Modelling positive behaviours in schools during challenging times

Title: Modelling positive behaviours in school during challenging times.

“I am the decisive element in the classroom. It is my personal approach that makes the climate. As a teacher I possess the tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument for inspiration. I can hurt or heal, humiliate or humour. It is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated, humanised or de-humanised”
Ginott 1972


Before you read this blog please note, I’m not setting this out as a ‘golden ticket’ or putting myself on a pedestal of ‘behaviour guru’, what I’m aiming to do is share my experiences, observations of excellent and experienced staff/leaders and readings around the subject of working positively to change the behaviours of students. At the end of this blog is a suggested script that staff can adapt in situations to feel confident in their approach and maintain/improve respectful relationships with students.

‘Every action has an equal and opposite reaction’ (Newton’s Third Law of Motion) can be transferred into a behavioural situation; experienced teachers/leaders see that when a student misbehaves, this should be addressed in a balanced manner. I’ve found from my experiences that if this approach isn’t followed, or isn’t overbalanced with positivity, then grievances are raised, students feel frustrated that their misbehaviour hasn’t been treated fairly, or staff feel that the reaction from the student isn’t what they desired. The impact of such grievances can be endless, they can cause fractures in working relationships, resentment towards further adult encounters and a disengagement with staff, adults and school in general. They also help to create a blame/shame culture where students and staff don’t then feel safe to take risks in their learning.

I’ve found that the positive side of this can have far reaching impact on situations, where students have formed strong working relationships, have gained confidence in their abilities and changed behavioural habits because of the mutual respect that is formed. This observation of experienced staff has a large impact on the culture in a classroom, a corridor, a building and a school as a whole; and if staff buy into this approach, then the school becomes a happier and more respectful place to work.

As educators we have a responsibility to be role models of positive behaviour, as students don’t really know how to behave, they just copy what’s around them. In order to do this, we must as teachers ensure that we are positively predictable. We are the ones that can create the change, as the mature, professional and responsible aspect of the school culture. Our reactions to situations should be consistent and expected by the students. Therefore, I've experienced that dealing with all situations in a non-accusatory manner, calmly making reasonable requests that show respect to the student that you’re speaking to and not belittling them is the best approach. This is most common when speaking with boys as there is a common misconception of having to address boys in an alpha manner is the best way, this is in fact damaging as it shows an ineffective role model of how to react and approach situations, regardless of if it’s being delivered by a male or a female.

It’s been shown in other schools and research (Paul Dix) that if we take the conscious approach to show these high standards of respect and calmness then the surrounding environment will reflect this too. This is sometimes a tough ask to leave our baggage of personal life, workload stress and full on tiredness, but if a smile is given out, you’re more likely to get one back!

Putting this into practice; if someone has dropped some litter, there is no need for an overtly alpha reaction from staff to shout at the said student and ‘demonstrate their authority’, but a strong teacher or leader would see the need for the use of a quiet word and redirection. Don’t get me wrong, there are times when I’ve found that the only way to stop a situation developing is to raise your voice to 11, but this shouldn’t be a go to approach, as it should only ever match the situation at most, not exceed it. Even when doing so, I found the use of a calm voice, with a respectful content is the best way to achieve the outcomes you want.

To streamline what I have experienced and read, there is a scripted routine, adapted from Paul Dix, that can be used (again, this is no golden ticket, but if these steps are being thought about during interactions, then a positive outcome for all is going to be more likely)
What to do:
- Speak calmly and respectfully

- Give a clear and polite request (e.g. “*insert name* I’ve noticed that it was the school rule about … that you have decided to break, please … as a result” or “*insert name* I can see that you’ve decided to wear a different jumper today, please take the non-uniform jumper off, thank you”)

- Repeat said request in the same tone as the first (up to 5 times)

- If this request isn’t achieved at that time, don’t panic or show frustration, simply say “thank you” and walk away from the situation. This should then be passed on to the form tutor/equivalent to enforce the relevant sanction and behaviour reflection for ignoring a member of staff's reasonable request.  

- During this whole process, remain calm, respectful and polite.

Thanks for reading

Grindstone Education

Further reading:
Gary Wilson
Steven Bidulph - Raising Boys in the Twenty-first Century
Paul Dix - When the adults change, everything changes

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