Arnie Skelton, Managing Director, Effective Training & Development Ltd

Attitude and behaviour together constitute one of Ofsted’s key assessment elements in their new Inspection Framework.

This is the first of two articles on the subject. This first article explains the difference between the attitude and behaviour, and their relationship.

The second article, published next month, offers some handy hints and tips on how to encourage learners to develop a positive approach to both.

Behaviour is the way each of us presents ourselves to the world; it is how we manifest ourselves. It is our external self – our interface with the outside world.

Attitude is how we think and feel; our emotions, drivers and motives; and our beliefs, about ourselves and the world. It is our internal self.

Some key points about how these two relate:

  1. Attitude is the biggest single predictor of behaviour; if we feel happy, we tend to behave in a happy way. If we feel angry, we often display anger and act angrily. So, it is definitely worth working on any learner’s attitude, since changes in attitude are likely to lead to changes in behaviour. To put it simply, in many cases, attitude is cause, behaviour is effect. So, changing behaviour in the long term will probably be best achieved through a change in attitude
  2. However, the relationship is not causal. Attitude and behaviour can be separated. For example, it is possible to have a negative attitude (towards a task, or towards someone) yet still behave in a positive way. For this to happen, three things will be required:
    1. self-awareness – knowing how you are feeling (attitude) and how you are behaving
    2. self-control – the ability to control, or manage your behaviour, despite attitudinal drivers encouraging you to behave differently. It might also include being more in control of your feelings – but that is often harder
    3. commitment – simply, a willingness to keep the two – attitude and behaviour – separate
  3. Behaviour is visible, attitude isn’t. What’s crucial about this is evidence. You can describe behaviour and offer evidence about it; you can’t do the same with attitude. Behaviour is public, attitude is private. You can only infer attitude from behaviour, you can’t prove it. Two important points follow from this:
    1. You cannot ‘accuse’ someone of having a bad attitude – since you cannot prove or evidence it; you can however describe an observed behaviour, and then consider whether attitude is likely to be a significant contributor
    2. Ultimately, as a bottom line, people – including learners – do not need to have a positive attitude in order to behave as required. Having a positive attitude is absolutely helpful – but not absolutely essential. In front line customer service, for example, some customers might be less than likeable, but the service provider will still be expected to work with them in a courteous and helpful manner. In some ways, this is the test of the term ‘professional’: to behave as required despite any negative attitude to the task or other person. This is the case for learners, too. One learner might have a very positive attitude to learning, yet still behave poorly; another might have a poor attitude to learning, or the tutor, yet still behave positively…
  4. People are often unaware of their attitude and/or behaviour. We are often on ‘automatic pilot’ for either, or both. For example, as you are reading this, how conscious have you been about your attitude, and your behaviour? As you read this, now, you will have become (more) conscious of both…
  5. Behaviour is usually much easier to change than attitude, for two key reasons. Firstly (as mentioned above) behaviour is more visible, and often conscious, whereas attitude is invisible, and often unconscious; and we cannot actively change something we are unaware of, or unconscious about. Secondly, for many of us, attitudes are more embedded, and attached to emotions – things we like or dislike; things we do or don’t want or value. Whereas many behaviours are simply habit – conventions and patterns we have (often unconsciously) adopted. In simple terms, it is easier to get someone to do something than to like something. You can get me to sweep the floor, give me the skills, and even incentivise me; but it’s much harder to get me to like doing it!
  6. Although attitude is a great predictor of behaviour, the reverse can also be powerfully true: repetitive exposure to a particular behaviour can, over time, be an agent for attitude change. Someone who fears driving, or giving a presentation may find that, with repetitive practice and support, the attitude changes, eventually to acceptance and even enjoyment. Much of the progress in civil rights has been due to longer term behaviour change creating a change in attitude, for example.

Next month I’ll offer some ways in which teachers and support staff can help influence and create the conditions for positive attitude and behaviour change.

Arnie Skelton, Managing Director, Effective Training & Development Ltd

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