I would have missed the furore around the reposting of an old video by @TomBennett71 this week as I was away and not taking much notice of Twitter. The ‘while you were away’ message thrust it upon me. Once viewed, it was hard to ignore. The combination of visiting the first school I ever taught in this week and needing to put together a 50 minute session for trainee teachers on ‘behaviour’ for next week has put me into a reflective mood anyway, so I may as well gather my thoughts and attempt to kill several birds at one time.
If someone in a position of influence suggests something you vehemently disagree with it feels a bit like a duty to respond. I’m not trying to escalate or even continue an argument but to offer an alternative viewpoint.
Tom seemed to be suggesting that the most important issue in managing behaviour in the classroom successfully is consistency. I agree with this and one of my own regular mantras is for ‘persistent consistency’. What I very strongly disagreed with was the suggestion that treating all learners the same was part of this consistent approach and the only way of being fair to all, even if it meant not following the individualised advice of SENCos and experienced colleagues who might suggest a different approach.
The reason that this won’t work is of course that the playing field is not level. The children and young people in your classes will not come from the same starting point. Some will come from comfortable homes with quiet places to do homework, access to IT equipment and internet, reference books, stationery, nutritious meals, supportive parents etc etc. Some will not. Many will have chaotic existences and struggle to separate their experiences in and out of school in order to focus on learning. Some will find learning easy, others may have specific difficulties with executive function, auditory processing, working memory, hearing, eyesight, fine motor control, reading speed,bereavement,mental health etc etc and find learning more of a struggle without support and consideration of these barriers. Reasons for behaving in challenging ways are many and varied and so the responses to them must be too in order to affect lasting change.
That isn’t to say ignoring disruptive behaviour is a good idea, noticing and responding is nearly always necessary. But showing you have noticed and responding in a way that is likely to result in focusing back on learning tasks or seeking help or support with whatever the underlying problem is rather than scolding or punishing is more constructive. Some children or young people need to be explicitly taught routines and reminded / what to do/ how to behave in each setting. For most they pick this up in primary schools and know what to do and how to behave well enough to satisfy most teachers by secondary school for most of the time. Those who do not do need some extra focus, again agreeing with Tom. The focus needs to be on understanding the reasons for the challenging behaviour and the response tailored to this. When I was an Exclusion Officer for a local authority I noticed before I read the research evidence, that many of the secondary aged pupils permanently excluded from school had early speech and language difficulties. Not having the affirmation that most children get for having successes and positive feedback from school and home over time takes its toll. Some might struggle at school but have outside interests that preserve their fragile identities such as sport, art, dance etc but some do not. As the pressure piles on to ‘succeed’ academically at school and young people receive the message over and over again that even to be average is some kind of failure, it is hardly surprising that some rebel, seek peer popularity by becoming class clown, pick arguments to avoid work or become otherwise disaffected and avoidant. Our hands are tied in most secondary schools by a lack of alternative pathways, vocational options, resourcing issues to allow more flexibility, but this is not the students fault and punishing them for not being able to jump through impossible hoops is hardly fair. Excluding them leaves them vulnerable to all sorts of threats – unemployment at best, substance abuse, gang culture, offending, radicalisation, mental health problems at worse. The idea that there are appropriate alternative provisions to send non conformists to for ‘correctional input’ is laughable in current times. PRUs are full to bursting with waiting lists in many authorities despite full time education being an entitlement for all.
Teachers’ Standards state:
A teacher must:
Adapt teaching to respond to the strengths and needs of all pupils.
– know when and how to differentiate appropriately, using approaches which enable pupils to be taught effectively
– have a secure understanding of how a range of factors can inhibit pupils’ ability to learn and how to best overcome these
– demonstrate an awareness of the physical, social and intellectual development of children and know how to adapt teaching to support pupils’ education at different stages of development
– have a clear understanding of the needs of all pupils, including those with special educational needs; those of high ability those with disabilities and be able to use them evaluate distinctive teaching approaches to engage and support them.
– manage classes effectively, using approaches which are appropriate to pupils’ needs in order to involve and motivate them.
Choosing to only teach the easy ones in not an option and I’m sure not what Tom meant to suggest, which is why the video is so open to misinterpretation and in my opinion very misguided and potentially unhelpful for less experienced teachers. Full time education is compulsory for all, not a choice and the idea that there are ‘places that they would be better off’ is just nonsense in most situations. In my 28 year career to date, in a very broad variety of schools and settings, I have only met about a dozen young people that I felt really couldn’t be educated in a mainstream setting. Excluding by sending out of the classroom, passing the problem on to someone else, suggesting another placement is rarely a solution. Understanding the core problem and applying individual solutions with care and consistency usually is.
I absolutely support the concept of ‘tough love’ and would never advocate ‘turning a blind eye’. Noticing, understanding, offering solutions to problems rather than passing the buck are infinitely preferable. My starting point is usually what would I want for my own child in this situation? It is more difficult for those who are not parents, have very young children or children who find learning easy to walk in others’ shoes. If a child close to you was struggling and expressing their despair in challenging ways what would you want for them? Apply this standard to the situation, behaviour is a form of communication – what are they telling you? (After the surface F**K Off that is).
Teaching for me is like Jimmy Porter’s view of love –
“You can’t fall into it like a soft job,without dirtying up your hands, it takes muscle and guts.”
Behaviour, good or bad, is not an entity in itself. It is a dynamic construct created by environment and interaction. Have high expectations by all means, but if the required behaviour is not immediately there, it is a core function of a teachers role to create it. It is the adults responsibility to set the emotional tone of the classroom, to instruct, model, coach, adapt, seek help and support until it is established. A supportive whole school approach is key. Some schools and some teachers are much better at doing it than others.
Consistency is vital in not giving up, responding to need and working persistently towards the end goal, that’s what makes the real difference, going the extra mile for some students, not giving up and sending off to imagined correctional facilities, it just doesn’t work like that in my experience.