Sunday, 15 November 2015

Managing Behaviour For Learning

I'm doing an on-line course called "Managing Behaviour for Learning" provided by the National Science Learning Network and led by Paul Dix, of Pivotal Education.  It's a five week course with an average expected time commitment of about three hours per week, and you can do it in your own time.  Although we're now at the end of Week 2, I've been busy this week with a job application and writing some articles, so I'm only at the end of the content for Week 1, but can catch up as soon as I have the time.

One of the suggestions is that you keep notes, or a record of your thoughts and aims as you go through the course, which can be recorded in a digital scrap-book, in a notebook or in a blog if you have one.  I do, so here's where I've got up to with Week 1.

The first task had us watch a video of Paul Dix reflecting on his worst ever, most chaotic lesson and the impact it had on the students.  We were invited to reflect on our own worst and most chaotic lesson and how we dealt with it and what we then did.  Almost all the reflections on the discussion forum were about moments where teachers felt out of control.  In mine, I actually left the classroom and stood outside the door while I counted to twenty.  I was then able to go back in and calmly sort out the class of ten-year-olds who had been fighting and brewing mutiny.

Looking at the difference between teachers who get out of control and those who are in control you find four key traits:
CONSISTENCY - being fair all the time.
PERSISTENCE - keeping going even when the kids are ignoring you
FOLLOW UP - if behaviour has been poor, while you might ignore it at the time so that the lesson can continue or so that a confrontational situation is avoided, always follow up later at a more suitable time.
CERTAINTY - if you have threatened a sanction you must always deliver it if merited.

Next we carried out a self-audit of how we interact with students.  From this I think that the areas I need to work on are making expectation or rules clear from the outset, and on being more consistent with behaviour management.  Sometimes I let a bit of calling out slip by, which can escalate quickly into happening all the time - then I get more firm, wheras if I had been consistently not allowing it, and praising those who don't it wouldn't escalate.

The next part of the course was about the fight or flight response in students.  How a confrontation situation will often put a student into this high stress response where their rational brain is actually shut off for a moment.  It's important, while being firm with rules, to de-escalate confrontation situations and allow a student time to calm down so that they can engage their rational brain again.  After this I resolved to try more and more positive and pro-active behaviour management techniques.  That's what I always try to do anyway, but sometimes when you are tired, or try to squeeze too much into a lesson, it can be easy to forget.

Next there was a video talking about a particular teacher who allowed himself to get out of control - he actually became a figure of ridicule.  Teachers who shout (I think it's okay to raise your voice occasionally) are viewed as out of control.  It's worth asking yourself whether you would shout at a child in the same way if their parent was in the room - if not, should you be doing it in class?  If you behave and respond to the children in an emotional and unpredictable way then the children spend time trying to press your buttons for entertainment, or to guess what mood you are going to be in today.  They don't feel secure and ready for learning.

It's important that we model good emotional management:  "I am beginning to get cross, so I'm going back to my desk to count to ten, then I will come back to you and we can have a calm conversation."

Manage behaviour by being very clear what behaviour we want to see.  Be empathetic.  Praise in public, discipline privately (or quietly, think about Safeguarding).  When you have to intervene make sure it's the behaviour that we criticise - not the child.

Sometimes negative behaviour is attention seeking behaviour, or behaviour designed to rouse our emotions and press our buttons because it makes a child feel in control.  Keep control of your emotions in this situation, mechanically follow your behaviour management procedure (have a plan that you can follow easily) and save your emotional responses for when you are excited about great behaviour or work.

An example procedure when a child is not doing what they should is to:

  • imagine their parent on your shoulder (so you remain calm and positive)
  • state the problem "I can see that you are having trouble getting started"
  • quell any defensive reaction or confrontation by immediately reminding them of something they did well and what they should be doing, "last week you managed to finish the whole piece of work, and I was able to give you a gold star.  I know that you can settle to do some good work.  Once you have written the date and title, if you are unsure what to do, Patrick (helpful kid on the table who will be mostly finished by then) will be able to recap the instructions for you."
The next task was a problem page.  There were three letters from teachers who were having problems with aspects of behaviour management, and we had to choose one and respond to it.  The letter that I chose was about unprofessional staff-room talk.  In the staff-room the teachers were labelling a child based on their family background and were making generalisations about their behaviour.  In my response I suggested that, depending on the relationship with those particular members of staff I would either talk to them about whether or not this was appropriate, or I would ask for this issue to be discussed at a staff-meeting (without naming names) to underline how inappropriate, unfair and unhelpful such talk can be.

Finally, we watched a video clip of a teacher responding to some poor behaviour in her class, and commented what we thought she should have done differently.  That's where I'm up to so far.  Basically, we can't necessarily control what our pupils do in class, but we can control what we do, and if we make the right choices, then the likelihood of the pupils making the right choices is vastly improved.

It's striking me that there is plenty of transference here between behaviour management in the classroom and at home.  I can't make my son get dressed in the morning (technically I still can, I'm bigger and stronger than he is, but that's not a route I want to go down), but I can control my own emotional response to it, so that I don't end up going to work a ranting wobbling mess!

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