This is the last in a trilogy of posts on cultivating good behaviour. While the previous posts explored strategies for nurturing good behaviour before, and as incidents occur, the following covers what can be done after events of poor conduct have occured.
Every teacher has to deal with difficult students in their career. After all, that’s what makes the job exciting, right? Young people wouldn’t be young people if they didn’t react in unexpected ways. In fact, scientists have long ago revealed that the adolescent brain is markedly different from that of adults. The prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for guiding our actions is not yet fully formed in adolescents. So when your Y9 decides to lamp his friend because of some unsavoury words exchanged in Google chat, part of him is unable to control his response towards a more desirable outcome. Here I share 8 courses of action you might take after poor behaviour has occurred.
1-Aim to heal damaged relationships.
As an NQT, I taught a student who was repeatedly aggressive and confrontational towards me. I could have attempted to punish it out if her, but that would have been futile. We only learned mutual respect through dialogue, sometimes involving a mediator. Never underestimate the power of a restorative conversation. Sometimes when you speak to a student on a 1-1 basis, away from the crowd and off the ‘stage’, these can be some of the most constructive conversations.
2- Dig deeper
My friend Suzan who is an experienced School Counsellor reminds me that “behaviour is a symptom”. I think she’s right in many ways. A child’s openly negative behaviour could be an expression of a deeper root cause. Perhaps the response requires a more therapeutic solution, seeing the School Counsellor, or having someone teach them anger management techniques.
3- Look for trends in behaviour data and then change policy where needed.
If you find that the main infractions for Y7 are talking in class, perhaps introduce appropriate talking and listening expectations. Some schools have adopted a One Voice policy. This states that there should only ever be one voice heard at any given time during a lesson.
4-Follow through but don’t be afraid to adjust a punishment.
Don’t be wrong and strong. If the flicking of an eraser didn’t really warrant an hour after school, but that’s the sanction you issued in your blind fury, perhaps out of frustration, tiredness, stress, or all three! don’t be afraid to adjust the punishment. We are all human and make mistakes.
5-Give students the tools to manage certain emotions and self-regulate.
This is no easy feat. It’s extremely hard to change anyone’s behaviour, but one of the great things about being young is the immense capacity for learning new things. This is why it’s critical to equip children with such skills as early as possible. I’ve seen 3 year olds practice techniques such as ‘belly breathe’, a breath control technique to support the controlling of their emotions.
6-Give the young person an opportunity to make amends.
Imagine this scenario. Pupil A has just stolen another child’s lunch and is consequently issued a detention. And then what? Similar to the restorative approach in technique 1, students who have hurt or wronged someone else should be given the opportunity to restore the relationship and have a level of accountability towards the person they have harmed. I admire the brilliant educator Barbara Coloroso’s approach of the three Rs: restoration, restitution and reparation. Create opportunities for healing and forgiveness. Yes, it takes effort to broker these conversations, but the return is well worth the investment.
7-Slow it down.
After the incident has occured, don’t feel that you need to weigh in with an answer straight away. You may need to let the situation sit for 24 hours so you can deliberate. Unfortunately, we live in a culture that places value on leaders making swift decisions. This is grossly erroneous. Our best decisions are often slow, methodical and well measured. Read about the work of Daniel Kahneman in, ‘Thinking; fast and slow’ to learn about how we can slow things down to arrive at better decisions.
8-Leverage incidents of poor behaviour to become teachable moments.
Imagine a child has left a mean comment online, which is particularly pertinent at this time of remote learning. This is a great opportunity to have a conversation about digital citizenship and etiquette. Signpost them in the direction of useful videos about digital footprints and the consequences of irresponsible online activity.
If you’d like to read the previous posts in this series, you can find them here and here.
The terms good and bad behaviour jar me slightly. It’s limited binary positioning does not quite capture the nuances and subtleties of human beings. It’s a bit like sadness and happiness. The two coexist and are not as far apart as we often like to think. I’m still searching for some better terms and hope to continue this conversation with many of you.