Dealing with challenging behaviour? Mistake #1

6th July 2012  |  by Greg

Get your class right first

As you can imagine, I get asked *a lot* about the best ways of dealing with challenging behaviour and in the next few posts I’ll be highlighting a number of them. However, my first piece of advice is always the same. The best thing to start with, is to aim for the most cooperative and well behaved rest-of-class you possibly can.

The biggest mistake we can make when dealing with challenging behaviour is to focus all our attention on the most challenging students – to start with at least. There are a few reasons for this:

  • Have you noticed that students who are usually well-behaved and cooperative can often slip into less positive ways when all your attention is taken by the usual suspects?
  • Invariably, you’ll need the support of a cooperative class to help you deal with those who are less cooperative
  • It’s hard not to be on the lookout for inappropriate behaviour from a chosen few but it isn’t fair if you simply wait for them to trip up. When it’s not fair, you break down relationships with the students you need to build them with most. Consistency with your whole class becomes even more important.

Sometimes YOU need time out

Engineering the opportunity for you to get back on track with the majority of your class is sometimes one of the best ways to make life better for everyone. More often than not, the most challenging children invariably end up being “ejected” from class anyway, so why not be a little more proactive? School leaders can really support their staff by allowing space for them to rebuild relationships and boundaries for the majority of the class. It might be just twenty minutes a day (whilst some intervention work is done for example) or it might need to be a longer one-off half or full day. In secondary, this might mean withdrawing a student to a colleague’s classroom for a session, but don’t just have a rest. Use the lesson to tighten up your expectations ready for the reintroduction of the withdrawn student next lesson. (NB. Using restorative practice with students, before they return to your class, is one very easy way to give everyone a better chance of success. The relationship needs to get back on track and sitting down for some structured chat is a perfect way to start doing this.)

Preparation is key

Never underestimate the power of making sure everyone is ready. When we know a hurricane is coming, we make efforts to secure our houses and stay indoors. I’ve worked with schools who have become experts at preparation. Many of our most challenging pupils have been to more than one school. They often join mid-year, they have trouble settling in and work hard to find out where the limits are. Schools should have clear plans for how best to integrate new students but this is especially true if they have challenging behaviour. Good teachers and schools don’t wait for the challenging pupils to arrive at the school before they make the efforts to create the closest and most cooperative class environment possible.

Are you ready for September?

Are there going to be some “characters” in your class this autumn? I know you’d rather not think about it, but this is the best time. For starters, think about:

  • What strategies work (or don’t work) for these students already?
  • Are parents supportive? How could you improve the situation if not? (Tip: An early, positive phone-call home is the best way to start the conversation.)
  • What’s are the relationships with the rest of the class like? (If they need work, try circle time and esteem-building activities, and use class-wide rewards not individual ones. More info on this in The 50 Minute Behaviour Course.)
  • Can you engineer some opportunities to start building a more positive relationship before September?

The best time to deal with challenging behaviour is before it happens

Think 80% proactive and 20% reactive. Put the policies, routines and rituals in place before things get so bad that you’re forced to address it. If it’s a little too late, look to the future and identify ways of making next year easier. In a sentence, get your class right first.

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