One of the things that makes it so difficult to see beyond the behaviour of children with special educational needs and disabilities is that, just like them, we get emotional. We work hard and when a student throws that back in our faces, we are hurt.
We gather in little frowny pockets at the end of the day, muttering to each other about how there is nothing that seems to work, that we have tried everything that is humanly possible to get that child to behave.
We’ve covered them with stickers. We’ve bribed them with chocolate. We’ve showered them with prizes at the end of a chart well filled. We’ve even sent them off for special interventions. No joy.
So we’ve given them so many detentions that they’ve forgotten what the outside looks like. Still nothing.
We end each day exhausted and wrung-out and we send dark glances in the direction of senior leadership team, parents, the child – anyone that we can blame for the nightmare that is unfolding in our classrooms.
The blame game isn’t terribly productive. We might feel better for a bit, we might shift responsibility off our shoulders for a moment, but when it comes to removing the barriers that many children who fall into the category of SEMH (social, emotional and mental health) suffer, blame doesn’t get us very far. What we need to do is to take stock, take a deep breath and do a little detective work.
There is much that we can do to change the environment around a child who is finding it difficult to behave in class – and we do this every time we change the seating plan, shut the curtains, or hold up a hand as a visual clue that we want the class to fall into silence and look our way – but sometimes solutions aren’t obvious. To find them, you need a system.
One of the methods you can use is simply called “ABC”. Each time a child misbehaves, you record your observations on a chart, with columns named A, B and C. Those letters stand for Antecedent, Behaviour and Consequence. Or you could use a STAR chart – Setting, Trigger(s), Action and Response.
Take notes over a specified length of time (get your teaching assistant to help you – or anyone who works with the child), noting down the circumstances that surround a behaviour event. Look for patterns and ask yourself what the behaviour was for. What did the child hope to get out of it?
Once you start looking at behaviour in a way that allows you to take your own emotions out of the equation, the invisible barriers start to appear, and you can begin to think about how you can help that child to break them down. And don’t forget: you can analyse the good times, too.
Nancy Gedge is a teacher at Widden Primary School in Gloucester. She tweets at @NancyGedge