John's Kitchen: Making omlettes (and teaching behavior)

How is cooking analogous to teaching?

Last week on our little cooking show we talked about making biscuits for breakfast. This week, we’ll stick with the breakfast theme, but let’s cook up an omlette!

What could be easier, and we know that when many of us look for recipes we search (using DuckDuckGo, of course) with terms like “easy,” “quick,” and “recipe.” But, really now, who needs a recipe to make an omlette? To make an omlette, you just beat up some eggs, throw them in a pan, put some cheese on top, fold it over, and plate it! Voilá, instant Julia Child!

So, let’s just get right to it! But, first, a word from our sponsors….

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As regular followers of this show will know, teaching is really important here at John’s Kitchen, and teaching is one of the missing ingredients in promoting appropriate school behavior. “What?” you say.

Let me simply assert something: Appropriate school behavior is important, especially for students with disabilities. Students need to know how to behave. And if something is important for students to know, then we need to teach it. If knowing how to read is important, then educators should teach reading. If computing is important, then educators should teach computing. If writing is important, then educators should teach writing. If behaving is important, then….

Problems and Pitfalls with how Educators Handle Behavior

One of the most serious problems educators (and others) have in the behavior domain is that they, too often, lapse into over-broad characterizations of what students need to do (“be a good citizen,” “be responsible,” “be able to delay gratification,” and so forth). Instead, we need more specific, observable actions: How to (a) line up at the door, (b) walk in the hallway, (c) enter a classroom, (d) request help, (e) respond when someone calls you a name or bumps into you, (f) use the facilities (toilet), (g) travel safely and politely on a school bus, and so forth.

Another trap into which educators fall is treating behavior as if it is a product of cognition and emotion. To be sure, people can harbor some goofy ideas about what to do under certain circumstances, and they may respond in ways that we characterize as “angry,” “sad,” and so forth. Few people, however, plan their behavior…and often don’t even think about it. So many behaviors are so well rehearsed that they have become automatic. Imagine having to reflect on and plan every chew, step, or smile.

Or think about a basketball player having to plan every free throw. It may seem like a player is thinking, but we soon realize that they are exercising a “routine” (toe the line, receive the ball, hold it on the hip, exhale, look at the rim, spin the ball, dribble 1-2-3, keep looking at the rim, pause, dribble once more, keep looking at the rim, raise the ball to head level as you lean slightly back; move the ball forward and release it); they’ve practiced this seqeuence of steps so often that they simply need to “go with the flow” and “trust the routine.” Swish.

A related concern about behavior is that we hope helping students develop insight into their behavior will guide them to better behavior. So, we create activities to illustrate “coping” or “reflecting.” For young children, there might be stories with a cute animal who “learns an important lesson” from some “transformative” experience. For older students the story might be couched in terms of a youth who, after living a little on the wild side, finds empathy or some other worthy emotion through some transformative experiences and, turning over a new leaf, wins accolades for some action that, say, prevents harm to another student (usually weaker, less popular, or even disabled). Although these stories are usually works of fiction, I also have vague recollections of ones based on true events.

The problem here is that the suddent insights and transformations are, well, fictions. They’re either make-believe or they’re very, very rare. I’d rather not count on such magical events.

Instead, I recommend systematic instruction. But what would systematic instruction in behavior look like? Fortuantely, we have actual studies demonstrating not only what it looks like, but how such practices help students (and teachers!).

Recipe for Teaching Behavior

  1. Determine when and where problem behaviors might occur. Examples:

    • during transitions from one classroom setting to another (e.g., passing between periods) or one activity to another ("circle" to desks);

    • on a school bus ride;

    • in the cafeteria;

    • on the playground during recess.

  2. Operationally identify the problemsome behaviors that often occur in these situations. Examples:

    • Moving too fast from one place to another;

    • Not staying seated on the bus;

    • Talking too loudly;

    • Bumping into other students.

