Chris Cotter, English Teacher and Research Facilitator, Manchester Communication Research School
Time and time again we’re faced with students who, for one reason or another, consistently fail to reach the necessary expectations of the classroom. Often with behaviour programmes a student is subjected to a prolonged fixed term exclusion or lengthy stint at an alternative provision. Then, before we know it, they are placed back into the school system and within a relatively short space of time inevitably fail all over again.
How then can we best ensure that our behaviour interventions are both appropriately punitive but still restorative at the same time? And when we eventually decide that it is time for reintegration, how can we provide appropriate support to give a child the best opportunity for success?
For instance, let’s take a look at a student called Jane1: a disengaged learner who has become completely disillusioned by the negative outcomes of her education so far.
Whenever Jane is faced with a new barrier, or challenge, she stumbles and falls. But if we support Jane and provide her with a catalogue of small wins, shower her with constructive praise, and instil within her a belief in her ability to succeed, then along with some close monitoring and supportive reflection, the possibilities are endless.
Her timetable was adapted and personalised – a provision for which Jane was heavily involved, which encouraged her to be reflective on her past educational experiences and allowed for an honest discussion about what had gone wrong in the past. Restorative conversations were arranged with specific members of staff that according to Jane “just don’t like me”. It was imperative for classroom teachers to have this informal discussion with Jane outside of the classroom environment in order to empathise with her position and build on their working relationship.
Evidence suggested by the EMR model within the EEF’s ‘Improving Behaviour in Schools’ guidance report highlights how significant the impact of maintaining a positive relationship without compromising on boundaries and expectations can not only lead to improved behaviour but also improved academic outcomes.
Teenagers by their very nature throughout high school are beginning to self-conceptualise their own identities and this perception is largely formed by the everyday social interactions that we have with those around us. We internalise and react to the labels given to us by others: family, friend, teacher, etc. and it’s no surprise to realise that many of our most disengaged and troubled learners allow these negative stereotypes to influence their actions.
Put simply, negative interactions lead to negative feelings, negative feelings lead to negative thoughts and negative thoughts lead to negative behaviours. So, if we removed the negative influence at play here and replaced it with a more positive approach surely this would improve the behaviour of those we are reintroducing to mainstream learning and increase their opportunities for success.
As stated in recommendation one of the guidance report, by increasing the number of positive influences during a student’s time at school we can pro-actively mitigate the risk of negative incidents reoccurring.
The power of positive interactions
Positive social interactions are key to cognitive, social and emotional development. As educators and professional adults, it is we who should set the standard and model these desirable behaviours for those most at risk of permanent exclusion. Far too often there can be an avoidable breakdown in relationship between teacher and student, generally caused by an overzealous use of school behaviour policies or inconsistencies when managing behavioural incidents in an effective way.
The most essential step when challenging misbehaviour is the restorative conversation that takes place post incident and it’s no surprise that the quality of relationship between adult and child is an imperative component when assessing how receptive a student is to this type of regulatory discussion.
Ultimately, we’re all facilitators of learning and as such must remember to provide students with an element of independence, trust and ownership over their learning experiences. Yes, it’s important to establish a set of expectations within any learning environment, though it’s also our responsibility to make sure these behavioural expectations are personalised and attainable for all.
Changing a child’s way of thinking or revolutionising their perception of themselves is no simple task, but with ongoing collaboration, opportunities for guided reflection and segmented reintegration the potential for success stands within our grasp.
1 Jane is an anonymised student