Danger! Anger alert ahead

28th November 2003 at 00:00
We have an electronic noticeboard at our school entrance which welcomes visitors, celebrates achievements and passes on information. Watching its moving finger write, I am minded of its more gallus cousins positioned on gantries at either end of the M8.

Normally these motorway motivators announce road closures or traffic tailbacks, but, occasionally, their messages verge on the metaphysical. The one that causes most sniggering is, inevitably: "Frustration causes accidents".

Which brings me nicely to the visit of my better half to a conference on "anger management". I should hasten to point out that her attendance had everything to do with her employment in guidance, and nothing to do with her incarceration with this particular grumpy old man over long numbers of years. Anyway, she returned equipped with a number of insights into what happens when our pupils lose it big time in class, and it certainly provided food for thought.

Apparently, when a pupil blows up, there is about eight seconds before they will be almost impossible to control. During this time, as the red mist is descending, they are effectively "deaf" to sentences, so the philosophically based response, "Do you think that is really a good idea, Jimmy?", is liable to go unanswered. The suggestion is that short, sharp instructions are more readily understood while the veins are pumping.

"Put that down!" or "Don't do that!" are more likely to be successful than questions or longer statements in this initial stage.

Of even more interest in terms of behaviour management was the reference to a sliding scale of time needed for a full return to calm. While a primary pupil will stop seething after around 45 minutes, an adult will take up to one and a half hours.

This has obvious implications for staff involved in confrontations, and indeed for pupils they teach in the ensuing period. Part of our provision is a "space base", where pupils are given the space to calm down and reflect on their misdeeds. In the interests of equality and support for all, these revelations maybe suggest that a similar facility might be needed for staff.

Of course, a better strategy would be professional development that addresses what is now known as "emotional literacy". The conference heard that first-year pupils have a limited vocabulary of words that describe feelings, but the one word they have in common is "anger".

In these inclusive times, it is surely better that we learn how to cope with pupils' anger rather than find ourselves forced to cope with the results of teachers' anger.

As M8 travellers know: "Frustration causes accidents".

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