  3. Operationally identify the appropriate behaviors that should occur in the target situation. Examples:

    • Walk calmly to your next location [seat, class, etc.];

    • Use your ["normal talk" or "inside"] voice;

    • Keep your hands [elbows, feet] close to your body;

    • Stay an arm's length behind the person in front you;

    • Ask for help when you need it.

  4. Identify and modify features of the environment that support problem behaviors. Examples:

    • Instead of sending students to line up all at once, position yourself at the door and call them to you in small groups;

    • Employ a "do it signal" that indicates when students are to perform an action, waiting until you give that signal;

    • Have young children line up where there is a wall that constrains their movement;

    • If students must retrieve materials (e.g., lab equipment) for parts of lessons, make sure that those materials are stored close to the work areas and are spread out enough so that there is room for multiple students to retrieve the materials at the same time--and send them to retrieve the materials in small groups rather than all at once.

  5. Provide copious amounts of practice performing the appropriate behaviors. Accompanying those practice opportunities with lots of positive and constructive feedback. When doing so, remind the students about how they are going to act during the practice. Examples:

    • "OK, we're going to practice lining up. When I say, 'flirmdle, Table 2,' that means I'm recognizing the students at Table 2 for sitting like students and being ready to line up. When I say 'firmdle, Table 5,' then it's because they have been sitting like students and are ready to line up. All the other tables will still be waiting until I flirmdle them. Now, raise you hand if you can tell me one of the things you're doing to do when I call on your table to line up. Uhhmmm...OK, José. Nice job of raising your hand patiently. What's one thing? Bingo! Stand up calmly and push in your chair! What else, y'all? Ooooookay, Janine! You raised your hand calmly. What's another thing? Riiiiight. Walk calmly to the door and stand still. You kinda got two in there, didn't you? Cool. I really like the way you kids are emphasizing calmness. I know lining up can be very exciting. You might be lining up to go to the playground...or lunch...or, who knows, maybe for an ice cream treat! [Continue identifying how to line up the right way.] OK. We know we're going to [holding up one finger] wait until our table is called; [holding up two fingers] push in our chairs; [holding up three fingers] walk calmly to the door; [holding up four fingers] form a good line; and [holding up a thumb and four fingers] wait for the signal to leave for...I dunno, to leave for what? Nah, I don't think there's ice cream today...Jabri? Hey, a video about Mars? That sounds good! OK, let's see who's ready. I'm looking at the tables...Flimdle, Table 3...and they're off...look at how they're doing it the right way! All the chairs are pushed in...they are walking calmly! Way to go Table 3ers!"

    • In one of the videos for high-leverage practices, Michael Kennedy shows a teacher doing a fine job of the sort of instruction with recipe steps similar to what I’ve described in the foregoing material. This is about 14 min long.

    • In a video associated with his book, Teach Like a Champion, Doug Lemov, shows teachers presenting and practicing a routine for passing out papers and having them returned, practicing an efficient transition. You can watch a video demonstration of it (about 90 sec).

and see a variation on a similar procedure (maybe 120 sec) at

  1. Devise a way to assess whether the students are benefitting from the instruction. Monitor progress! Examples:

    • If you had data about the occurrence of problems that you used to identify those context and problems, you can simply keep collecting those data;

    • If you have PBIS data, those may help you assess effects, too;

    • You could even develop a simple data collection system using a spreadsheet on your phone or watch that allows you to tap just before the activity ends and indicate what percentage of students lined up appropriately at each instance of the activity.

In developing these recipe steps, I consulted recommendations by Colvin et al. (1993) and Ennis et al. (2018). I encourage teachers to read those articles as a way to see the common features and develop broader understanding.


So, the foregoing recipe might seem sensible (or not), but the proof is in the pudding. Does this stuff work?

The answer is "yes."

Let me illustrate that answer. Here are three examples.

  • Colvin et al. (1997) examined the effects of a school-wide plan based on principles similar to those described here. They observed three transition settings (enter the school, moving to the cafeteria, and exiting the building). Whereas student behavior included many problems in those settings (running, hitting, and yelling), after the school faculty implemented a program of precorrection and monitoring, the researchers observed much lower levels of problem behaviors.

