28 Aug New thinking, new practice
Cats and pigeons
When children misbehave the automatic response in most schools is to press the ‘On’ button of the Behaviour Management Machine. Start small, reminders and consequences, setting the boundaries. Focus on the bad behaviour, try to put a stop to it. It if works, everyone can settle down to the much more fascinating task of finding out about the world.
But what if it doesn’t work? There is no disagreement about the idea that schools are complex communities, that there have to be agreed ways of living and learning, otherwise there would be a kind of chatty, hopeless chaos. And by agreed we mean chosen by the adults as guidelines for children to follow, along the corridors and pathways of becoming themselves and full members of their communities. So we teach children to follow the rules, give them a gentle nudge if they cross a boundary, make them happy to know we know they’re on the right side.
But there’s a weakness in the system; the Behaviour Management Machine doesn’t has no ‘Off’ button. The only response the Machine can make if behaviour doesn’t change is to do re-run the cycle with more energy, more serious punishment. And if that doesn’t work?
Turn off and tune in.
It has become apparent that for a host of reasons the old-fashioned and cumbersome machine needs updating. It was designed in the days when cars had scary self-steering crossply tyres, when drivers saw new-fangled seat belts as a limitation to freedom rather than a simple way of avoiding serious brain injury. In the days when separating a child as a person from their behaviour seemed a reasonable thing to do.
The evidence is piling up in favour of returning the child to the equation and re-engaging with their own future them through the forging of an empathetic relationship. My own current work in Lincolnshire, training school staff and support workers as Solutions Focused coaches to actively promote inclusion, is an expression of this change in perspective, this paradigm jump.
Does this push for change feel like the loss of control and the onset of anxiety? It certainly would do if all that was on offer by me and others who’ve made the leap were naive ideas about the innate niceness of children and their drive to be good being all we need in the post-punishment world. It would be understandable, if that were the case, why some folk might cling to the old Machine and tell us that all we need to make it work better is to make it more powerful. But reassurance is there by this new thinking being backed up by a clear structure of its own, thought out and systematic. And the intended outcome? No more getting stuck, less anxiety not more stress.
I can readily show people the strong and simple structure that forms backbone of Solutions Focused coaching. Having ‘got it’ they can judge for themselves when the psychological BM Machine reaches the extent of its effectiveness and when to engage the agency of the student, the learner, to solve a problem by educational means.
It’s a small step to the inclusive solution and the start of an amazing journey.