Whether you are an NQT or an experienced teacher and whether you are a SENCO, work in a SEMH school or have a ‘regular’ class, you will encounter difficult behaviour. Karl (MRMICT) shares how he deals with it.
Over the last few weeks there has been a lot of discussion around children’s behaviour. I don’t consider myself an expert, however, the first 3 years of my career I worked closely with children and families to support them through their child’s challenging behaviour. I have developed a number of strategies and philosophies that are in no way NEW but I think it’s important for you, as a teacher, educator or whatever to be aware.
Children who misbehave are challenging. That is the simple fact, plus you as an adult are allowed to be annoyed and bothered when they misbehave. There is a lot of negativity about teachers venting or off loading to colleagues about certain children and challenging behaviour. It is never, ever helpful to say “Really, well they were great with me.” All this stands to do is undermine the colleague you’re talking to and it implies that you feel you are better; or have/had a better relationship (which may well be the case). It’s about being supportive.
One of my most challenging days supporting a child’s behaviour was when they literally could not see: a) how their behaviour was disruptive and b) the effect of their actions were having on others. I should clarify that I’m talking about primary children. It was a low point and I really couldn’t figure out how to help them, this was when I realised that it was far greater than just a naughty child. The child was diagnosed later with severe Attachment and Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD) you can read a little more about them below. Those who will know, know this is rare to be diagnosed.
Out of my frustration I asked to go on a number of courses, I won’t summarise the CPD but there were several takeaways which I will share. As I have said earlier, my ‘Behaviour Philosophy’ was formed by these. I imagine my behaviour philosophy to look like a pantheon, as you’re looking at it. The arch, pillars and foundation being the idea of my approach.
All behaviour good and bad, is Communication… the big thing here is, what are they trying to tell you? Is it I don’t understand, I’m tired or even that ‘your aftershave has triggered a subconscious feeling that I am too immature to communicate or deal with’. It’s important for you to ensure that the children have the space and capacity to communicate in the way you expect. Practitioners from SEN settings are fantastic at this because they are often working with children who have profound communication problems. But imagine a child whose reading and writing age is 4 years below their actual age, do you think they are capable of understanding that feeling or even that they have caused harm?
Caring and listening do not mean excusing… people may disagree but I firmly believe that every child needs to be taught boundaries and consequences. Just because you understand and appreciate how difficult that child’s circumstances are does not mean that should excuse behaviour. My circumstances weren’t great, but I never tried to use this as an excuse. It only serves to explain why they behave in such a way. We have to remember that these children will grow up and operate in society; in society there are harsher consequences. So I believe that it is always important for children to face up to the consequences of their actions in an appropriate way… I am a huge fan of a letter of apology (if they are capable), just FYI.
Lastly, you should seek to restore not to punish… again it’s not a popular opinion but I am a big supporter of a restorative approach to behaviour management rather than punitive. Again children need to understand that their actions directly affect someone else and they should speak directly to the harmed party in an attempt to solve the issue. I used to lead and still do, restorative circles using restorative questioning if there has been an issue. In my opinion it always proves more successful, plus there is research that points to its success.
These are my ‘Three Pillars’ philosophy. I would say that there are two things that complete this. The foundation of behaviour management is relationships. If you aren’t able to build a strong relationship with the child then it will be hard to not only teach them but to support their behaviour in the first place.
My final thought is family. Often the family are aware and face more difficult challenges that you would as a teacher, there is that old saying that children tend to behave better for school than at home. With this in mind, engage with the family and work together. This is not about strategies because I think with the best intents and purposes we all have them, but for me you need these before any strategy works, after all your classroom is unique to you.