Dealing with “devious licks”? Be Curious. | Hooray for Monday

September 27, 2021

By Aleta Margolis, Founder and President, Center for Inspired Teaching

Hooray for Monday is a weekly blog filled with questions, ideas, reflections, and actions we can all take to remodel the school experience for students. 

Curiosity is a sign of respect – especially when the stakes are high.

As most of us who are in the business of teaching or parenting are all too aware, there’s a new trend in town. The “devious lick” trend – in which students steal or vandalize items ranging from hand sanitizer to paper towel dispensers to clocks to toilets, then post videos of their “accomplishments” on TikTok to impress their friends and social media followers – is happening in school buildings across the country.

This trend is causing not only chaos, but also financial distress to many schools. Teachers, school leaders, and other caring adults are struggling to stop the trend, and schools are working quickly to establish consequences for students who engage in “devious licks.” Some schools are turning to “monetary restitution,” and some are engaging the police in response to this problem.

As if Covid weren’t presenting enough challenges, now our own students are creating new problems. “What were they thinking?!” many of us wonder. It’s easy to answer our own question with a familiar trope: “They weren’t thinking!” and then focus our attention on coming up with better consequences that will stop this unwanted behavior.

What if, instead, we responded with curiosity? What if we wondered, for real, what our students are thinking? What if we asked them why?

  • To a student who’s been caught stealing or vandalizing: “Why did you decide to participate in this trend?”

  • To a class at a school suffering through a series of “devious licks”: “Why do you think this is happening in our school?”

It would be hard to listen authentically and without judgment to the answers, but what might we learn if we did?

Asking why doesn’t imply acceptance. It doesn’t mean you condone the behavior, especially when it is preceded with a clear indication that the behavior is unacceptable. Asking why does communicate that your students are valued members of the school community and that you care about them, even when they do bad things.

Whether your school is dealing with “devious licks” or other forms of unwanted behavior from students, what if you asked your students, the same folks who are causing the problems, to be your co-conspirators in solving them?

Engaging with curiosity around the cause of problems, and inviting students to help solve them will accomplish a number of things. It will…

  • Marshall the creativity and ingenuity of young people to devise solutions.

  • Put adults and kids on the same team – so that when a solution is reached, there will be no losers, everyone will win.

  • Deflate the appeal of the prank. (If school stops being a place where adults try to control kids and kids try to escape that control, then it’s no longer an accomplishment to steal toilet paper from the bathroom.)

If we approach our kids with curiosity and ask why instead of assuming we know why, we’ll be engaging in Mutual Respect, a core element of an Inspired Teacher’s classroom, and one that often falls by the wayside when we focus on compliance rather than engagement. It can be difficult to show respect when you don’t feel you’re receiving it, but modeling mutual respect and approaching our students with curiosity creates the space for them to do the same.

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