There are two types of adult attention, and both can have a positive impact on teacher – student interactions in in the classroom. Non- contingent attention is attention provided regardless of performance and includes such things as greetings, proximity, smiles, and conversations. Contingent attention is provided based upon student performance of an identified expectation or behavior. The attention is contingent upon the student performing a specific desirable behavior. Together, both types of attention create a positive school climate build rapport and relationships, and help students learn social behavioral expectations.
Thinking about the typical classroom, how likely is it that a teacher will individually attend to a student who is disrupting the learning environment? Almost certainly. Now, how likely is it that a teacher will individually attend to a student who is following behavior expectations? It’s not as certain. Teachers are focused on instruction. When instruction is going as planned, and students are following expected behaviors, the teacher is attending to the whole group. However, if a student begins to disrupt the lesson, that draws the teacher’s attention to the behavior, and instruction may stop while the teacher attends to the student. The teacher and other students might see the attention that results as aversive (e.g. lecture, stern look, or reprimand). However, if the student has learned that the most effective way of getting adult attention immediately is to use disruptive behavior, their need for any adult attention may be more important than whether the attention is positive or negative.
Many students engage in unexpected behavior to meet their need for attention, yet if we provide sufficient non-contingent attention, the frequency of behavior problems may decrease. Taking the time to greet students individually at the door, asking about something important in their lives, making eye contact and smiling, putting a post-it note with a simple encouraging message, or any number of other actions to let an individual student know they are seen and valued can go a long way. As teachers report an increase in positive student–teacher interactions, the numbers of disciplinary referrals students receive decreases. Also, students report an increase of positive quality in the student–teacher relationship, a decrease in the number of behavior referrals they receive, and an increase in the amount of time they spent on-task (Decker, Dona & Christenson 2007).
Finally, non-contingent attention provides students with role models of positive social interactions. Non-contingent adult attention such as smiles, greetings, and community building activities are examples of antecedents that help establish positive relationships between students and staff and set the stage for students to display the desired academic and behavioral expectations. They also create the relationships that will help students accept correction when it is needed.
Contingent attention is attention given after the desired behavior takes place. The student must perform the expected behavior before a teacher responds with attention. Research shows that contingent attention increases academic performance and on-task behavior. We also want to use contingent attention when students display expected social behavior.
Although there are no universal reinforcers that will increase the likelihood that all students will repeat the appropriate skills in the future, adult attention is reinforcing for most students, especially when adults have previously built a positive relationship with them. Positive reinforcement (e.g., positive adult attention or specific positive feedback) for most students increases the probability that they will use the desired behavior again (Maag, 2001).