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Are schools ever at fault for exclusions?

2019-11-11T10:04:48+00:00November 11th, 2019|behaviour|

Sometimes schools get it wrong. It may even be that there are some schools led by nefarious headteachers who, in an effort to game league tables, seek to get rid of those students who are most likely to jeopardise their positions. It may even be the case that in a few case these students are more sinned against than sinning. But this is, I think most people would agree, a relatively rare scenario. It's actually fairly difficult to exclude students: schools need to document the incidents that led up to the decision and then the student is given an opportunity to [...]

What causes exclusion and what does exclusion cause?

2019-11-10T15:33:20+00:00November 10th, 2019|behaviour|

Adult authority in schools is a paper tiger which depends on students agreeing to accept it. Some children choose not to and therefore have the power to make the lives of others miserable. Over the years I’ve taught a small number of students I came to dread seeing. Every encounter was another skirmish in an exhausting war of attrition, usually a war I felt I was losing. When a student no longer cares about any of the consequences, the war is lost. What then? The behaviour of a small minority of students' behaviour cannot be accommodated in mainstream school without endangering [...]

Do detentions work?

2019-10-24T09:45:18+01:00April 29th, 2019|behaviour|

When I was a student I was given a lot of detentions. After some particularly appalling behaviour on a French exchange trip I was given two months of 1 hour after school detentions. This was a big deal as I lived about 15 miles away from my school and needed to get two buses home. Because I wasn't able to catch the school bus, I had to walk to the nearest train station, wait for the hourly train shuttle to a larger town and then get my bus to within walking distance of my home. What began as a 1 hour [...]

If you tolerate this then your children will be next

2019-11-09T17:56:29+00:00March 16th, 2019|behaviour|

What kinds of poor behaviour should we tolerate? How much should we tolerate? There's a wellspring of opinion that zero tolerance is too much, that we ought to tolerate some poor behaviour, but how much? I don't think anyone would be prepared to argue that we should tolerate 100%, so is 50% OK? 25%? 10%? Clearly, having a discussion about the percentage of poor behaviour which we ought to tolerate is absurd. Maybe we'd be better off debating whether some kinds of poor behaviour are just 'high spirits'? The trouble with this is that it's devilishly difficult to distinguish between good-humoured [...]

“It’s all about relationships”

2019-10-14T14:19:34+01:00November 11th, 2018|behaviour|

Every now and then I come across the argument that the success or failure of a teacher is due to the quality of their relationships with students. Poor behaviour? Ineffective lessons? "It's all about relationships."* Most people are incapable of maintaining much more than 50 relationships and the number of people we actively care about tends to be far fewer. Most of the people we encounter we know slightly if at all. How then do we contend with the Hobbesian idea that the natural human condition is a "war of all against all"? Why don't we just take what we want from [...]

An argument for order

2018-10-24T21:14:18+01:00October 24th, 2018|behaviour|

The second law of thermodynamics tells us that entropy within a system will always increase over time. What starts off as order descends, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly, but always inexorably into chaos. In simple words: everything deteriorates over time. Fending off chaos and bolstering order always requires continual effort and careful maintenance. Whatever else it is, a school is a system. The orderly running of schools is something most people take completely for granted, but the balance between order and chaos, especially in secondary schools, is precarious. As they become teenagers, children begin to desire great independence and autonomy. They believe [...]

The problem with ‘unconditional positive regard’

2018-11-11T08:00:28+00:00February 27th, 2018|behaviour|

If you're a parent and your child misbehaves in public, what do you do? If you're not a parent, and someone else's child misbehaves in public, what would you like the parents to do? Adults are predisposed to like children, and it comes as something of a surprise when they’re unaccountably brattish and unpleasant. When children behave badly in public, people dislike them. We know it's unreasonable, but most of us find public tantrums and rudeness irritating. If a child that's behaved badly goes unpunished or ignored, we reserve our indignation for their parents; why don't they do something? We finish [...]

12 Rules for Schools – Rule 5 Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them

2018-02-27T10:07:54+00:00February 2nd, 2018|behaviour, Featured|

Welcome to the fifth installment in a series of posts adapting Jordan Peterson’s book, 12 Rules of Life to the context of eduction. All the posts in this series are collected here. This is not intended to be an accurate summary of Peterson’s views, it is merely what I reckon. Navigating the world is tough enough when people like you. It's nigh on impossible if everyone dislikes you. Peterson explains that not teaching children how to make friends and avoid irritating others is the cardinal sin of parenting. No one will love your children like you do, so, if you struggle with some of [...]

Getting culture right Part 2: Understanding group psychology

2018-01-12T15:20:49+00:00January 12th, 2018|behaviour, psychology|

This is the second post on getting cultures right in schools. You can find Part 1, on social norms and using normative messages, here. We are essentially social animals and have evolved to thrive in groups. Although we tend to be disposed to share resources and cooperate with those we perceive as belonging to our group, we are worryingly ready to discriminate against anyone we see as an outsider. Creating a community with a sense of belonging is the ambition of all schools. In part, this involves creating a sense that students are part of an in-group – whether in a local [...]

Getting culture right Part 1: Normative messages

2017-08-02T15:25:28+01:00August 2nd, 2017|behaviour, psychology|

If you want to change anything within a school, culture is crucial. As Tom Bennett argues in Creating a Culture: How school leaders can optimise behaviour, culture is "the way we do things round here". His advice to school leaders is to purposely design the culture you want in your school and then work hard to communicate your vision so that it becomes something that lives in the minds of everyone within the school community. Easy to say, hard to do. Any attempt to change culture has to start with acknowledging and then shifting what's considered socially normal. If the social norm [...]

Should teachers do what children want?

2018-01-05T23:32:17+00:00May 19th, 2017|behaviour, leadership|

Every weekday morning, my daughters both moan about having to get up for school. They moan about their teachers and they moan about homework. Given free rein, they would spend all day every day watching BuzzFeed video channels, making Spotify playlists, watching Netflix and taking online quizzes. It's not that they're lazy, it's just that they'd really rather not have to learn maths, science and geography. They're both moderately conscientious, reasonably hardworking girls who never put a foot wrong in school. On parents' evenings, we're regaled with tales of how good their attitude to school is and how much progress they're [...]

Why parents should support schools

2017-05-14T12:10:29+01:00May 13th, 2017|behaviour|

Like all parents, I want the best for my children. When they're unhappy, I'm unhappy. When they suffer injustice, I'm incensed. When their school makes a decision I disagree with, my first reaction is to get in touch and point out where they've gone wrong and what they should do about it. When she was in primary school, my eldest daughter had a teacher who believed in the power of collective punishment, and, as a well-behaved, hard-working pupil she was made to suffer for the poor behaviour of some of the other children in her class. This struck both her and me [...]