Shown the red card

3rd June 2005 at 01:00
Behaviour management expert Sue Cowley advises on blowing the whistle on unruly behaviour


"The mentoring programme has been working really well"

One of my pupils (I'll call him Ben) has severe learning difficulties. He has a record of disruptive behaviour and low attainment, but he has shown sporting ability, especially in football.

At first, Ben was frequently unruly in my lessons. He demonstrated a lack of respect for me and for the other pupils and was a major influence on his classmates, especially those with poor concentration. At times he would disengage himself from the lesson and became aggressive. This made some lessons with him extremely difficult.

My department really is supportive and has been great at working together to address Ben's behaviour. Ben's tutor is a member of our department and we've been able to implement strategies consistently. We used a daily report to monitor his behaviour, and got the assistance of his learning support teacher. We wanted to promote his potential in PE, hopefully helping him progress across the curriculum.

Ben's tutor acted as his mentor, and I talked regularly with him about his behaviour. We wanted to take a consistent approach, supporting his talent, but not making allowances for misbehaviour. We decided as a department that if Ben was not willing to co-operate, he wouldn't be allowed to take part in lessons.

At first, this was hard for Ben to accept, but it was important that we didn't let him jeopardise other pupils' learning. I've realised that departments need to work as a team to demonstrate control.

Initially, there was lots of inconsistency in Ben's behaviour, attendance and organisation, but gradually we began to succeed. We managed to build Ben's self-esteem through acknowledging his sporting success. We helped him get organised with his kit and punctuality in PE, hoping that this would improve his attitude in other subjects.

The success he has achieved in football this term has made a huge difference. Ben has overcome his disruptive attitude, preferring to show us his talents. However, there is still a long way to go before this better behaviour is mirrored elsewhere in school.

In the future, we are going to try a new strategy with Ben: developing a reciprocal role by getting him to coach others and give constructive feedback. Although this seems a long way off now, the mentoring programme has been working really well. The good communication and consistency about discipline in our PE faculty has started us on the road to success.

John Morris teaches PE at a secondary school in Somerset


"In schools where staff work together in a supportive way, it doesn't matter how 'challenging' the children are"

The newly qualified teachers who have helped me with case studies this year have all had one thing in common: they have already been trying a whole range of different strategies to address a particular behaviour issue. They refuse to give up and let the children get away with inappropriate behaviour, no matter how tempting an "anything for a quiet life" attitude might seem.

Although it's great to constantly challenge and develop your own classroom practice, one of the keys to success is the support of others. In this case study you can see how helpful a team approach has been for John. Where staff find ways of working consistently, whether in a secondary school department or in a primary key stage team, this has a powerful impact on conduct.

This support is particularly important for NQTs who might otherwise feel isolated and unsure of why things are going wrong.

Ben's story is an interesting one. He has a gift for football, and despite his lack of academic achievement, this offers a great way of boosting his self-esteem. With this type of child you have to be careful not to make too many allowances. Where teachers end up doing anything and everything to keep a pupil "onside", this only exacerbates the problem.

Fortunately, the experienced PE department staff has helped John to set boundaries and stick to them. At first, setting boundaries might increase difficult behaviour as the children test you to see if you follow through.

But if you stick to your guns, they soon realise that co-operation is really the best and only way.

I suspect that Ben is a kinaesthetic learner and that sitting for long periods in lessons feels akin to torture. I imagine him gazing longingly out of the window at those pupils playing sport outside.

Children with a talent for movement and physical activity will often play up in the more academic subjects, particularly if they have poor literacy skills or other learning difficulties. Identifying children who do like to learn in an active way, and finding ways to allow them to do this, is an important approach for Ben's other subject teachers to take.

Some pupils need the individual support and advice that a mentor can offer.

This is particularly so for those who lack appropriate (often male) role models outside school. Rather than sanctioning Ben, his mentor helps him talk about his problems and look for solutions. This approach goes far beyond containment and punishment; it seeks to address the root causes of his misbehaviour.

Having a talent for a "cool" subject such as PE can give a child kudos within a peer group and also with older pupils in a school. Other pupils look up to Ben because of his gift, and follow his lead in lessons. John has seen how this influence can be powerfully negative in his lessons.

For the future, encouraging Ben to coach and support other pupils is a great idea. It will show him how to use his status within the peer group in a positive way and his self-esteem will gain a welcome boost. The pride he gains from his talent for football will hopefully filter into his whole attitude to school and to learning.

In schools where staff work together in a supportive way, it doesn't matter how "challenging" the children are. It is a comfort just to know that back up is available when it's needed.

Sue Cowley is author of 'Getting the Buggers to Behave' (Continuum)


* Work as a team: Staff need to pull together and have a consistent approach to managing behaviour. The same high expectations should be applied across the whole school.

* Don't make allowances: Sometimes it is tempting to let a difficult child "get away with" behaviour that you would not accept from others. This is the first step down a slippery slope.

* Use a mentoring system: Some tricky children need the one-to-one attention and advice that a mentor offers. For boys, having a positive male role model is often particularly important.

* Boost self-esteem: Where a pupil's self-confidence is very low, this can lead to destructive and aggressive behaviour. Find lots of ways to make all your children feel good about themselves.

* Suit the learning to the learner: Wherever possible, let children learn in a way that best suits their needs. Active approaches typically work well with all pupils.

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