“I have a boy in my class with behaviour difficulties, he disrupts the whole day.”
“Tell me about the difficulties he is experiencing.”
“He’s always off task, he interferes with the work of others in the class, he makes inappropriate noises during lessons; he’s just a perpetual nuisance.”
“But I asked you about the difficulties he is experiencing.”
“I just told you, he is just generally badly behaved all day.”
“Yes, I see that, but does he see this as a problem? What you have described to me are the difficulties you, and probably others in the class are having, they are not necessarily the difficulties he is experiencing.”
I could see that this was not going to be a straight forward conversation. Susan, (not her real name) a newly qualified teacher who began her first teaching job in September had found me in the coffee bar near the university library and clearly wanted some reassurance. We had had several conversations during her years as an undergraduate student at the university, and I knew that she was a bright and thoughtful young woman and very committed to her profession. I also know that she is not the kind of teacher who looks for an easy solution, but is more than capable of thinking her way through complex issues in her classroom and coming up with ideas to improve her situation.
The conversation, though a little convoluted at first, did improve as we shifted the focus to looking at the situation from the perspective of the pupil. I am quite sure that John (also not his real name) does not see his behaviour as being problematic. To John, the way he behaves is probably the way he has always behaved, and he is unlikely to change his behaviour unless he can see how such a change might benefit him. The person with the difficulty here is Susan, who is clearly frustrated and confused and wants to do the best she can for John and the rest of her class. However, as is often the case, Susan has become focused upon John’s behaviour and its consequences and has started looking for a means of intervention rather than re-examining the cause.
Many pupils who present with challenging behaviours appear to be quite unperturbed by their actions. Whilst they may be causing havoc all around themselves, this does not significantly impact upon their own situation until such time as an adult intervenes, usually to impose some form of punishment or sanction. Before long a cycle of poor behaviour, punishment and resentment becomes the norm and this pattern is extremely difficult to break. The causes and consequences of negative behaviour are discussed in classrooms far less often than the behaviours themselves and as a result the critical understanding that might assist in the resolution of problems is rarely gained.
There are no quick and easy solutions to this situation. Susan and I discussed how John might be enabled to review his own behaviour, and how he could be encouraged to discuss strategies that may enable him to consider how he can manage himself more effectively in class. You will note the use of the terms “might” and “may” in the last sentence; I have never believed that there is a single solution to any challenge in the classroom. We talked about the possibility of supporting John in raising his self-esteem and taking some responsibility in class, and before long Susan was formulating ideas for how she might implement a system of daily self-review and personal planning for her wayward pupil. Ideas about how John could be encouraged to record his good behaviour were considered and I was happy to just listen as Susan began to unravel the situation and devise new strategies.
After an hour’s discussion I don’t believe that we necessarily solved any of Susan’s problems. However I hope that having an opportunity to talk to someone about these may have enabled her to think about her situation differently. Susan left with a set of ideas that she intends to apply in her classroom during the next half term. We agreed to meet again in a month or so in order to review progress.
Watch this space.