Have confidence in the power of confidence

26th January 2018 at 00:00
Dishing out harsh punishments isn’t the key to good behaviour – you need to help pupils to find something in school which they find truly satisfying, writes this behaviour expert

Great behaviour doesn’t rely on coercive measures such as rewards and punishments if children are intrinsically motivated to do something. This comes about because of one or more of these interconnected aspects:

The child has a thirst for knowledge

My friend Phil was explaining recently how his great-grandmother was a Suffragette. His daughters were studying this topic at school and were fascinated, fuelled in part because of their family link. Children become fascinated with all sorts of diverse topics and this can sometimes result in a positive feedback loop – knowing more results in a craving to know more. Their confidence as a learner in that specific area grows rapidly.

The child finds an activity that is, in itself, satisfying

These are the kinds of things that children can get lost in. They might be activities like cooking, art or reading. Other activities might be satisfying in a sensory kind of way, such as swimming, cycling or doing keepie-uppies in the playground. They are satisfying if a certain level of competence has been reached.

The child feels a sense of accomplishment

Doing times-tables, learning a new language, making something tangible in design and technology or completing a maths puzzle, such as a sudoku, are good examples of this.


In all of the above, you can see that motivation can be high if the child has a certain level of confidence in themselves as a learner.

Now, think of those children who find learning challenging in some areas of school life. Learning can be a process fraught with danger for them, so intrinsic motivation can be low and failure avoidance (avoiding certain lessons, ripping up work) can be high.

How can we help them to attain that all-important sense of accomplishment? How can we help them to develop a sense that they’re making progress and getting somewhere with their learning, and that they’re safe and successful in your classroom? Without that sense of progress, they are more likely to simply give up. It is this, not behaviour and rewards, that we need to concentrate on.

This is a route to developing perseverance – a highly desirable by-product of intrinsic motivation. We want our children to have that inner confidence that they can overcome any hurdles in their way, for we can be sure that their learning journey in school and beyond will be regularly punctuated with them.

Jarlath O’Brien is director for schools at The Eden Academy. His book Better Behaviour – a guide for teachers will be published by SAGE this year. He tweets @JarlathOBrien

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