Insecurity leads to insecure decision making.
I came upon the phenomenon which I dubbed at the time “upward delegation” when, as a headteacher, one of my staff began sending children to me to effectively be told off, usually for a very minor issue. When I discussed this with the teacher concerned, it seemed as if he had decided that to deal with the issue at the point of need would disrupt the lesson. The teacher did admit that the behaviour in his class did seem to be getting worse. He was losing status with the children as a significant adult, capable of dealing with them and what is now deemed to be “low level disruption”.
This was the equivalent of “Wait ‘til your father gets home”, where the authority of one parent is seen as greater than the other, so is deferred to, at a cost. The role of the “teller off in chief” is not then an easy one, in that, if the adult seeing the issue has somehow misread a situation, as sometimes happens, the “teller off” may have to take a more lenient line in resolution, so annoying the teacher. At this point, the senior leaders are deemed by teachers not to be supportive, starting a spiral of decline in staff relations. Equally, the reactive behaviours become compromised and perhaps less effective over time, as this can be manipulated to advantage, or develop insecurities in the whole system.
Children do get “under the skin” and can become teacher targets. “Keep an eye on x” advice can mean that x cannot breathe without being seen doing something untoward. In x’s eyes things are “never fair”, often then leading to escalation of negative behaviour, essentially because they might as well, if they were going to be blamed anyway. The teacher who can admit that x has got under their skin may need colleague support, to talk through and come up with alternative strategies. It can also be the case that a move to another teacher might be the best option.
D was a bit “naughty”. He was eventually diagnosed with ADHD, after an extensive and exhaustive period of time where a case study was built from collecting episodic records demonstrating his various behaviours, at home, as well as school, including finding that both the father and grandfather had displayed similar issues, which, in their day was put down to being “practical jokers”, dismantling toilet doors, locks and other mechanical items, as examples. An incident on one day was blamed on D, by a lunchtime supervisor and a child. On the day in question, D was not in school. The response was that it was something that D would do.
The point at which “upward delegation” became a thing in my consciousness was a day to go back to the behaviour management policy with the teacher concerned and then the staff more broadly. We focused on the principles on which this was premised; responsibility for self, behaviour towards others and the environment. This was explored through the lens of choice and consequences, which brought the classroom behaviours into greater clarity for the teacher, with consequential decisions on his behalf. There was an exploration of the impact of teacher behaviours on the children, as individuals and as a collective. There had to be a system of restitution in the classroom, as deferential distance had diminished the impact and the teacher standing. The teacher had to be clearly “in charge”.
I also instituted the notion of the “paid nag”, which I used with the children in that class and then wider, to reinforce in their minds relationships, choices and consequence. This was based on the idea that I was the highest paid nag in the school, and I paid the teachers to nag in my place if I was not near. I put to the children that, if we let them get away with low level disturbance, their parents would nag me and the teachers and we didn’t want that, so we’d do our job. Their job was to “work in work time and play at playtime”, then it was fair to everyone and no-one would get nagged.
This simple set of mantras were heard less over time, only to be brought out on special days.