It only takes a minute

2nd March 2012 at 00:00
Last month we published a 30-second technique to tackle problem behaviour. Here's Victor Allen's 60-second method to address disruptive pupils one-to-one

How many times have you found yourself in the situation in which a pupil has started to disrupt a lesson and repeated comments and warnings fail to change their behaviour?

You gave up your previous evening to prepare an engaging lesson. Yet Ryan still thinks that throwing a pen, shouting out or prodding someone is more interesting than you or his success in school.

The next stage, you decide, is to have a "chat" outside the classroom. Now the question is: what are you going to say when you do have that quick chat? Your mind races to find words to make the next 60 seconds count. Any longer and you lose the impact; any shorter is a waste of time.

Normally you will have decided on your approach in the short time frame between the incident and the moment you and the pupil step outside the door. At exactly the same time, while you figure out the kind of dialogue you want to have, the pupil is doing the same.

Here the 60-second conversation is valuable. First, re-examine the role Ryan is expecting you to play in this little drama. What script does he think you are coming to the performance with? He will most likely be expecting you to play the "I know best" role or the "I am annoyed" role. He will be looking for non-verbal clues; he will focus on your tone of voice as well as your words.

Therefore, at the opening of your 60-second interview, you have to throw away the standard script and the role you are desperate to play. Conversations driven by annoyance may not get the outcomes you want.

So, for the first few seconds, talk positively about anything you know will interest him and be familiar to him - "How is your sister getting on?", "How was the weekend?", "Did your football team win last night?" Start a casual conversation that is non-threatening and non-confrontational and totally not what he expects.

He may try to bring you back to the disruptive behaviour. Use your hand to deflect these comments and ask another question related to your initial enquiry.

Once there has been recognition that you are not going to "tell him off" you can move into the second part of the interview. Ask him, in a composed and matter-of-fact manner, to describe his learning in this lesson, maybe starting with, "Is there anything you were having difficulty with?"

By now you should be up to about 25 seconds. If Ryan is still agitated at this stage, then just say: "I will give you a few moments to think about our conversation so far", then tell him there's something you need to do back in the classroom. Thank Ryan for the conversation so far.

This will do two things. It will give him a chance to reflect on his behaviour in a more balanced way and it will also give you a chance to get back into the lesson and deal with any fallout.

During the final 35 seconds of the conversation, you need to refer directly to the initial incident in the classroom. At this stage, it wouldn't be uncommon for Ryan to have already apologised for his behaviour without prompting. Sometimes, though, there is the need for a gentle enquiry as to why he felt the need to act in that way, when he has proved himself to be so mature, sensible and understanding in this conversation with you.

It is important now, considering the 60-second window, to secure Ryan's future commitment to talking to you about his learning, alongside your assurances to Ryan about making an extra-special effort to support him in any way you can.

The final stage is to prepare for Ryan's reintegration back into the classroom. Ask him what he is going to do when he returns to the lesson. He will know what you are after and should answer appropriately.

The 60-second plan is just a guide, but it is a good one for keeping you focused and in control of the conversation. Don't cut short the interview if you know you aren't making progress, but analyse it afterwards and see what changes you can make. Eventually the 60-second interview becomes a useful tool to get pupils back on track.

Victor Allen is a freelance behaviour and leadership consultant and founder of Mirror Development and Training:

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