Why staff are all in this together

5th October 2012 at 01:00
From dinner ladies to office administrators, everyone needs to keep an eye on discipline, argues Paul Dix

Reception staff welcome me at the door with a smile that cannot hide their relief. They know that while I "do behaviour" with the teaching staff, the office staff are going to have a quiet day. As the caretaker finishes rearranging the chairs and giving me the unedited inside track on the school, she flashes me a wry smile: "Good luck with this lot." Scurrying back to the caretaker's hideaway for a Woodbine, she knows that today will be a peaceful one.

Yet training teachers and teaching assistants to manage and modify behaviour in lesson time can only be part of the plan. If you do not give your reception, site, midday and business administration staff the same skills as teachers, do not be surprised when cracks start appearing in your consistency. Leave some adults out and your students soon realise that they can treat them differently. They become lower status, less powerful and much, much more playable.

Consistency in classrooms can be quickly counterbalanced by inconsistency outside of them. Some of the most difficult incidents of misbehaviour occur around the site. Away from the watchful eye of teachers, children take more risks, experiment with nastier behaviour. It is where bullying can flourish. It is not always the classroom-based staff who come across these incidents. What if the "eyes and ears of the school" were more than very useful observers?

The style of behaviour management can vary wildly in this group, from "the cane's too good for 'em" Rhodes Boysonists to gently subversive tea and empathy mongers ("I am sure you didn't mean to call him a dickhead"). If you allow them to sit on the sidelines they can quickly become a critical audience giving a running commentary to anyone who cares to listen. Train them, involve them and their enthusiasm for improving behaviour becomes a valuable resource.

Teach them to intervene and not simply to delegate and refer. Give them the same right to operate the policy as teachers. Share the common language and the strategies that work best.

Agree the expectations, be open about poor practice, be honest about being fallible. Allow and encourage follow-up, reparation, positive reinforcement and reward. Ensure they have the same right to deliver appropriate consequences. Involve them in discussions around values, policy and practice. Help them understand why some children do not fit within a normal range, why some children respond better to positive reinforcement and how escalating an argument is not the way for adults to behave.

Be realistic, too. We all need help sometimes. We all get angry. There is no shame in bringing someone else in. No one is expected to deal with each misdemeanour personally or immediately. Everyone has to prioritise, everyone has other work they need to do alongside teaching children to be excellent adults.

In staff training, adults without a formal teaching role are often the most straightforward, direct and true. They have a valuable perspective on behaviour issues. They bring an honesty to the debate that often jars in a valuable way with the entrenched views of some teachers. Train them in teaching behaviour and they will intervene more often with more confidence. Make it clear to the children that they should expect to be challenged or encouraged by all adults. Make it clear to the adults that they cannot turn a blind eye.

Now look at who else can contribute to a well-ordered environment. Training sixth-formers allowed a large secondary school to cut lunchtime and break duties for staff completely. In some primaries children are trained to address behaviour infringements with each other. Governors who are willing to become involved at an earlier stage in the disciplinary process can bring added weight and experience.

With inspectors examining behaviour and safety together there is an obvious problem in leaving support staff out of training and decision-making. The half-hour grilling Ofsted gave a site manager on behaviour and safety is a cautionary tale.

So blur and erase the old lines between adults in schools. Let the pupils feel the values of the school ripple though every interaction.

Paul Dix is touring UK schools with his behaviour Inset, keynotes and one-man show, The Behaviour Show. Twitter: @PivotalPaul www.pivotaleducation.com.

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