Managing Very Challenging Behaviour

11th November 2005 at 00:00
Managing Very Challenging Behaviour

By Louisa Leaman

Continuum Books pound;9.99

The publicity material for this book says: "No government promises will help teachers deal with the daily challenges they face: they need realistic and practical strategies to help them manage life at the sharp end."

Nothing that has emerged from on high in recent weeks by way of vows of stern support for teachers changes this. When Leon - to use one of the author's examples - defiantly drinks from a can in class after you've asked him to bring it to you, then gives you the finger and uses the f-word, then it's you who has to make the instant decisions that will define your future relationship with him and all the other children you teach.

There are no draconian solutions to challenging behaviour. Good classroom discipline is hard-won, precariously preserved and easily lost, and it is refreshing and reassuring that Louisa Leaman clearly understands that. A behaviour support advisory teacher in a London borough, and an occasional TES columnist, she's been there and done it.

Reassurance, in fact, is a key feature of her book. The teacher who goes home miserable after a full-on Leon encounter can read this author's words and begin to see a glimmer of light. Even if no instant cure is on offer, at least there's a hope of preserving sanity and self-esteem - and, above all, the blessed assurance that you're not the only one.

The book, like bad behaviour itself, goes through escalating stages, from low-level disruption, through medium level, to the final section, in which Leon appears, called "Tackling high-level disruption and aggression". (This section also covers physical fighting and assault in the classroom.) In that, it's courageous and unusual, because so much advice on discipline - I've offered it myself - is full of phrases such as "Make sure there's work on the board when they come in...", which is fine until you meet Leon, at which point I am, frankly, out of my depth, and I suspect many other would-be pundits are too.

Louisa Leaman, however, wades straight in. She starts, crucially, with a warning against getting wound up and drawn into an inevitably doomed confrontation: "Conflict arising from the need to retain power is the fuel that feeds the fire: shout, scream and kick all you like in the sanctuary of the staffroom but, for now, keep your dignity."

After that, it's a matter of dispassionately deciding on the appropriate level of intervention, which will usually include an invitation to take some time out: "Vicky, you know that comment is not appropriate in this classroom."

Pupil behaviour is the number one worry for student teachers and NQTs. This book will not turn anyone overnight into that confident, "OK kids, maths books out, let's rock!" teacher you all long to be. But it does contain excellent advice, and some clear insights into why some children are like they are, which is, if not half the battle, at least good for a few forward steps.

Just one note of caution. All the way through, the book assumes, without always saying so, that you're working in the context of a clear and effective whole-school behaviour policy.

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