Pack up their troubles

12th March 2004 at 00:00

Behaviour management expert Bill Rogers is back, with help for teachers of pupils with emotional and behavioural difficulties. Kate Spohrer is impressed

Behaviour Recovery

By Bill Rogers

Paul Chapman pound;18.99

"Bill Rogers is the only speaker I have heard who could get secondary school teachers excited about tackling EBD (emotional and behavioural difficulties) in their classrooms," said a colleague after attending one of his training sessions.

Rogers has a gift for communicating his ideas in person. His sense of humour and Antipodean charm carry him a long way. But the ideas are good, too, and a sense of humour isn't essential (although, let's face it, teaching EBD students without possessing a GSOH is like going abroad without your passport; try it at your peril).

The content of Behaviour Recovery is sound. Rogers views the skills needed for teaching students with EBD as good teaching practice and not something that has to exist in a parallel universe. "There is a perception among some teachers that the discipline of children with emotional and behavioural disorders needs to be different from children in the so-called `normal range of behaviour'. I am not convinced of this." He adds that the practices described in the book "are relevant for all children in all contexts". I couldn't agree more.

He argues that the programme he outlines here in eight chapters is most successful when it has school-wide support (including support from parents), and when colleagues are backed up by their peers. I would add that total commitment by the headteacher and senior management team is essential. So many great initiatives fail in schools because they are not backed wholeheartedly by the leadership team. Enthusiasm and vision from the top goes a long way, but the golden words are consistency and commitment.

The first chapter - Understanding Children with Behaviour Disorders - starts, crucially, by considering teacher isolation. I'm glad this is highlighted early in the text, with the acknowledgment that "teachers are key caregivers in the lives of children. They provide significant emotional and social security, especially for students with emotional and behavioural disorders. But they provide this care at a cost." This "cost" to teachers can mean the loss of good staff, or worse. Recognition of colleague support regarding classroom dynamics is essential to the health and long-term prospects of pupils, teachers and the school.

Suggestions for types of colleague support are listed, but a critical method has been omitted (it may be implicit, but I don't think so). That is the use of psychodynamic work in discussion groups, in which a member of the group brings a case to discuss and the group works on it collectively.

This method enables school staff to learn to feel clearly the emotional temperature in the classroom, to recognise where their feelings are coming from, and to rise above them and address the problem with a deepened understanding. The consequence is a change in staff behaviour, leading to a change in student behaviour.

This book is full of strategies, of which I found "mirroring" and "rehearsal" the most interesting. "Mirroring" enables students to sense their own behaviour when the teacher models it to them; "rehearsal" allows them to feel their body making the shapes and producing the sounds that are appropriate to the given situation. These are excellent techniques. It can be difficult to do the right thing when you don't know how the right thing feels. A student who has a poor kinaesthetic memory, or who has never experienced talking in a quiet voice (perhaps because the TV is always on at home or someone at home may have a hearing impairment), has no experience on which to base appropriate behaviour.

But what do these methods do for the staff? I hope one effect may be that the staff can use role-play to understand what it is like to be the child: how isolated, threatened, scared that child is feeling in school.

Mirroring is fine, as long as it is done with understanding of the child's perspective. Otherwise (as Bill Rogers recognises) it runs the risk of becoming mockery and a further nail in the coffin of self-esteem. Other chapters introduce and develop the programme, with a full chapter dedicated to managing anger and bullying issues. There are short sections on the language of correction and verbal encouragement.

The book puts too little emphasis on language, which is crucial to success with EBD students. Where teachers use positive teaching techniques, with positive comments significantly outweighing negative ones, the behavioural change is tangible. I have observed teachers whose skill in this area brings tears to one's eyes - for all the right reasons - and I have come out of these teachers' classrooms wishing they could teach my child.

Use of language in the classroom is one of the most significant factors affecting behaviour in schools, along with teacher support and the restriction of crisps, chocolate and fizzy drinks.

The book's layout is unenticing and it could have been made easier to read and use. It is in A5 format, but would be more comfortable to handle in A4.

More boxes and bullet points would have made the text less dense, and exercises as the reader progresses through the book would have given it a tutorial feel.

The cover is unmemorable and would probably have benefited from one of the author's cartoons. The photocopy masters and their explanatory notes are, unfortunately, separated. The layout does no justice to the content, which is packed with cartoon illustrations, meaningful case studies and sound advice. But Bill Rogers's book is as comprehensive as any single book can be, and includes some cracking strategies and ideas. It should be essential reading for all student teachers and learning support staff, and could well be bedtime reading for practising teachers and headteachers, too.

Kate Spohrer is a behaviour and education support team co-ordinator in Sandwell, West Midlands

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