Punishment and Restraint

Can you hear the bells chiming? Or maybe the singing in the street? It feels almost like VE Day, the Coronation and the 1980 Cup Final rolled into one. There’s so much bunting out I can barely see the sky.

At last, at long, long last, the DfE are issueing updated behaviour management guidance. Praise be, Meryl is saved!

What? It doesn’t feel like that for you? Oh, that means you must be a teacher then. You know, dealing with this stuff everyday, handing out detentions, boring chores, house points and Vivo miles like there is no tomorrow.

You didn’t explicitly ask for it, but here’s my view. Behaviour exemplifies everything that is difficult about education. Why? Because everyone can be right.

If you are in a difficult school, or have a difficult class, or unsupportive managers then behaviour management is the most important thing. You could be Prof Brian Cox and Dara Ó Briain team teaching; they would still be spinning like a quark in your teacher chair when your back is turned. Children in such classes will learn at a slower rate than they could and the behaviour issue becomes the issue. And the issue is very rarely solely one of teacher capability.

The converse is also true. Some groups are so acquiesent that Johny Rotten could teach them to meditate. Some teachers are fortunate enough never to have to get the detention book out. Sorry to bring them down, but this is rarely just because they teach such delightful lessons. The good lessons lead to good behaviour mantra is only true over a range of children and a range of behaviours. If a child is minded to throw a chair at you, then turning up the engagement dial to 11 isn’t going to stop them.

Behaviour is, IMHO, completely contextual, which is the reason everyone can be right. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t some common principles to be drawn on.
Consistency, from top to bottom and side to side. In my experience, children consider themselves to be the Universes arbiters of fairness. They can smell partiality at a dozen paces.
Reliable: explain consequences, enforce them. The fifth time in a lesson a student hears the words “do that again and you’ll be in detention” is the point they know they are invincible.
Personal responsibility: in most cases the child is responsible for their own actions.
Proportionality: if a child talks in class then don’t make him weed Regents Park.
Escalation: beyond a certain point, behaviour management of an individual has to move beyond the hands of one or more individual teachers and onto the school as a whole. For me this point is reached when others in a room are prevented from learning. It is fair to say that when this point is reached the way back from it is often slow and requires careful management, and, most importantly, change in the child. A teacher changing their whole style of teaching to accomodate one child is rarely appropriate.

However, you can be doing all these things perfectly and still have difficult behaviour issues in the school. You can also be ignoring them and have great learning going on.

Behaviour is the sine na quon of “there are not simple answers”. Only answers that work for you, with those children, on that day, in that class, covering that topic in that weather.

Anyone who tells you otherwise hasn’t really experienced the problem.

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