5 behaviour terms we need to leave in the past

Talk about behaviour is haunted by pedagogies past, writes Jen Foster – we need to update our mindsets through language
19th December 2020, 8:00am
Jen Foster

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5 behaviour terms we need to leave in the past

https://www.tes.com/magazine/archived/5-behaviour-terms-we-need-leave-past
How To Change Our Language Around Behaviour In Schools

What's in a name? Actually, quite a lot. A name can influence how we think, feel and respond to a situation. Names hold great power. 

Despite this, education is flooded with outdated and loaded terminology. Particularly when we are looking at behaviour, there are many ghosts of pedagogies past, which can have detrimental effects in our classroom.

Changing our language around behaviour

But a vocabulary spring clean can help to change our mindsets as well update our toolkits. Here are five terms that are due an upgrade:

1. From 'behaviour management' to 'behaviour support'

The way we conduct ourselves stems from our feelings and needs. As adults, we can manage ourselves appropriately (most of the time). Children, however, are still learning how to do this. They are not here to be managed and controlled. 

By using the term "behaviour support", we can shift our mindset to the idea that each child needs to be nurtured. The behaviours they are displaying should be viewed the same as the work in their maths book. What does it tell us? How can we help them? What can we put in place? 

Terms like "behaviour management" make it far too easy to blame the child. How many times have you heard teachers say that they've got a "bad/fussy/chatty/class"? Educators must be given more ownership, support and training to understand behaviour. Rather than control it.

2. From 'fidget toys' to 'learning tools'

When we commit to inclusion, we understand that all children learn differently. This may mean adding visuals, partner talk and different resources. Differentiation is more often focused on academic learning. 

However, I remember watching my Mum doodle every time she was having an important phone call. That was how she focused. Reframing fidget toys as learning tools helps us to normalise the concept that listening looks different for our children.

3. From 'low-level behaviour' to 'unsettled behaviour'

"Low-level behaviour" sparks images of tapping pens and chatty children. We know the child presenting this behaviour does not have specific needs and therefore it conjures a mindset that they're doing it intentionally as a distraction to the teacher's lesson.

Reframing this phrase as "unsettled behaviour" helps us to understand where it is coming from. Why is that child tapping their pen? Are they not being challenged? Are they not engaged? Is something distracting them? It changes our whole outlook on the behaviour and gives us a direction to support that child rather than being miffed that our teacher input was interrupted.

4. From 'challenging behaviour' to 'distressed behaviour'

When was the last time you shouted at someone? Or deliberately said something to offend? Or ripped up something you were given? Ask yourself: were you trying to challenge someone? Of course you weren't.

That type of behaviour comes from deep hurt, frustration and being overwhelmed. This is distressed behaviour, and once we understand it as such, we can empathise and support that student. It is not deliberately oppositional - it is a child's cry for help, and we must respond with support.

5. From 'attention-seeking behaviour' to 'connection-seeking behaviour '  

Again, this is more about blame than strategies. Attention seeking is a personality trait and therefore nothing can be done about it. Right? Let's reframe. A child is seeking attention because they are craving connection. Connection with you, the lesson, their peers and their learning. 

"Connection-seeking" helps us to see that child for what they really need. Behaviour is communication. When we see it as this, not only do we have more patience but we also have an understanding of how to move forward.

Jen Foster is a teacher

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