As I am working here in Northamptonshire, my colleagues Jayashree, Johnson and John are teaching on the MA in Special and Inclusive Education course in Bangalore. News is being filtered through to me from students and tutors and it is evident that an enjoyable week is being experienced by all involved. I look forward to being with them next in September when we can share our experiences and continue to learn from each other.
This week the students on the MA programme have been considering issues related to behaviour, a subject guaranteed to be the focus of discussion in all school staffrooms from time to time. One of the tasks that the students have completed this week is an analysis of their own behaviours and why they act and react in the ways that they do. Teachers often focus on the behaviours of children and when they do so it is invariably upon those that they find challenging or unacceptable. I have often heard teachers use expressions such as “bad behaviour needs to be dealt with,” usually with a consideration of how to deal with issues after the event. Some teachers find it more difficult when we try to analyse why children might behave in an unacceptable manner and think about how the environment and the attitudes around them may impact upon their self-control.
On a number of occasions when teaching I have begun with an instruction – “put your hand up if you have behaved badly today.” I have done this with both children and teachers. Most individuals are quite honest about this and will (often gingerly) raise a hand. In fact I find that children are usually more honest about this than adults. If one of my class doesn’t raise their hands I will sometimes interrogate them (gently) by asking them to take me through their last twenty four hours. Now, occasionally I have found a saint amongst my class full of reprobates, but more often than not we uncover some incident that on reflection may have been dealt with differently.
The truth is that we all behave badly from time to time. It is equally true to say that when asked about why we have acted in this way we make a bold effort to justify ourselves. The ways in which we behave are influenced by many factors, our mental and physical well-being, the environment in which we find ourselves, the behaviours of others, our feelings of justice or injustice – all of these and more can have a profound effect. Knowing this might make us pro-active rather than re-active in attempting to create the conditions in which children will want to behave well. The main difficulty with reaction is that we are more likely to escalate the problem.
Coupled with this is, of course, the self-fulfilling prophecy that comes with labelling children. A few years ago I visited a school in a county not far from here. At playtime I went onto the playground and spent a fruitful fifteen minutes talking to the children, most of whom were engaged in a variety of games. However, I noticed one boy, perhaps eight years old, sitting alone on a bench. I approached him and asked if I could sit and talk to him and he nodded his assent. “Why,” I asked him, “was he not playing games with some of the other children?” His answer surprised me greatly. “Teacher says best not to. You see I have EBD (emotional and behavioural difficulties) and it’s bound to end in tears.” Having asked the boy his name, at the end of playtime I asked his teacher about him and the first thing he told me was that “he has EBD and is always difficult to manage.” How sad, I thought that not only this teacher, but the boy as well, views himself in such a negative manner. This incident was five or six years ago, I wonder if that boy still carries his label and whether it has made a difference to the ways he behaves today? How does one break out of such a cycle once it has been created?
So this week as our students immerse themselves in the theories and practices of understanding behaviour and how to manage this in an effective and just manner, I have no doubt that they and the tutors running the course will be challenged. In many instances they will be questioning their own beliefs and expectations and recalling incidents in their teaching lives and how these have been managed. They are, of course reflective teachers who have elected to attend the course because of their professional commitment to their own learning. I have no doubt that both they and the course tutors will rise to the challenge.
I look forward to sharing in their experiences when we meet for the next module.