Children whose behaviour is “different” are collateral damage in competitive high-stakes schooling. Caught in insane ‘zero tolerance’ cultures where compliance beats care, schools are again reaching for the ‘exclusion solution’, writes Paul Dix, founder of Pivotal Education.
The children who need stability the most are moved from teacher to teacher from school to school, from referral unit to referral unit. As schools become less inclusive, the adults grow less tolerant. Headteachers tell parents: “We are an academic school”. The subtext is clear: “We don’t want YOUR sort here”.
There is a creeping lack of empathy as the expectation of compliance grows ever stronger. There has never been a better time for those with an empathy bypass to punish with impunity.
Fifty years ago we made children stand in the corner with a dunce’s hat on because they couldn’t read, instead of teaching them to read. Now we sit disadvantaged/traumatised/poorly attached/special needs children in isolation booths, in segregated punishment rooms. Instead of teaching them to behave, we attempt to punish them into submission.
Within the teaching profession, there is no shared philosophy on behaviour. Tired techniques are often misinterpreted, misused and badly implemented. It’s time to review the approach to behaviour management in your school and make changes.
Most schools have more rules than Alcatraz and nobody knows what they are. Your behaviour policy is probably never looked at and gathering dust at the bottom of a drawer somewhere. The adults are running around improvising themselves in and out of difficult conversations on behaviour with their own set of standards, their own agenda and their own tariff of threat and punishment.
Great behaviour management is counter-intuitive. Resist the urge to shout louder, punish harder and bully more. We can all be strict without being nasty, maintain boundaries without cruelty and correct children without aggression. The well-behaved students don’t need aggression and those who struggle have been punished for years with no positive impact. Instead, lay the following fundamental foundations.
All adults need to be utterly resolved to stand together on core consistencies, seeing it as a central aspect of their professional responsibility to uphold. Simple, clear agreements on one side of A4 become a song sheet that everyone sings from. Remove the possibility of students playing in the gaps between adults.
Visible consistencies beat visible hierarchies hands down. Instead of passing students up the chain leaders must stand alongside colleagues in a visible show of support. All adults are responsible for behaviour. Train them, empower them, bind them together. Build consistency and certainty into the heart of your daily practice. When things get tough, squeeze tighter together around the core mission. The focus must be on the behaviour of adults. It is only when the adults change that everything changes.
Weave consistency into the heart of the school and into the conversations that adults have with learners about the behaviour. Use simple intervention scripts and positive recognition boards. The rules should pour from the mouths of all adults, not from a myriad of posters begging to be read.
Give first attention to the best behaviour while refusing to use your emotion to confront poor behaviour. Tangible kindness beats detached ‘zero tolerance’ every time. When the teaching assistant makes a positive phone call home, when the midday supervisors report good news and when the site manager gives out his positive note to Sam you know things are heading in the right direction. Counter poor behaviour with reason and restorative practice; not weak punishment that simply perpetuates the cycle. Yes some tough love, holding tight to the boundaries but never with anger, never with aggression, always with humanity.