Behaviour Management, only?

From Piaget to Vygotsky, Working Memory to Mindset Interventions, Collaborative Inquiry models to Randomised Control Trials, the efficacy and purpose of what we were taught in ITE, through to the professional development we undertake in schools, seems to be under more intense scrutiny. Lauded by some, it may be viewed as the welcoming ripples of a research aware profession that grows more confident and secure in critically engaging with ‘outside in’ diktats & orthodoxies of “you must do this.”

For others, it may redefine their role as a teacher beyond what they want? Redefine beyond what they ‘signed up for’? But is this a legacy of learned helplessness of a profession that wants to be led more than lead? Is teacher agency (thanks to @MarkRPriestley too large a step into a new world of self determination and autonomy, that for some, we may just project a subtle disconnect between what we espouse to our pupils and how we as teachers, walk the words in our own school lives?

Through various lenses on behaviour management, perhaps we can tease out the tensions that may sit behind our perceptions of what we say we value and what we actually do in schools.

Perhaps in a cold sense of irony, the term ‘behaviour management’ itself does not help. It seems at times to project as an automaton, devoid of human attachment and empathy, reliant on compliance and obedience. Yet, there are times in schools when compliance and obedience is a must. Think ‘fire drills’, healthy and safety on busy stairwells and high tariff beahviour which puts the safety of self and others at potential harm.

Let’s be honest, conformity and the perceived social influence to follow school norms, and perhaps even wider societal norms, is not always observed by all pupils in my experience.Yet if we get behaviour for learning right, does it not give the expectations of high standards in learning and teaching a massive push in the right direction? Or, can it subtly yet be turned in attribution & be framed that poor behaviour is down to poor teaching which is the fault of poor teachers?

I have taught in SEBD units (PRUs), I have taught in residential schools, I have taught in one of the ‘top’ performing state schools in Scotland and in one of the ‘top’ performing international schools worldwide. I lay bare my credentials why? Not to highlight myself as an expert on behaviour; I am not particularly keen on the term an expert in education. The variables of complexity that underscore education are so vast that being an expert in education, a schema of entirety, seems a term of the ridiculous. I have been introduced to many experts over the last 25 years, across three continents as a teacher; I’ve walked away meeting few if any.

No. I highlight to convey that behaviour enters the world of teachers in every school they teach, in every continent across every demographic. It exists as a ubiquitous. So why is it so inconsistently addressed in ITE (Initial Teacher Education) and in life beyond qualifying as a teacher? Perhaps never greater underscored in a time when teachers are leaving the profession and less are entering the profession, do we inadvertently as a profession help sow the seeds of a serious teacher shortage?

I like to teach conformity in Psychology by asking this question to my pupils; Can conformity be helpful, a social influence for good. Can it be unhelpful, a social influence for bad? Can we cite examples in our own lives? In wider society? Other societies? Within a psychological analysis, this necessitates defining conformity and highlighting, via reference to supporting research studies, possible explanations of why people conform. If teaching is learning therefore, trying to better understand the why of implementing behaviour management strategies not just the what seems a key but missing part of the narrative. It does not matter if this results in tension between differing perspectives on behaviour, ranging from free will to a more deterministic analysis. Such discussions are a welcome addition, not an inconvenient lens on classroom practice.

For example, discussion around the work of Alfie Kohn, juxtaposed to the thoughts of Dr. Bill Rodgers, is a win/win in my opinion. Based on my personal reading of Kohn, he asserts that punishment is destructive and that sanitizing by interchanging with consequences and choices is merely a game of semantics. Equally, according to Kohn, rewards have a longer term negative impact on intrinsic motivation, as external drivers help to reinforce that we do something merely to create a tangible end point or goal of a reward.

Through my reading of Dr Rodgers on the other hand, I interpret that he advocates that consequences, via a well communicated staged intervention model, help guide and frame pupil behaviour. An additional layer of repairing and rebuilding, perhaps similar to the overarching tenets of restorative approaches, is critical for Rodgers in order to help pupils self regulate and make better behavioural choices when things don’t go to ‘plan’. Crucially, there is a premise in the Rodger’s model that intrinsic and external factors are in a constant state of flux and interaction, thus clear and structure boundaries are an imperative in the lives of many who experience random and chaos. Moreover, Rodger’s contends that pupils both need and want these boundaries to better control their own choices.

The above helps to highlight a few key ‘must haves’ when discussing behaviour in schools. Dialogue is better than monologue in the way that facilitative leadership trumps a more typical model of management leadership in schools- “do as I say as I merely due to my stripes”. Being able to create space and opportunity for dialogue however is not enough in itself. Informed dialogue, with all teachers, at all levels, is required. Reference to professional reading, case studies, research papers, evidence based practice, consistency of support and consequences are key pieces in a behaviour jigsaw puzzle. But are key pieces missing in this puzzle?

