Gentle way to pull the biter's teeth
At Crosshouse Primary School in East Kilbride, South Lanarkshire, we have adopted a wide-ranging citizenship programme to turn our children into confident, articulate and tolerant adults. We have our share of children who are unsettled, aggressive and desperate for attention, but we are trying to adopt a practical and positive approach. Part of our job as educators is to teach children to care for and respect each other, to be tolerant and understand those who are different, respect the need for rules and authority and obey them.
Children must also learn that they are responsible for their own behaviour and that violence does not solve problems but creates them. Anger can be channelled in a more constructive way.
First and foremost we try to set an example for the children. We have introduced records of achievement and are developing a personal and social development programme based on Skills for the Primary School Child, published by The Advisory Council on Drugs and Education (TACADE).
We have already introduced circle time, special persons and shields which are awarded each week to the class that has made the greatest effort towards the school target. Individual awards are presented weekly, one for consistent effort and quality of work, one for the greatest improvement. So we reward children who consistently perform well while continuing to motivate those who might make an extra effort.
We have introduced a new code of behaviour, based on shared rules and values which are continually taught and reinforced throughout the school. In Primary 1 respect for each other might be illustrated when one child lends another a pencil and it is then returned.
Behaviour we seek to promote is rewarded by points which are accumulated into merit stickers which go towards house points. The winning house is rewarded at the end of each term. A system of sanctions makes it clear that certain types of behaviour are unacceptable. Marks are put on individual misdemeanour sheets and a letter home accompanies a punishment exercise which usually takes the form of outlining how the situation could be avoided.
After three misdemeanour marks the deputy head meets the child to discuss and plan strategies to eliminate inappropriate behaviour. "What was your responsibility in thisWhat could you do to prevent it happening again?" When five marks are reached, the headteacher meets the parents and child to devise a plan of action.
Our biter in Primary 2 stays in school at break-time and learns to play games with two older children, using Plasticine to keep his hands busy while talking, and visits the head three times a day to be rewarded with stickers. The family agrees to take him out more, to share activies with him and reward bite-free days with a cuddle. At this point it may be necessary to seek support for the family from another professional, as indeed was the case with our P2.
All our families have signed a contract agreeing to support the school in teaching the children to behave in a way which is consistent with our rules and values.
To offer strategies to parents, the school psychologist and our senior teacher delivered a programme of five afternoon sessions on "Terrible tantrums, had enough!". Managing children's behaviour while treating them with respect and giving them responsibility was the main theme. Parents responded positively, saying they "learned lots of tips", gained "a lot more understanding on how children feel frustrated by parents" and discovered "how to get what you want from children without fights". We plan to repeat the course next year.
Children who are attention-seeking or, conversely, withdrawn need extra support, so we set up a system of mentoring which gives them regular help - not at times of crisis, but when all is quiet. Two senior teachers have a morning a week to work with these children, either in a small group or individually.
Close links with the families are a vital part of this work. Relaxation, problem solving and rehearsing responses to difficult situations are some of the strategies used. Time is also allowed for the child to describe his feelings and talk about himherself. One of the main aims of these sessions is to build self-esteem. If these children feel comfortable with themselves and confident about how to deal with difficult situations, their behaviour will become more acceptable. One child said he felt "brilliant" after his relaxation session with his mentor.
This school is not a psychiatric unit; it is about meeting the needs of the children and providing the optimum learning environment to maximise their potential.
A community room was opened last year and many activities are now organised by a group of parents who work with the school - a weekly keep-fit class with slimming club, regular coffee mornings and a course on first aid run by community education.
An assertiveness course for parents is about to start. By opening the school to parents as much as possible, we aim to make them feel valued and involved in school life, so we can get their co-operation.
The school playground has featured in another project. All the children filled in a questionnaire about what kind of playground they would like, and the P5s used these to redesign it. P6 and P7 then devised procedures for using it. The next step is to raise funds and seek grants to change the playground - small equipment to play with, places to sit, game beds and a garden are on the agenda.
After-school clubs have increased from three to eight. Now the school can offer football, netball, chess, cookery, drama, conversational French, badminton and dancing. As well as providing the children with something worthwhile to do, these clubs help promote a sense of belonging and caring.
So far our programme is succeeding in helping children to feel valued and worthwhile, to take control and believe that they make the decisions about the kind of behaviour they adopt. This school cannot function unless it offers a calm but dynamic atmosphere, in which all children feel important and believe they have something to offer. We would welcome contact ideas and debate from colleagues to help us on our way.
Frieda Fraser is headteacher of Crosshouse Primary School, South Lanarkshire