A short guide to….Motivational Interviewing by @thisiseducation


When faced with challenging behaviour by pupils, it can be difficult to implement strategies to challenge a negative spiral in attitude, but Simon Lynch advocates motivational interviewing which can provide an approach to challenge behaviours.

Motivational Interviewing: Staff in schools are constantly having dialogue with pupils about behaviour, stretching from a quick word outside the classroom to meetings with Governors. The aim of these by and large is to eliminate undesired behaviour and increase the frequency, duration, and understanding of desired behaviour. Motivational Interviewing provides an approach that supports this change. Adults at all levels in school can use its key principles and suggested strategies support changes in behaviour.

Motivational Interviewing is a form of therapy that has good success rates with individuals suffering from alcoholism, bulimia and substance misuse. It should be remembered that adults and students in school cannot engage in therapy as there is an imbalance of power (which should be avoided in therapy). However, therapeutic approaches are very helpful in supporting students to make positive changes.

Motivational Interviewing should be characterised by an approach that is collaborative, avoids the ‘righting reflex’ (where the teacher instructs or informs the student therefore trying to solve problems) and produces autonomy/independence in the student. There are three key principles:

  1. It is focused on behaviour change
  2. It emphasises and encourages personal reasons for change therefore increasing motivation to change.
  3. It links to the ‘trans-theoretical model of change’ which has five stages. These are pre-contemplation (not even thinking about change), contemplation (thinking about change), determination (having reasons for change and motivation to change), action (the process of change), maintenance and habit (the change becoming natural behaviour).

Below are some suggestions about how to put these principles into practice for an adult working with a pupil following a display of undesired behaviour:

  • Thank the student for attending a meeting. This helps to demonstrate that you respect the fact the student may be considering a change. It also helps to build a more positive relationship.
  • Ask open ended questions to elicit student experience of the incident/behaviour. ‘Can you tell me about…’ ‘Describe to me when…..’ ‘What was it like for you when….’ ‘What happened….’. This gives the student the opportunity to share their views and avoids judgement or confrontation.
  • Show empathy and understanding of the student’s perspective. Try to see if they can understand how someone else might feel or react in that situation. Re-iterate the key points the student made and summarise. Check then that the student agrees with the summary. ‘So what you’re saying is….’ ‘If I understand correctly you mean…’ ‘Someone else might say that….’ ‘On the one hand you say that…..on the other….’ This helps to reassure the student and provides a value and acceptance of their feelings about the event.
  • Establish what a good outcome might look like. Again use very open ended questions focussed on the student’s views. Try to avoid the ‘righting reflex’ whereby the adult provides answers and solutions. Emphasise and re-iterate student’s own statements about what they are looking for in the future. ‘What would you hope to be different in…..’ ‘What might be the results if you changed something in…..’ ‘How would you like things to be in…..’ ‘What is the BEST thing you can imagine happening in….’ This helps to move the student on to focusing on a change and the potential benefits for them as well as others.
  • Identify actions (small steps first of course) that could lead to the desired outcome. Again, try to avoid the ‘righting reflex’ by making suggestions or over-directing. Over emphasise student’s own statements about change and how to get there. ‘What do you think you could do differently…. ‘What might help the situation….’ These could then become specific targets for the pupil or actions for others to take that can be measured.
  • Restate and summarise key actions, checking for agreement. Thank the student for attending and contributing. This helps to make it clear that the meeting is the basis for agreement about desired outcomes and behaviours.

Motivational Interviewing is more than a set of techniques. To be successful it should be characterised by a specific way of being that is collaborative, avoids a didactic, expert centred style and produces autonomy/independence in the student.

Acknowledgements and wider reading:
·         Article summarising Motivational Interviewing in British Journal of Psychiatry
·         Website of Stephen Rollnick, the first professional to write about Motivational Interviewing.
·         Article from Bill Rogers, a renowned education consultant.
·     Article from the website of @TeacherToolkit, winner of ‘Best Education Blog’ and Deputy Headteacher.

You need to or Register to bookmark/favorite this content.

About UKEdChat Editorial 3188 Articles
The Editorial Account of UKEdChat, managed by editor-in-chief Colin Hill, with support from Martin Burrett from the UKEd Magazine. Pedagogy, Resources, Community.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.