Reflections from a sunlounger – the behaviour debate

Warm-Strict, Restorative Approaches, No Excuses, Picking up your own tab, Centralised Detentions…the list of ‘The Ultimate Approach to Behaviour’ goes on. I’ve been teaching for 15 years and the one thing that never changes is the conversation about behaviour – how should we deal with it, whose responsibility is it and, seemingly and increasingly important, whose voice on what is right is the loudest?

It’s this last question that has put me off writing about behaviour. I’m always reluctant to put my head above the parapet and put my thoughts out there for others to see as there is a vulnerability about doing so. But talking about behaviour seems to be the kryptonite of the eduTwitter and eduBlogging world. With behaviour it seems you have to be in a camp and you get a whole load of abuse from those who have ‘decided’ you are against them – something I find really ironic as the comments and trolling and general lack of courtesy, respect and appreciation of the thoughts of others this models is the exact behaviour everyone seems to want to ‘fix’ in our students! So I’ve been really reluctant to write about behaviour. Yet, as I’ve said many times before, I write to process my own thoughts and my thoughts have increasingly returned to issues surrounding behaviour recently. I don’t expect people to agree with me but I know the majority of people sit in the middle of the polarised debates and don’t engage in Twitter abuse and it’s for those people (who like me are trying to work our way through the debates to find what might actually work for us) that I’ve decided I’ll actually post what I’ve written.

I’m now working in my 5th school (3rd as a Senior Leader) and I’ve worked in schools who have taken a no excuses, centralised systems approach, a ‘behaviour is for SLT to deal with’ approach, an ‘all behaviour is due poor teaching’ approach and a ‘put the relationships first’ approach to behaviour management at different times. And my conclusion is simple, they are all a little bit right and all a little bit wrong.

Example 1: I’ve seen centralised detentions and isolation rooms work really well where the class teacher has a conversation with the student and their parents at some point before the next lesson to reset the relationship and remind the student of their expectations. But I’ve equally seen centralised detentions and isolation rooms mean students ‘play the game’ to get kicked out of lessons as quickly as possible and teachers never try to build a relationship with the student and just keep kicking them out, perpetuating the cycle.

Example 2: I’ve seen behaviour being considered something SLT dealt with work fantastically, freeing teachers up to teach, with students really clear about the fact they needed to take responsibility for their actions and change for the teacher and not just comply with SLT – SLT’s role being to stand by the teacher to support them rather than be the ‘enforcer’ of all rules. But I’ve also seen it escalate the number of behaviour incidents and mean that students don’t follow instructions by other staff until SLT turn up. And I’ve seen the effectiveness of SLT turning up start to wane and disappear as the students realise there’s no real escalation as it’s just 6 people they have to listen to.

Example 3: I’ve seen the best planned lesson go swimmingly for one teacher with one class yet descend into chaos somewhere else for one of two reasons 1. The way the instructions were given were unclear so students took advantage and/or 2. Some students couldn’t access (or found too easy) what they were asked to do and opted to muck about instead. I don’t believe all behaviour is due to poor planning but as a reflective practitioner I know that I have the ability to make it more difficult for poor behaviour to have the space to manifest in my classroom.

Example 4: I’ve personally seen the idea of a ‘relationships piggy bank’ have an amazing impact on my own ability to deal with behaviour as a Senior Leader. We all have an intrinsic need as humans to feel we belong, we’re cared for and we’re valued and for me the relationship approach supports this. We pay into the piggy bank through supporting our students, celebrating their achievements and giving them another chance when they’ve apologised through a form of restorative justice. We withdraw from the piggy bank when we do not accept poor behaviour, we remove students from lessons and we make them take responsibility for their actions. But I have seen this idea taken too far with too much emphasis on the paying in side of the piggy bank and no certainty or consistency over where boundaries are drawn and a withdrawal (sanction) is needed.

So as I sit here typing on my sunlounger in Mexico, reflecting on the behaviour debate, I am increasingly happy with my conclusion each approach is a little bit right and a little bit wrong. I don’t want to commit myself to one camp. I want to remain eclectic in the people I follow on Twitter and whose books, blogs and articles I read about approaches to behaviour management. I want to evaluate and consider and be led by best practice research to find what works for me and my school.

Fundamentally, I firmly believe there are no excuses for poor behaviour of students and sometimes that does mean you have to take a student out of lessons in the best interests of every students’ learning. But it’s up to us to be the adults and model the behaviours we want to see (courtesy, welcome, care and forgiveness) in our students so when we do this we need to make sure we are using this to reteach and refocus on positive behaviours to reduce the likelihood we’ll need to remove them again. In practice, for me this means I’m looking to:

– Get the centralised systems in place so teachers know they have these to fall back on and reduces their workload in enforcing sanctions – SLT will stand by them not undermine or takeover but provide the system so they can be consistent and certain in how they deal with students.

– Teach well planned, high challenge (yet appropriately scaffolded) lessons with clear instructions that leave no excuses for students to ‘opt out’.

– Develop a culture across all teachers embracing the relationship piggy bank – every student feels welcome and valued in every classroom every lesson and comes to be secure in the knowledge that we make withdrawals (sanctions) from the piggy bank because we value them.

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