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How should we interpret the advice of colleagues? What should we take from ‘set your stall out’, or SLT instructions to ‘be consistent’?
Well, what we should be very careful about is taking the advice in the first place! This is particularly true of ITT students on placement and NQTs or RQTs, but also for those of us who are struggling with behaviour and looking for a solution. Relatively inexperienced staff can start to develop an unhelpful perspective, if the advice given is skewed and negative. And poor advice can exacerbate problems in your class. In any school you can find ‘wisdom’ that is passed down through the generations of teachers, without question. I would suggest you question it! Otherwise phrases like ‘they’re unteachable’ are said often enough that they become true. Instead, look to challenge long held beliefs.
‘Setting your stall out’ is a phrase often used in conjunction with ‘don’t smile ‘til Christmas’. Occasionally, that advice is given by colleagues who, 10 years later, still won’t be smiling! A better approach to ‘set out your stall’ then, might be:
• Aim to have a positive frame of mind, and a positive outlook. Think, speak, notice and reward positive! Have high expectations of the children, tell them what to do, rather than starting sentences with ‘stop…’, or ‘don’t do…’. Catch them being good and reward the behaviour you want to see more of;
• When the delivering of consequences becomes necessary (and it may), keep them Firm, Fair and Friendly. Do not deliver a consequence with an air of satisfaction, a smug ‘gotcha’ expression, or a sarcastic tone of voice. All of these would suggest that you are combative, and won’t help you develop relationships.
• Speaking of relationships, here’s how I choose to gauge the quality of my relationships with learners-are they such that I can deliver a consequence without doing any harm to the relationship? If the answer is ‘yes’ then I’m doing OK.
• Sanctions-it is so much more important that sanctions are certain, rather than severe. Don’t be one of those staff who habitually sends certain children out of the class before they’ve even had time to warm the chair up! Use sanctions cautiously, work through the sanctions ladder slowly; remember, the aim is to support a learner to see where things are heading, and take a decision to make a better behaviour choice. That’s the habit we want them to develop.
What do we mean when we tell staff to be consistent? Does it mean treat all children the same? Does it mean if 5 students display identical negative behaviour, there should be 5 identical ‘punishments’? We need to be cautious here. You might work in a ‘zero tolerance’ school, or one where policy is rigid on this. I’d hate to get you in trouble! For me, defining ‘consistent’ is simple; does an individual child know exactly what they can expect from me in a given set of circumstances? If they do, then I’m being consistent. There’s no confusion, things are predictable and as a result, anxiety in the classroom is reduced. I DO approach each child differently; the consistency is in approach, not individual cases. Everyone is consistently respected. But that doesn’t mean that Child A, who has been late 5 times to my lesson because she stops in the corridor for a gossip, and Child B, who has been late 5 times to my lesson because he’s scared to use the toilets during breaktime, will get the same consequences. Recent UK Government guidance on Mental Health in Schools (Nov 2018) even states that, whilst clear systems of accountability must be in place, ‘It may be unlawful to apply a behaviour policy that treats all pupils the same if a pupil’s disability makes it harder for them to comply with the policy than other pupils’. This can include where mental health is poor, as well as SEND issues.
So, think carefully about the advice you take, speak to experienced staff if you have concerns, start a debate if you need to! And for further tips and strategies, check out the Behaviour Ninja App!
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