Behave? I always behave…

I’m not going to lie, I sometimes worry about what I write because I don’t feel as wise as some people who I view as experts, but sometimes things burn away inside, and it’s time to stand up and enter the arena.I’m calling out on my own vulnerabilities. I believe Sir John Jones calls called this righteous indignation. Last week I was consumed by it.

‘Behaviour-I’m not professing to be a guru or expert, but I have worked in education for over 25 years, across a wide range of roles. I know quite a lot of ‘stuff’ about emotions and I definitely know loads about learning and how children learn best.

I have my fair share of stories about individuals, classes and memorable moments where life changed for me and the children I worked with because we reached milestones together, formed safe relationships founded in understanding and mutual respect. We negotiated our lives in an environment and community where a shared sense of fairness was paramount-and yes, if someone overstepped the mark, we addressed this, but with humility, empathy and compassion.

This formed our environment for learning-and what was key to success was tuning in to how that learning was organised. Learning is not ‘one size fits all’. Dynamics of relationships and considering motivations is crucial.

If we reduce the classroom to formulaic teaching, standardised approaches with strict controls, we are back to Gradgrind in Hard Times. I wrote about this in The Working Class: Poverty, Education and Alternative Voices (ed. Ian Gilbert), exploring the work I did to address the very gaps that are being debated now.

We know, from Neuroscience research and Emotional literacy research, no one learns well in a stressful environment. Sure, some of our students  will be grappling with back to school challenges- crikey, aren’t we all having to manage our own anxieties at the moment? Goodness only knows where our levels of anxiety and levels of cortisol are rolling right now. I know my learning behaviours and concentration aren’t always on it at the moment and the last thing I’d respond well to is being expected to sit at my desk for hours on end. I crave interaction and energetic, inspirational experiences, rooted in cementing relationships and with a keen sense of purpose.

 Security and consistency are important-but this can be done without big boots. Layer in a consideration of  communication challenges, stages of cognitive and emotional development, vocabulary issues and goodness knows what critical events have occurred at home -bereavement ,job losses, stress of separation and anxiety-then let’s just for a moment consider what this means for the generation who hold the future of the world in their hands.

What we have learned from the last 12+ months is a need to listen, be kind and compassionate and collaborate,  primarily the power of human connection. Barrett’s seven levels of consciousness model drives home the need for safety, communicative  relationships and positive self-esteem to support transformative empowerment.

Surely these are the lessons we need to priontise?

When I was an NQT I attended some training about behaviour and I will never forget a key message. Be the adult that a child can trust. You may never see the impact of this, but if a child learns there are people in their lives they can trust and rely on to be consistent, this has far reaching implications, particularly if they don’t feel they have adults in their lives who are consistently there for them. Trust begins with communication. All behaviours are communication. Your response is crucial in terms of forming those relationships and developing positive self-esteem. In my varied roles in teaching and leadership I have learnt there is nothing to be gained from punishing, from blame and from belittling. Cultivating respect, establishing clear boundaries and empowering decision-making and honest reflection founded in relationships of trust has always been the key. Exploring how to communicate, how to collaborate and what to do when things go wrong-metacognitive understanding is crucial to learning and growth, not authoritarian control. All this promotes is the creation of passive compliance, dissaffection or resentment and rebellion.

If we create supportive and safe environments where curiosity, independent enquiry, discussion and exploration of ideas are valued, and we tune into motivational learning experiences, surely we will be modelling positive behaviours and creating the conditions for our children to develop positive attitudes and skills. What they need right now  is a place of safety for them to address and articulate their vulnerabilities rather than strict controls and suppression of emotions. We need to cultivate hope for our young people.

As Marc Brackett’ and his team at CASEL advocate, we need to give our children permission to feel, and enable them to find ways to negotiate these feelings. In implementing face the front teaching and a relentless focus on behaviour, what messages are we giving our children? What will be their focus?

I am not saying we shouldn’t cultivate a safe and harmonious environment where we have clear expectations I am not saying we shouldn’t expect to see  positive behaviours and encourage reflection on choices. What I am saying is the focus is wrong. Behaviour is not a separate entity from our curriculum. We, as the adults, have a duty to plan with our students in mind to cultivate the positive behaviours. We should be focusing on culture, relationships and inspirational learning experiences. We know from our own experiences, we respond well to these environments.

‘Positive behaviours are an outcome of a positive, nurturing environments where we have a coherent approach to enabling our children to develop self-awareness and self-regulation, within the framework of positive relationships .

If it is all about control and imposition, all we will produce are individuals full of resentment, an inability to manage their own emotions and an inability to develop positive relationships with others. We’ve only to look at some of the adult responses to lockdown controls to understand this.

Schools that nurture collaboration, respect and self -awareness empower a sense of responsibility, compassion and agency. This has to be taught within all we do, not just as a form of control. It’s’ time to ditch the blame culture-the labels we bestow become the outcomes we see. Let’s look at all our students have to offer( and that’s all of our students)  and work from this place. How about we listen to how they see the world and their learning? Maybe it’s time to consider what we can learn from them and work with this. It’s definitely time to listen to how they feel about the world they are growing in and how this impacts on what they feel they need to learn and be.

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