Who has difficulties with behaviour?

Whilst children do not necessarily see themselves as having behaviour problems, teacher certainly do!

Whilst children do not necessarily see themselves as having behaviour problems, teachers certainly do!

“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.

5 thoughts on “Who has difficulties with behaviour?

  1. Hi Richard!
    I could so relate to the situation and conversation described….most mainstream teachers approach us Special educators looking for instant and magical solutions to similar problems they face in the class with regard to one or more ‘difficult’ students.
    The focus as you rightly said is never what the child experiences….helping them looking at the matter from the child’s perspective and finding their own novel solutions is something that will definitely be more practical and effective.

  2. Hi Divya,
    Thanks for your response. I think it is very difficult for many of us to walk in the shoes of the children we teach. But there is much to be gained by trying. In my experience many of the best teachers retains a ‘childlike’ (not childish) quality that enables them to understand some of the emotions and behaviours of children. Incidentally I have never yet met a teacher who doesn’t behave badly sometimes!

  3. Hello Richard I think there are probably a lot of teachers reflecting over half term on how to change a situation whereby one student’s behaviour is causing others problems. As you say often it isn’t a situation shared by the student. I think it is easy to overlook the obvious sometimes. I was talking to a colleague who was telling me about a young man on the autistic spectrum who suddenly started to not want to go outside his residential home. Each time he was shown his outdoor shoes he started to scream and become very distressed. This went on for a coupe of weeks with his behaviour worsening. As he didn’t have any speech he could not explain (leaving aside that so often the student is not asked whether something is troubling them). One day his shoes were knocked over and a nail was found to be pointing into the shoe. On closer inspection he was found to have an injury to his foot where the nail had penetrated the sole of his foot. Environment or person?

    • I would like to take a lead from what Carmel has written – many of the children with special needs encounter a difficulty in expressing what they are going thru – it could be a vocabulary inadequacy or anxiety or for other reasons.. I guess as a teacher too, there is helplessness – many times we are really at cross roads not knowing how to handle a child’s behavior.. It is a precious few months of a child’s life, as we try to understand the child and work with them to do what needs to be done.. A question that I have always had – are we expecting too much from someone who is playing the role of a teacher? They are also human beings with their own shades of inadequacies..
      Talking to a few people who have experience (like Susan talked to Richard) helps in gaining different perspectives..
      or sometimes, talking to people who are not in the field but parents, also helps as they come with another set of perspectives..

  4. A sad tale indeed Carmel. Unfortunately situations such as this are all too common. If we think about our own behaviours and the causal factors that influence these we can see that trying to address the consequences rather than the cause often gets us nowhere.

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