Are these ‘values pieces’? Harder to identify and locate publicly in schools when the tension between a behaviour management system that we as teachers are told to support via consistent implementation yet this consistency may not always extend to how teachers are supported? Dissonance is easy to find in any school, as readily on tap as the staffroom cup of coffee. However, working towards consonance is a valuable step forward in this by identifying key points of agreement that reflect key values that we all supposedly uphold.

Values make the ethos of the school walk, they allow words to walk into life. Behaviour management systems and staged intervention models typify ‘Walking the Words’. Why? Because what lies at the centre is how we believe we should treat other people and the values that sit behind the reasons why.

I am currently writing a blog devoted entirely to the efficacy and scalability of mindset interventions, so the purpose here is not to critique these constructs but briefly to place an inquiring lens on how mindset interventions ‘talk’ to staged interventions of behaviour management. I want to peek through a values lens and mine down to possible psychological experiences for teachers. This is not to simplify the complexity of thirty plus years of empirical research around entity and incremental views of intelligence and motivation, but rather to highlight possible areas of consonance and dissonance that may exist in what we advocate as mindset interventions and how the words of behaviour management policies ‘walk’ in the everyday life of our schools.

I have read Self Theories (Dweck et al, 1999) and then read again. Personally, it ranks much higher in my appreciation than Mindset-The New Psychology of Success. As Dweck advocates, our own self schema is in continual flux and reframing; our self beliefs, our thoughts and feelings and the reciprocally deterministic relationship to our behaviour are key ingredients in the cocktail of a broader picture of psychological school experiences. According to Dweck et al (1999), our perceived strengths, our perceived limitations and our thoughts on how others perceive us, in part influence levels of pupil motivation, self-efficacy and core beliefs, helping shape their psychological landscape of school.

Yet crucially, if teaching is learning, teachers are also susceptible to complex cognitive interactions, which shape their psychological experiences and beliefs around both themselves, colleagues and pupils- yet, it is merely implicit that they internalise the worlds of fixed / growth mindset and wider mindset interventions, and then act ‘accordingly’? Should such mindset interventions not also frame how we support colleagues who express a need for professional development around behaviour management? Does failure to support effectively, with the catch all attribute that poor behaviour is due to a poor teacher or poor teaching merely reinforce a negative sense of purpose mindset (Yeager & Bundick, 2009) in teachers?

This sense of purpose mindset- “why should I want to learn more on behaviour management and uplevel my professional knowledge and skills when it can be used as a stick to beat when poor behaviour still perists”- effectively helps shape key beliefs of our own self theories, and if we merely reinforce a deficit /blame culture around the management of inappropriate behaviour, then we are not a school that walks the words of mindsets- we are merely a school and a system that worships at the altar of cognitive and perhaps even moral dissonance.





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2 Responses to Behaviour

  1. teachwell says:

    This is a brilliant post and highlights many aspects of what I have seen in teaching. Behaviour management is not tackled enough because often people don’t know themselves what the answers are. I have seen many a head wait expectantly for ‘the’ teacher who will miraculously fix some child’s behaviour problems. I just don’t think it works like that. Most children if given boundaries are happy and may push a bit but will deal with it if parents and teachers work together. Some never push. Other push more for different reasons. The only ones I have struggled with are the ones who need some form of intervention. The biggest lie some leaders tell themselves is that it is the teacher – which if the behaviour suddenly deteriorates and there are no issues at home fair enough. However, this has rarely if ever been the case. Instead one teacher after another will deal with the same child and no matter what their personality, gender, background face the same problems. Have I seen people actually turn it around in a mainstream class in these cases? Not unless manipulation counts, or just simply letting the child have their way while the rest of the class is neglected is what passes for behaviour management. Inclusion does involve a clash of rights between the collective good and that for the individual. In the end I will also assert that the 1 child can not be worth 29, they can not disrupt day after day with no consequence. In fact all the boundary shifting I have seen encouraged and excused just makes the problem worse. Leaders don’t want to deal with it because of the harsh comeback on them if they exclude pupils, often their hands are tied. I think a genuine discussion about what needs to happen to the children and their families is needed. I am surprised that no parent has taken a school to court yet as a result of the disruption – it shows that most believe we are doing our best. Maybe we should not take advantage of that and find out from real experts what can and can not be done.

  2. Danny Mallon says:

    Excellent post. I can honestly say that in my 33 years in teaching I have never had theories in behaviour management discussed in any inset days I`ve attended or fleshed out at departmental meetings.I dont understand because behaviour management is the rock which classroom learning and teaching depends.

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