I was invited to visit the James River Correctional Center for Men and the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women in Virginia to introduce TAGteach to groups of specially selected inmates. These groups of men and women are involved with the Pen Pals program in which they are paired with a shelter dog to train. Since they use clicker training to train their dogs, they are familiar with the principles underlying the TAGteach approach. Even so, I was a bit concerned that going into a maximum security prison to teach inmates to communicate and be nice to each other might be somewhat of a challenge.
The inmates were very cooperative and enthusiastic about TAGteach. In fact they were the politest, most attentive group I have ever worked with. The women were kind enough to take the time to provide written comments after learning about TAGteach. Some of these are framed below in terms of the TAGteach principles they embody:
Because a core component of TAGteach is to highlight success, leaders become proficient at looking for what is right, instead of focusing on what is wrong. Building on success is a skill that generalizes into a lifestyle.
"It has made me be on the lookout for my teammates’ TAG points, which encourages them while helping create a habit of observation in me.” Theresa- Inmate at the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women
“It also made me realize that I need to start looking at the positive in my teammates.I have to rearrange my way of thinking and even communicating.” Tracey- Inmate FCCW
"We are so apt to notice the bad things in people that we overlook the positive.” Denise - FCCW
TAGteach is also designed to prevent confusion and build trust between leader and learner. Condemnatory language inherent in punishment based teaching is replaced with a collection of nonjudgmental tools like, “the tag point is” to initiate behavior, and a non-verbal marker to highlight it.
“In this type of setting, it’s difficult to receive feedback without looking for judgment and/or negativity.
The neutrality of the TAGteach technique makes it possible.” Theresa- FCCW
“It’s not so much a compliment – which can be hard for us to accept – but more of an affirmation that we are being mindful of our actions.
"It has really helped me to focus on my issues, and instead of feeling bad when I do wrong, I now feel positive about myself when I do something right.” Denise - FCCW
The program provides a platform upon which anyone can create achievable goals with clear beginnings and well defined endings. The audible marker component provides a non-judgmental method of marking, magnifying and instantly reinforcing any targeted response. The marker also adds an element of fun, encouraging repetition of success.
“Having taught more than half my life, I’ve always believed any learning should be fun. TAG is fun.” - Janice FCCW.
Success is guaranteed from the first moments as every first tag point is a point of success, something that is already within reach. This reinforces the leader’s goal to look for the positive while setting up a safe learning environment for the student. Each challenge subsequently builds from this point of success and moves towards a finished product.
“Learning TAGteach is a great self-esteem builder and positive reinforcer.
I would suggest that everyone try it.” Tecia - FCCW
“Positively reinforced teachers seeing success in their students due to TAG become more dedicated teachers. Students being positively reinforced by pointing out (tagging) their successes will be more dedicated students. It’s a wonderful positive circle!” Janice – FCCW
"On the next day at work (teaching math and computer aided drafting), I found myself thinking, How can I TAGteach this? Instead of fussing…I started discussing. The immediate result…improved performance and mood. At the end of a fraction session, I had several women tell me this was the first time they hadn’t hated math or felt stupid when dealing with it.” Theresa – FCCW
The men were willing to let us videotape their comments: