No-one reading my blogs will be surprised that I like this book by Paul Dix! It's a book written with humour, humility and humanity, deriving from experience.
In any school, the climate is set by the adults in charge. How they choose to set up rules and regulations, sometimes generic, often quite prescriptive. Some choose to take this to an extreme and employ “no excuses” policies, while others work through the children taking responsibility for their own self-regulation.
Schools are based on countless interactions each and every day. The quality of these interactions enables a child to have a sense of belonging or to feel alienated and distant from the organisation, with the latter potentially demonstrating as dissociated behaviours leading to further alienation.
Consistency is a central feature of a successful behaviour management system. Everyone knows what is expected, because it is talked about and publicised effectively. The teachers have a clear understanding which allows them to interact easily and speedily. This knowing enables mutual regard and levels of trust, which in turn are enabling. Children like to feel that they are liked for themselves and will acknowledge when they are in the wrong, if the systems allow for this. This approach enables rapid restorative actions.
A sense of belonging is instilled if you are noticed and acknowledged. This might be formally, as a personal greeting on entry to the classroom, handshakes, or simply a friendly smile and noticing, as children enter the classroom. If you have a place that is yours, either a tray and hook for your things in a Primary school or a locker and a set place in a classroom in Secondary, it confers you as a school/class member.
Behaviour management can sometimes feel like “keeping on keeping on”, posters, messages in class or assemblies, or selected gatherings, eg simply having the boys of their toilets are messy. It is about clarity of expectations, well articulate, a collegiate staff approach and appropriate “follow through” that is supported by everyone.
Parents are a key group in this regard. Excellent communication is a hallmark of schools that enjoy better behaviour relations, as the parents support the school approaches.
Spotting children being good can be a very positive way to define what is expected. In a Primary classroom, this can be as simple as a thank you to a child for sitting well on a carpet. It could be a special recognition in an assembly, or a star of the day in class. Marbles in a jar can become a motivation, if there’s a tangible reason for their collection. It’s also a collaborative effort, embedding a team culture into a classroom. However, as Paul Dix points out the “token economy” can be counter-productive, as merits, or similar, are showered on some children, alienating others. Unintended consequences?
Calmness is tested by poor behaviour. But keeping calm through difficulty can be a significant factor in rapid resolution. Children recognising where they are at fault enables fair solutions to be sought. Paul uses the term “botheredness”. This takes time, patience and a drip feed of positive reinforcement; the teacher being bothered models botheredness to the children.
Passing on praise from another teacher, a parent or someone from the wider community is an important aspect. Someone has spotted something good, bothered enough to mention it and this needs to be fed back to the children. A “well done” goes a very long way, equivalent to a “thank you”.
Security and certainty are a necessary part of being an adult in school. The opposite can lead to insecurity and uncertainty in children, which results in getting into trouble, sometimes inadvertently.
This is an excellent book, that will challenge many experienced teachers, but, with newbies, will give insights into good and less useful practices, as they come to terms within their new role. Hopefully, it’ll enable them to “smile before Christmas” and to run classroom that turn into places where high quality learning takes place at all times.
As a headteacher, I’d often tell children that I was the highest paid nag in the school, that their parents expected that of me and that the teachers were paid to do that too, but that we’d prefer not to be doing that all the time. Even as young as four, they seemed to understand that…
Paul’s conclusion is that “a focus on adult behaviour is the only responsible approach”. Staying calm and in control of yourself, is a start point for controlling others.
Or to quote Vic Goddard, of Passmores School, “We make the weather” …