Don't look on the sad side of life
Picture the scene, it's Friday dinner time in the staffroom and once again we are all involved in the lamentations over little Nicky.
Little Nicky has been up to her tricks again, pinching three classmates - first on the arm and then pinching their lunch. Then bored with pinching she has progressed to punching, in this case her (former) best friend. Finally, because it must be a "p" day, Nicky has pushed her big sister over in the playground. And the consequence? Nicky's name has been written up on "the sad side" three times; twice more and she'll be sent to the deputy head.
The result, as I see it, is Nicky Albion 3, Teachers Utd 0! A resounding victory for Nicky. Casting a shadow over the victory will be a visit to the deputy and a further sanction should she commit two more offences, but if we consider that Nicky is five years old and really only thinks about the number five in terms of her age and the number of chicken nuggets she can eat at one sitting, does this system mean anything to her in the way it is intended to?
So where does the victory come into it? Notoriety, to be precise. From the point of view of many children the thinking goes a bit like this: if it's too hard to get your name on the "happy side" of the Buddy Board, you might as well go for the other side. As someone once said, and many have re-quoted, "any publicity is good publicity, dahling".
What is the point of the Buddy Board system, which is now used by many primary teachers? Simply having your name written up on the "sad side" is not a sanction, nor is it a productive re-channeling of the undesirable behaviour into a positive outcome. The type of individual who is shamed or embarrassed by having their name written up is unlikely to ever experience it more than once or twice in a school year.
Moreover, if shame and embarrassment is the object of the sanction then the entire ethos in the school is questionable. As with Nicky, however, there are far more individuals who, for a number of reasons, perceive having their name written up on the board as preferable to being unremarkable.
Is it then a type of early warning system, or aide-memoire for both children and taff to refer to? Again, I feel that this purpose, though it is more sound than the one above, is unproductive. Reminding children verbally, or outlining your particular expectations to a child prior to each session is a far more pointed, personal and positive strategy for encouraging their good behaviour.
Behaviour tally sheets kept by the practitioner, and even by the child who may be prompted by the teacher are equally effective reminders and serve as good records for the effective monitoring of individual's behaviour.
The long-term effects of the "sad side" must be taken into account. I know, as a visitor to many schools, the effect it has on me to see a sad face drawn onto a space designed for learning, that has the names of individual children written underneath it. Once the child has achieved this form of notoriety it becomes a difficult cycle to break. The child has developed a "sad-side" habit and withdrawal is rarely pretty.
There are so many good ideas and firm strategies now coming to light in many schools and educational settings, often as a result of forward-thinking education authorities and individual schools who are working in a "joined-up" and creative way with each other, individual teachers, outside agencies and parents.
Many schools now have behaviour co-ordinators, a role developed in one of my former posts by my headteacher and me back in 1995. The BeCo, as he or she is fondly known, is a member of staff other than the head or deputy who works within the area of behaviour as one would as a co-ordinator in any other subject.
They have respect from colleagues as they perform their role usually alongside their own teaching duties, and they are more approachable at an earlier stage of concern with regard to behaviour issues. Many of these co-ordinators work within guidelines, either their own which are drawn up in consultation with the staff, or those which come from such initiatives as Birmingham's Framework for Intervention.
With this kind of development in the area of behaviour there is no longer any room for ineffective and petty strategies such as the Buddy Board.
Sarah Hodgson is a senior lecturer in early-years education at Newman College, Birmingham and a former deputy head in a primary school