Teaching behaviour


There’s so much in my head right now about this; arguably I should wait for further clarity before trying to communicate. As I’ve said previously, however, this is as much about my own reflection as anything else – starting to untangle the web. So here goes…

At Kensington, we’ve turned our ‘why’ spotlight onto behaviour. In so doing, I think we’ve begun to open Pandora’s Box. Whilst still very much in its infancy, we’re coming round to the idea that behaviour should be taught (rather than ‘managed’), just like reading or writing is.

So how did we end up here?

  • I’ve talked previously about our obsession with looking at ‘why’ we do things and thinking critically about what we do and how we spend our time: that was part of it.
  • In a future post, I’ll talk more about our approach to Growth Mindset. That has subsequently grown into a wider ethos and shared language around our children (and ourselves) and what is possible. In the same way that we don’t have ‘low ability’ children, neither should we have ‘naughty’ children.
  • Again, I’ll write about this at a later date but our focus for Staff CPD in the Spring (and probably Summer) term is all about how to be better versions of ourselves. If we are truthful with ourselves, how often is ‘behaviour management’, us reaching the end of our tether? (Please don’t take this as a criticism. We’ve all been there. It can be unimaginably hard and stressful and we all reach critical mass at some point. But that doesn’t mean we can’t improve and grow and get better at dealing with our own emotions.)
  • Conversations with my wife, Chloe, about her experiences at Duncombe Primary under Barry O’Shea, have always stuck with me. I’ve never met Barry but I know he had a significant influence on Chloe. He believed that behaviour management should be 100% positive. That’s definitely contributed to this.
  • Dealing with ‘behaviour’ – both at school and with my children at home – has contributed greatly. Much of the time, what you are dealing with is the child’s want for revenge:’Mr Levinson, Petra was mean to me. She said I’m a banana head.’ So off you dutifully go to tell Petra that wasn’t very nice and she should say sorry. In the meantime, Irfan, who’s come over to tell you this, is standing behind you, smirking at Petra in a, ‘see, I told you I was going to tell sir and you’d get in trouble.’

    Ultimately, what has this achieved? Has this improved anything? Is Irfan less likely to do this again? I believe that if we want to help children. If we want them to be independent, resilient, confident, self-motivated individuals, then rather than fighting their battles for them, we should be giving them the strategies to deal with it themselves.

So, all of this has contributed to our thinking. Initially, we have started to look more closely at why we do things currently. So why do children go to the Restart Room (a room supposedly for contrition and reflection)? Why do we move children up and down on the traffic lights? What are our consequences or sanctions for children who behave in a way that contradicts our rules or the rules of society in general? Is there ever a reason to shout at a child?

Again, we don’t want to do something because that is what’s always been done. Behaviour management is a fundamental part of schools vocabulary and approach. It takes up a great deal of your time, energy and worry as a trainee teacher and then as an NQT and beyond. It fills a huge amount of column inches. In many schools it is a major focus of middle and senior leadership. Yet when you start to step back and look at it more critically, it becomes ever more bizarre.

Why are we ‘managing behaviour’? What does that even mean? Everyone ‘behaves’ in one way or another at every moment of every day. (I’m not going to get into a huge philosophical discussion here about what behaviour is and whether or not we should impose the conventions of society on children. Or about how different those conventions are in different countries, ethnicities, age groups etc, etc. Partly because my thinking hasn’t evolved far enough yet for me to know exactly where I stand on it all.) More importantly, however, why are we ‘managing behaviour’ but teaching everything else. Surely children need to learn how to behave in exactly the same way they need to learn how to read or do complex algebra?

To briefly take a step back, I appreciate that there is a lot of implicit (and even some explicit) teaching of behaviour. Reward and sanction systems are there to reinforce ‘positive’ behaviour and deter ‘negative’. PSED is core to the Early Years curriculum. PSHCE, P4C, UNICEF Rights Respecting Schools, and a million and one others are all there to ‘teach’ children right from wrong. In the end though, we ‘manage behaviour’: that is the mindset.

Would you sanction a child who couldn’t do column addition? No, you’d give them feedback, provide them with strategies, model for them, and encourage them. If they found learning particularly hard, you might look beyond the immediate and dig deeper: family background, previous experiences, confidence, self-belief. Once you identified what the barriers were, you’d start trying to unpick these, helping them to succeed and progress.

Behaviour is no different. We’re not born with the ability to multiply, neither are we born with an innate understanding of how to behave within the norms set down by society or institutions. We need to learn. Equally, I don’t believe people are ‘bad’ or ‘naughty’. Some people are born more compliant. Our early experiences are definitely hugely formative in regard to our subsequent mindset and behaviours. Some people’s behaviours, attitudes and outlook are so warped by what has happened to them – and possibly they were already genetically vulnerable – that changing their behaviour and attitudes becomes incredibly complex. However, none of this is ever ‘impossible’. Certainly, when we are talking about children, we should never be writing them off as ‘bad’ or ‘naughty’. Some will certainly find it harder to learn, as some find it harder to learn how to read, but all can.

As I started with, I think this post is probably a reflection of where our thinking currently is: formative and consequently messy. What I do know is that we’ve started the conversation. I also believe we have begun something important. I’m not completely sure, yet, where it will lead us. I do, however, believe that teaching behaviour is the key component.

As always, thoughts and comments are welcome. I’ll provide an update as our web becomes less tangled.

Footnote: I’d written this post a couple of weeks ago when it I had time and it was fresh in my head with a view to publishing at the ‘right’ time. Having just returned from the, ‘Working with families affected by domestic abuse conference’, it seems like the right time. Rather than further convoluting this post with the fascinating discussions I’ve had today, I’m going to publish and then quickly dash off a second post recounting some of today and how it links to this.


3 thoughts on “Teaching behaviour

  1. Pingback: ‘Otherness’ | The head blog

  2. I was going to comment that you may be interested in learning more about trauma-informed schools and restorative justice approaches to discipline, but perhaps following your most recent conference that is where your enquiry is already headed?


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