Influence Behavior through Intentional Modeling using Social Learning

Our Response to Behavior Makes all the Difference

When we treat kids like they are out to get us, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. I think most of the times kids don’t really know why they do what they do unless you make them think it through for a minute. The reality is that their world around them many times is dark, snarky, and sarcastic. They are greatly influenced by the angst and fighting going in our society – this selfish world where how I feel and what I need are most important. They learn from that and then act in the same manner at school. 

Our main goal in school should be to show them a better version of what our world could be. A place that is kind, decent, helpful, and that builds community together. Maybe this will be the only place that see that version, but don’t discount how much time everyday we really do have with them and that we really can make a difference in their lives. 

Social Learning is the Key

Social Cognitive Learning Theory (SCLT) by psychologist Albert Bandura explains that people (including kids) learn by observing what is happening in their environment around them by looking and listening and then tend to copy and repeat what they see and hear. It’s based on a view of learning that argues that people primarily learn from their direct experiences in their environment, nurture around us affecting our innate nature. 

People then sustain new behaviors they learn in this way if they feel it is in their best interest moving forward. Social learning in this way though does not have to be passive, only hoping that our kids learn from others already being “good” around them. Bandura explains four practices are essential for capitalizing on SCLT: Attention, Retention, Reproduction, and Motivation. 

Attention – If the model is interesting and engaging, students will more likely observe it and learn from it.

Retention – If the desired behaviors make sense and are not overly complicated, students will more likely be able to replicate them.

Reproduction – If the new behavior is practiced over time, it begins to become ‘coded’ into new norms of behavior.

Motivation – If we want students to continue to decide to use these new behaviors, they must be inspired or rewarded in some way to remind them it’s in their best interest.

When we keep coming back to thinking about how kids learn, it reminds us what really works and doesn’t work to improve behavior and how much ‘control’ we really have. All we can do is control ourselves and our actions and hope that kids follow our lead. This theory says that if we do this right, they will. But it’s critical to do this intentionally, obviously, and repetitively. Be polite, kind, and respectful at all times no matter how your students treat you. 

The Service Mindset Helps us All

My very favorite recommendation is for us all to maintain a service mindset when working with our kids. When we consider how to serve them to achieve their/our goals, we then tend to automatically act positive and polite. Discipline isn’t something we should be doing to kids, it should be something we do for kids. 

Imagine the best service you have ever received. In stores, restaurants, you name it. It left you feeling really good and you in turn couldn’t help it but be polite in return. This works for our kids and has the same effect on them. Just make sure you are genuine when serving. Others can tell the difference. 

Groups & Individuals - Different Approaches

Misconduct in groups can feel threatening and scary. We naturally tend to try to overpower and control the crowd through force. This may work in the short run but ruins relationships and turns us into the very thing we don’t want to be. Consider a different approach and more self-control. When they go up, we go down. When they get fired up, we calm down. It’s ok to stop everything and regroup. The content doesn’t matter as much as the delivery. Kids won’t learn anyways if they are angry or upset. 

With both groups and individuals, the more we can provide purpose and meaning behind what we are asking them to do, the more likely they will comply, and better yet, understand. Just because it feels like they aren’t listening doesn’t mean they are actually not listening. Help them understand how your ‘ask’ will benefit them right now and then later on as a new skill. None of us like to be told what to do especially if we think it’s not worthwhile. Sell it, don’t tell it!

Finally, as much as possible, work individually with kids. Learn more about why they feel the way they do. You may find natural connections and ways you can adjust their environment or school. Every little bit counts so don’t think you need long sessions or time. A couple minutes every day is more than enough to get momentum going and start real relationships. You may even surprise yourself with your own change of thinking once you hear them out!

Podcast Episode

I created a podcast episode to go along with this blog article. It’s such an important topic that I wanted to talk it through and provide that alternative learning style for folks. Click here to go to Discipline Win Podcast Ep24: Social Learning, Modeling, & Influence.


Goslin, D. A. (1969). Handbook of Socialization Theory and Research. Rand McNally & Company

Bandura, A. (1977). Social Learning Theory. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall

Cherry, K. (2021). How Social Learning Theory Works. VeryWell Mind


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Learn more about how to help yourself and your students be more disciplined! Buy Discipline Win: Strategies to improve behavior, increase ownership, and give every student a chance now on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.