'Remote' control does not work

22nd August 2008 at 01:00
"Damien's a really nice boy on his own. Away from the others, he's no problem." How often have you heard such frustration expressed at a case conference, or in the staffroom?

We puzzle over the contradictory behaviours demonstrated by one child in different situations. How do we manage this contradiction? Is there an interview strategy which will make the troublesome individual behave well in a group setting?

With the merciful departure of the Lochgelly persuader and the arrival of guidance, attitudes and tactics had to change. However, the behaviour problem didn't. Teachers learned and adopted new approaches, but continued to struggle with quelling the deliberately disruptive Damien, as well as teaching his restless class.

It took me a long time to admit that many of my one-to-one's not only failed to make pupils behave better, but sometimes made it worse. This was an upsetting realisation, dismantling the carefully-constructed platform on which I'd built my guidance practice.

I could argue that, as a guidance teacher, it wasn't my job to enforce discipline. This was a feeble excuse, but it is a commonly-held misconception that we can separate guidance and discipline. The result is a confusion of methods in one-to-one behaviour interviews - which vary, almost comically, from wild rants in the public corridor to calm discussions in a private cloister. This inconsistency suggests that managers, guidance staff and psychologists haven't worked out an effective interview strategy.

It may be that the interviewers who seek to influence classroom behaviour need to rethink their tactics. This may involve two changes - in the actual content of the interview, and in recognising that the interview is only a part of a longer process.

It is a risk to move from generalisations to specific recommendations, but here goes:

- The teacher should, when necessary, remove Damien from class - without fuss - into the care of the duty manager.

- The manager should take him to a private area and state the facts, without judging or criticising - avoiding pointless arguments over cause and allegations of blame.

- Seeking a solution should involve Damien in finding and deciding a strategy.

- Listening to Damien's ideas and adding others, if necessary - "let's look at these suggestions and work out the consequences".

- With Damien's agreement, choosing a strategy, which must be clear and detailed.

- Consulting the teacher to seek views on the strategy.

- Bringing Damien and teacher together, to confirm terms of his return to class - and the consequences of success and failure.

- Integrating this strategy into the plan for tackling Damien's attitude and behaviour.

I realise that the above may seem idealistic and simplistic. However, I defend by-passing the aimless search for blame and going straight for the solution. Youngsters respond well to being challenged to be involved in the solution, and they are more likely to accept and adhere to a strategy which they have chosen.

Almost more important is the response of the classroom teacher - the one who experienced the problem. It is vital that heshe is involved in creating the solution. Failure by the manager to involve himher will further undermine hisher already fragile authority, which will guarantee a continuation of Damien's misbehaviour. It will also lead to a breakdown in the relationship between the teacher, who feels let down, and the manager, who cannot understand why heshe has a problem with a boy who is so reasonable in a one-to-one interview.

"Remote" control of classroom behaviour doesn't work.

Sandy Peterson, has worked as a guidance teacher, in behaviour units and on inter-agency projects.

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