Looking behind the behaviour by @joeo79

Everyone has it. Some are more aware of it and its impact than others, but we all have the power to change it, develop it, manipulate it. Behaviour is both remarkable and powerful.

When I started working with vulnerable people,  all the training I went on told me “behaviour communication” but I have learnt that it is more than that. It is a strategy. Stuart Gemmell – a great friend, mentor and occasional work colleague – always reinforced to always look behind the behaviour.

This is a re-blog post originally posted by Joe O’Reilly and published with kind permission.

The original post can be found here.

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Behaviour not only communicates, it gives someone a way of coping,, a way of getting some form of immediate gratification – whatever that is for the individual. Every intervention, brief or otherwise has this at its core. This allows me to not personalise their behaviour thus not impacting my behaviour towards the individual in front of me. It also reminds me, when working with pupils, my behaviour towards them becomes a strategy. A manipulative strategy to get them to do/act according to the set boundaries and values. Please do not assume that manipulation is a gross term – but it is clear when working with “difficult” pupils, we are supporting them towards more productive behaviour.

Recently, I contacted Paul Dix who messaged me in which he said Pivotal are on a mission to change the way adults behave and therefore how children behave. This gave me the confidence to share my “model” I have been trying to implement at my current school.

A two-way process

The core theme for my thinking is that we all need to be aware our behaviour is a strategy as much as a child’s is. We are asking them to adapt theirs so we need to be open to the idea that we may need to adapt ours. After all, education is all about differentiating – adapting to meet needs. Teachers need to be confident that it’s ok to adapt your approach and that one size does not fit all.

As part of this approach, your pupils need to be aware of your expectations of them – adapting.  I spend time talking to my pupils about what works for them. Through building up a positive relationship with them, I have found they are keen to share and very honest. However, building s relationship does not happen due to a strategy (over relied on phrase!) and more on habits – or repeating positive, productive behaviours. I talk after lessons with pupils, eat with them, spend time with them outside the class.

Reinforce the values you expect and the values you expect. Working in prisons and within youth substance misuse, I quickly learnt there is always positive behaviour that can be reinforced. I believe children do not choose negative behaviour. It is what they have learnt, been exposed to and causes conflict. However, they want to be “liked” and accepted. Open your eyes, expand your thinking and see those positives. In return – see their pride!

One boy I worked with used to change his behaviour after I praised him in class – throwing things, walking out etc. It appeared he wanted to sabotage himself; prove me wrong. So do I stop praising him? No…I adapt. I sat down with him (at an appropriate time) and have  a discussion with him. He was going to educate me. He says he gets angry at praise as he does not think he is worthy and it confuses him. In a public arena he thinks others can tell and he gets embarrassed. So do I say I won’t praise him? No…I make him a “book of good” (not a praise book – he doesn’t like praise. To him there is a difference.) His teachers now write in it regularly when they “catch good”. Oh, by the way this mature, self aware boy was in year 5! I teach the curriculum, positive behaviour and they teach me the “whys” and how adults can help them. Without them, I wouldn’t be able to write this!

It is relatively easy for even the most cynical of us to praise positive behaviour, but what how do we respond to the less productive behaviours. Shout and risk triggering fight or flight? Follow behaviour policy which escalates situation? Get involved in argument? Isolate?

Or pause and respond effectively. Ask what is the purpose of responding. To show who is in charge? Demonstrate power? Or to enable children to progress holistically. I have found that trying to discuss the problem at  the time is not very productive (even with those I have a good relationship with). State of mind at this point generally makes things worse. My pupils know I will  discuss with them, not lecture them, after lesson. Initially, they stropped but I ignored that. Didn’t require a response – simple!

Pupils also need to show they are developing responses to having behaviour “corrected”. I discuss why behaviour is not BAD but unproductive in this environment. All responses should try to dispel myths they have created – that they are bad. Over time (a surprisingly short time) they adjusted. Now in  a 5.minute discussion , I make more progress than a 30.mimute lunch “reflection” session. It makes me responsible for following up with the child too; over lunch sometimes.

It is complicated I know but chatting with children is the best “strategy” in your toolbox. Ground breaking!

A child’s life is full of inconsistency. They only get part of the information. They are told alcohol is bad, yet they may have family that drink (not necessarily to excess either.)

Children need to learn the old sayings “time and place” or “in moderation”. Having a laugh and joke, making others laugh is not really a bad thing. However, in a class it can be unproductive!

Those who have worked in a classroom of 25, 30, 35 children will know how difficult remaining positive can be. Let’s be realistic, there is a lot of pressure on teachers to get results. It is not always in their mind that improving wellbeing will help them reach this goal. School staff need support too.

Staff working directly with pupils need to be involved in decision making – not de-skilling them at the same time as giving them accountability for pastoral planning. Teacher need to be involved in discussions to understand certain strategies and enable clear communication pathways between all staff. This will create an important consistency.

For more information and details on anything I have discussed, please message me below, via social media or email. Any constructive feedback would be gratefully received.
Special thanks and acknowledgement to Stuart Gemmell, the man behind Emotional First Aid (www.emotionalfirstaid.co.uk). A real world changer!

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