, Ponders Out Loud on iTunes and Podbean. And please remember to rate and review us on iTunes. I also want to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on Twitter @stevebarkley, or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs at barkleypd.com.