Editorial - Pick'n'mix approach key to sweeter behaviour

11th October 2013 at 01:00

Mr Jones once threw a child through a window. What the child had done, no one really knew. All we knew was that Mr Jones had definitely done it. Just like he'd definitely burst a boy's eardrum by screaming in his face. In the same way that he'd definitely punched a boy in the back of the head one Christmas.

Mr Jones was a psychopathic deputy headteacher at my old school and if you misbehaved enough to get sent to his office, you were sent there with a prayer from your classmates (we were, after all, a Catholic secondary).

Mr Jones would not get far in a pupil referral unit (PRU), according to Paul Dix's feature in this week's TES. Although I am certain that Mr Jones' misdemeanours were fabricated - quite possibly by himself - ruling through fear as he did is decidedly not the done thing in these last-chance saloons for the "unteachables" who have been excluded from mainstream education.

Here, the guidelines for dealing with unruly children are less rules of war and more pacifist manifesto. It's not quite the same as trying to go up against a machine gun with a copy of John and Yoko's Give Peace a Chance, but we are certainly talking support rather than sanctions; hugs rather than haranguing.

The thinking behind this approach is that misbehaviour occurs for complex reasons and to counter it you have to take note of that complexity.

You need to take a wider view by recognising the bearing that a student's home life has on bad behaviour, understanding the basic needs underlying it, and deciding how to engage with the student and have them engage with you and with education. You build boundaries together; you don't impose boundaries and electrify the fence.

Some people reading those previous two paragraphs - possibly from PRUs not on Dix's educational beat - will be rolling their eyes and muttering "pop down to my school and see where that approach gets you. "

These teachers - of which Mr Jones is an extreme manifestation - will swear that the only route to getting a child to behave, even those in PRUs, is a hard-line mix of sanctions and fear. Anything less they dismiss as "hippy-ish".

The two camps, quite openly, detest each other. We're not talking friendly staffroom banter here, these lines in the behaviour management sand are battle lines, and any encroachment of ideas from the opposing view is labelled as an attack on pedagogical sovereignty.

Which is all very unfortunate, don't you think? Children are individuals, not some homogeneous body with one way of reacting and one set need. Hug one child and he may never misbehave again; hug another and he will be laughing at you heartily as he takes a wood plane from the tech department and gives your car a close shave.

Respecting that individuality is key. If you dig yourself too deeply into one philosophy - and this goes for teaching as well as behaviour management - you'll be reaching only some of the students some of the time.

Mix it up a bit by learning from, rather than fighting, your behaviour management opposite, and you'll have a much better chance of reaching most of the students most of the time.

jon.severs@tes.co.uk.

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