  • Putnam et al. (2013). Wanted to improve student behavior on school bus trips. They identified appropriate behaviors (“bus rules”), taught bus drivers to provide positive reinforcement, and delivered rewards for students who followed the bus ridership rules using a weekly lottery. Office referrals for misbehavior on the buses declined dramatically when the program was employed across the entire school.

  • Lewis et al. (2002) examined whether a combination of teaching approprirate playground behaviors and providing group rewards for engaging in them would change the interactions on an elementary school playground. They found that the 450 students of the school displayed inappropriate behaviors (e.g., arguing, name-calling, pushing) less frequently across different recess periods after the behaviors were taught and the contingency put into action.

There are plenty of other studies demonstrating the benefits of using these sorts of methods. Don’t think that the three I’ve used as illustrations provide an exhaustive examination of the literature. I’ll add other illustrations to the references at the end of this post.

The bigger picture, as alert readers have surely already surmized there is part of the framework called “Positive Behavior and Interventions & Supports” or PBIS. If you work at a school that is not using the PBIS framework or if you child attends a school that does not have a PBIS system in place, this is your opportunity to do something good for that school. Study about PBIS and help a school (or local education agency!) to adopt it.

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So, you can make an omlette the slapdash way I described at the top of the show today, but it’s better to do it systematically.

  • Crack two or three eggs into a bowl and add a little (30-40 ml) water (or dairy if you prefer milk or cream);

  • Whisk this mixture while you preheat a pan over moderate heat;

  • Oil the pan (spray, or use a nice oil, just not much;

  • Add the egg mixture and, as the mixture begins to set, gently manipulate the pan and the egg mixture so that both the center and the edges cook; I often lift a spatula of the egg mixture and tilt the pan to make uncooked mixture till underneath the cooked parts, rotating around the pan;

  • Toward the end of the cooking, add the filling (cheese, veggies that you may have already cooked, proteins, jelly, whatever) and finish the cooking;

  • Fold the omletter by slipping the spatula under one side of the mixture and turning in onto the other side (variation: fold it in thirds);

  • Slide the finished omlette onto a plate, garnish (sprinkle of dried parsley? Sprig of fresh parsley? Slice of orange?)

Serving suggestion: Accompany the omlette with hashbrowned potatoes! Enjoy!

OK, now, before we sign off from John’s Kitchen for today, I’m leaving you with a clip from the early 2010s that Michael Kennedy collected for his series on home-grown PBIS video. It was created by some teachers and kids and it touches on what I’ve been discussing.

The Daily Show may have it’s “moment of zen,” but this is your moment of grins.


Bradshaw, C. P., Koth, C. W., Thornton, L. A., & Leaf, P. J. (2009). Altering school climate through school-wide positive behavioral interventions and supports: Findings from a group-randomized effectiveness trial. Prevention Science, 10(2), 100-115.

Colvin, G., Sugai, G., Good, R. H. III, & Lee, Y-Y. (1997). Using active supervision and pre-correction to improve transition behaviors in an elementary school. School Psychology Quarterly, 12, 344-363.

Colvin, G., Sugai, G., & Patching, B. (1993). Precorrection: An instructional approach for managing predictable problem behaviors. Intervention in School and Clinic, 28(3), 143-150.

Lewis, T. J., Colvin, G., & Sugai, G. (2000). The effects of pre-correction and active supervision on the recess behavior of elementary students. Education and Treatment of Children, 109-121.

Lewis, T. J., Powers, L. J., Kelk, M. J., & Newcomer, L. L. (2002). Reducing problem behaviors on the playground: An investigation of the application of schoolwide positive behavior supports. Psychology in the Schools, 39, 181-190.

Putnam, R. F., Handler, M. W., Ramirez-Platt, C. M., & Luiselli, J. K. (2003). Improving student bus-riding behavior through whole-school intervention. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 36, 583-590.