Written reflections on negative behaviors can focus on both past and future actions. By thinking about what happened and how it can help or hurt future goals, students can learn life lessons from their own reflection and through the advice of others.

Admiting What Went Wrong

One of the most important steps of changing negative behavior is understanding what went wrong. Have students carefully think through their actions and have them specifically write, in detail, what they did that was hurtful or disruptive to themselves or others. For example, a student who is calling other students names should stop and think through how her words made other students feel. One essay topic might be a journal entry from the perspective of a classmate. Ask the student to consider how she would feel if someone treated her in a similar way. The point is not to shame the student, but rather to make her aware of how actions affect others.

Developing Alternatives

Encourage students to write about how they could have handled a difficult situation in a more positive way. For instance, if a student is caught lying, ask him to write about the merits of honesty and ways the situation could have been handled better. Students could be required to write about two or three ways to deal with situations in which they might normally be tempted toward destructive behavior, such as disrupting class or fighting with classmates. This can serve as a preemptive tool for future scenarios.

Have Students Focus on the Future

Students can be inspired toward positive behavior and away from negative behavior by writing about their own future success. Teach for America suggests that students think of themselves in college or an exciting career and then write about how negative behavior distracts them from their goals. Allow students to keep these written reflections and encourage them to reread their essays often. Consistent reminders of plans can serve as ongoing encouragement well after the paper is complete.

Show Students Where to Seek Advice

Push students to seek the advice of others. Tell students to interview school staffers, parents, neighbors or older siblings to document their life experiences in making good and bad decisions. After they've talked with two or three people, have them compile the advice into thoughtful essays that reflect on the decisions they've made that have helped or hurt their individual progress. Encourage students to review these essays with parents or important adults in their lives to reinforce these life lessons through follow-up conversations.

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