“I think there’s an assumption out there that bad behaviour is always a choice – that if somebody’s not doing the right thing, then they’re doing that deliberately,” says Linda Graham, a professor in the faculty of education at Queensland University of Technology, who specialises in studying disruptive behaviour.
In a new video webchat with Tes, Graham explains why she thinks this assumption of choice is the “biggest failure in our understanding of behaviour”, and why it can lead schools to exercise limited responses to misbehaviour, which do not always have the desired results.
“I think my biggest bugbear would be the assumption that if you apply a consequence then that’s going to solve everything and that behaviour can be pretty easily fixed by having really clear rules and really clear, quick, sharp consequences,” says Graham.
“That will work for a lot of kids. But it won’t work for the ones who end up getting in trouble over and over and over again. And that’s because those kids don’t have the self-regulation that it takes to be able think of the consequence before they act again.”
Better behaviour management?
In order to work with these children more effectively, she adds, schools need to consider the complexities of what is driving behaviour, instead of being lured into the belief that simple fixes are available.
“There’s a very simplistic discussion around it at the moment, and that’s seductive, because behaviour is complex. So if we pretend it’s not complex, then that’s reassuring,” Graham says. “But it is actually very complex and if you suspend a kid or exclude a kid – yeah, that gets rid of the ‘problem’ for the school, but it doesn’t actually get rid of the ‘problem’, which is why the kid is behaving in that way.”
So what can schools do? Graham sets out her suggestions for a more “nuanced” approach to managing behaviour in the video webchat, which you can watch below.