Day I became a neutral diplomat

15th February 2008 at 00:00
Nothing makes me feel more like I am stuck in the middle than having to deal with the sort of pupil-staff dispute that, in my mind, does not favour the staff member.

Being a school behaviour co-ordinator, I hesitate to think that I should automatically be on the "side" of the staff, although it sometimes seems as though that is what is expected of me. I prefer to see myself as a bridge between the staff and the students. I am the neutral diplomat.

Recently I had to manage a classic situation of this type. I was asked to observe the ructions between a young boy and his teaching assistant - a falling out that was starting to have a destructive effect on overall classroom harmony. The concern was that the boy was targeting the assistant, picking on her if you please.

Evidently, he was - no fewer than 16 incidents in one half-hour session. But the behaviour that concerned me most was the assistant's reaction to each incident, ranging from impatient Jerry Springer-style ignoring ("talk to the hand"), to explosive outbursts of verbal aggression - none of which served their purpose. The boy kept coming back for more because he enjoyed watching the dramatic reaction, or because, deep down, he wanted to find a way back to the relationship he used to have with her before she became so angry, before she rejected him.

During our delicate debrief I said: "He's certainly no angel, but your reaction is the bigger problem."

To my surprise, and relief, she immediately agreed. She explained that she was having personal stress and was regretfully taking it out on him. She said she was grateful to be made aware of it and would try to be calmer.

Problem solved? Watch this space.

- Louisa Leaman, Behaviour co-ordinator at a London school.

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